Americans are dealing with unprecedented levels of stress in the workplace. Recent research has clearly linked job stress to increases in the rates of hypertension, heart attacks and more. Workplace stress is not restricted to traditionally high-pressure occupations. Individual workers’ stress levels are influenced by their physical environments, coworkers, corporate policies, personality quirks and a host of other factors.
While many of those factors are outside workers’ control, choosing to actively destress after work in healthy ways can dramatically reduce the onset and impact of stress-related symptoms and health conditions.
There are many ways to decompress after work. Different methods will work best for different employees, and many people will benefit from combing or “stacking” anti-stress activities. To truly maximize the potential health and happiness benefits of de-stressing, workers should embrace small rituals and routines that embed their preferred activities into the fabric of their daily lives.
Incorporate Something Pleasurable Into Your Commute
Commutes are a natural transition point between the workplace and home. This can make them an ideal time to mentally shift gears and intentionally seek out places, objects and behaviors that soothe or renew them. Consider your surroundings and daily habits, including:
- Many people find comfort in stopping at a favorite café or coffee shop on their commutes home. Others elect to take slightly longer routes than necessary so that they can pass through public gardens or other beautiful spaces.
- Some commuters find that using their travel time to connect with people they love is restorative, and helps them unwind. Public transit riders may send emails or exchange text messages with friends and family. Drivers may use hands-free devices to speak to loved ones by phone.
- Actions as simple as changing from the uncomfortable – but professional – shoes they wore to work into a pair of sneakers, or donning a favorite sweater can become a powerful ritual for many workers. It can serve as a signal to their brains to set aside work concerns and shift to new, less-stressful areas of focus.
- Reading a book, listening to favorite music or catching up on a beloved podcast during one’s commute can create consistent and positive attitude changes between leaving work and arriving at home.
Habits that incorporate more than one of these options can offer exponential reward. For example, meeting a friend at your favorite café for a cup of tea provides the benefits of both a soothing environment and positive social interaction.
Incorporating mood-boosting activities and objects into commutes can be easy and inexpensive. It may take commuters a few tries to identify what works best for them, but the payouts can be enormous.
Unwind With Physical Activity
It is no secret that physical activity is strongly linked to better physical and mental health. Workers can rebalance their brains, stretch out tense muscles and lower their stress levels through almost any form of after-work exercise or movement. Popular examples include:
- Martial arts.
- Going to the gym.
- Playing casual sports with friends or family.
Physical activity does not have to be intense in order for workers to reap the benefits. Low-key movement, such as taking a walk or gardening, can beneficially lower stress levels, improve sleep and boost moods. Combining physical activity with enjoyable social interactions, time in nature and self-reflection or mindfulness can further amplify its benefits.
Clear Your Mind
Workers who continue to focus on – or obsess over – workplace stress after leaving work are at high risk for negative health consequences. People who struggle to let go of workplace stressors often benefit from taking up meditation or journaling. Both practices are scientifically proven to offer a host of advantageous outcomes.
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Meditation and meditative breathing can help practitioners regulate their bodies and minds into calmer, more positive states. Journaling can assist writers in sorting through, and making sense of their experiences, in healthy ways. Both activities allow practitioners to work through their thoughts and feelings mindfully and constructively. This can be a key step in letting go of feelings or attitudes that may be at the root of their stress.
Practitioners can experiment with meditating alone or in groups, and with using structured journaling prompts or writing freeform journal entries. Guided meditation and journaling opportunities may help practitioners who are struggling refocus on their personal values and long-term goals. Consistently reconnecting with those ideals can renew and reenergize practitioners in ways that help them succeed in work, and life, over time.
Hobbies, Clubs and Volunteering
Engaging in activities that are inherently fascinating or meaningful to them can substantially reduce people’s stress levels, and improve their moods and health. Hobbies can keep people’s bodies and minds active, and create opportunities for positive social interaction and recognition.
Social clubs can facilitate consistent interpersonal relationships and engagement outside of the work environment. Some hobbies and social clubs will also encourage healthy physical activity, supplying participants with additional benefits.
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Volunteering has been linked to a wide range of mental, physical and social health benefits. It helps to:
- Reduce stress and anxiety.
- Protect against depression.
- Increase the body’s production of hormones and brain chemicals that support happiness and well-being.
- Promote self-confidence, pride and strong communication skills.
- Create a sense of purpose.
- Lower blood pressure and influence higher cognitive functioning scores.
The types of hobbies, clubs or volunteering arrangements that workers choose are less important than the consistency with which they do them. Regular participation is more strongly correlated with positive health benefits than infrequent participation.
Kick Unhealthy Habits
Perhaps the most overlooked facet of positively decompressing after work is the importance of avoiding bad habits that ultimately increase stress, rather than reducing it. Common examples of habits to avoid include countering stress by:
- Consuming sugary, fried or highly processed foods, particularly in large amounts.
- Drinking alcohol.
- Engaging in excessive screen time.
- Shying away from all social interaction.
All of these activities work in direct opposition to the healthy habits outlined above. They limit healthy movement, and demonstrably contribute to unhealthy weight gain, depression and poor sleep.
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