Whether you work from home, go to an office, or are a stay at home mom, we all have an “end of the work day.”
Typically, it’s between 3pm and 7pm on weekdays, Monday through Friday.
And if you’re like most women I know, you probably experience “work stress.”
Stress from work can come from not just traditional jobs, where you’re in an office, but you likely experience “work day stress” regardless of your career, including for all the stay at home mamas.
What you may not know is that depending on the type of stress you experience, it can be good or bad.
In one of my favorite books, The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal explains how experiencing stress isn’t actually inherently good or bad. Instead, whether you think stress is good or bad determines whether it negatively impacts your health.
This is based on many studies, including one by Karen Parker of Standford University. She separated baby monkeys from their mothers for 1 hour every day. She predicted that this would make them more dysfunctional and emotionally unstable. Instead, the exact opposite was true. The monkeys were more curious, more resilient, and even had more courage and self control all the way into their adulthood.
I love this study so much. It shows us the difference between “good stress” which can be like pushing you to be more independent and get stronger versus “bad stress” which keeps you stuck, spinning, and declining in life (for example, if you beat yourself up about your work and then thought loop all day about it, you’re going to be in bad stress).
But regardless of whether you’re experiencing good stress or bad stress, you don’t want to be experiencing that emotion all the time.
After your workday’s over, you want to unwind, decompress, and shift into lighter emotions where you’re experiencing more fun, peace, contentment, etc. (after all, you probably want to enjoy spending time with your family and not carry over your stress from the daily grind).
Here’s the best way to do just that…
- Related: Finding Pleasure (podcast)
How To Unwind After Work
The best way to unwind after work is to decide to do just that.
It doesn’t take a lot of time. All it takes is a little bit of intention.
Follow these five steps and you’ll be able to unwind every day so much more easily.
1. Create a plan
Step one is to create a plan.
If you don’t create a plan to unwind or create free time in your planning, your brain will prefer to de-stress by consuming lots of immediate pleasures (aka false pleasures).
This means lots of Netflix and wine are in your future without a plan in place (I’m sure you can relate to this, as so many of my clients find themselves in this trap before joining Grow You).
The truth is, this is completely normal. Your brain just wants you to feel good, so it seeks the easiest thing in front of you to do that with, which is often food, booze, online shopping, Netflix, etc.
What you can do is to plan ahead at least 24 hours in advance what you want your evening to look like (don’t do this right when you’re leaving work and the urges for pleasure have already set in!).
Decide early in the week what you want to do after work every day. Don’t bring worklife home when you don’t plan ahead of time to do so. This will cause your stress levels to increase. Keep your work at the office and your time to unwind at home. This doesn’t mean “do more” or be productive. Quite the opposite. It means plan your self care ahead of time, so you do real self care that promotes your mental and physical health, not that ends up leaving you worse off.
Your plan can be simple. So don’t overcomplicate it. Just be sure to have some plan for what you’ll do after work so you take action from your highest self and don’t self sabotage.
- How Social Media Affects Mental Health (blog post)
- Planning Mistakes (podcast)
- Time Management Tools (free training)
2. Check in on your mental health
Step two is to check in on your mental health as part of your evening routine.
- What am I thinking?
- How am I feeling?
Write the answers to these questions down. Create a space in your house such as your living room where you do a mental health check in. Get really clear about your thoughts and feelings. Watch them.
Reminder: you are not your thoughts or feelings. You are the watcher of your thoughts and feelings. When you watch your thoughts and feelings, you can separate your consciousness from your mind and body. You detach. You meditate, practice deep breathing, and lower your stress. Relax into it.
And if you’ve never done this, that’s okay! It’s normal. So just give it a try and stick with it. The more you notice your thoughts and feelings from the position of the watcher, the more centered you’ll feel.
When you check in with your thoughts and feelings, you stay connected to how you’re doing physically and mentally. The mind body connection is something we often feel too rushed or stressed to notice, and it’s really where all our power for mental and emotional wellbeing is.
- Mental Chatter (podcast)
- How To Stop Self Sabotaging Thoughts (blog post)
- Overcoming Self Doubt (free course)
3. Get moving
Step three is to move your body, aka exercise.
In fact, this can be as simple and easy as walking for 20 minutes. Listening to music during this time will help you disconnect from your work day and help you be more present. When you get home from work, commit to at least 20 minutes of exercise a day.
It doesn’t have to be intense or something you hate. In fact, you can truly love this part of your day. Think of how you like to move and do more of that.
Moving your body is one of the best ways to promote good mental and physical health, not to mention it’s a release of all that stress you’re holding onto from your workday.
Here are some ideas on how you can move your body:
- Go for a long run.
- Go outside and walk for 45 minutes to get some fresh air.
- Do yoga outside.
- Schedule time every day to go to the gym.
- Take a dance class.
- Body Love (podcast)
- How To Stop Emotionally Eating (blog post)
- Scarcity Versus Abundance Mindset (free training)
4. Put boundaries on screen time
Step four is to limit your screen time every day.
You help promote your circadian rhythm when you limit the amount of light you see near bedtime.
Put simply—if you’re in front of a screen right before bed, it confuses your brain. Your brain thinks, “oh we’ve gone somewhere with light and we need to stay awake.” But that’s not true. The only place you’ve gone is to the not so far away land of your iPad.
To promote really great sleep patterns and your overall health, start reducing screen time a couple hours before bed, such as 7pm or 8pm every night. This includes everything from work email to watching movies with the kids. It seems tough at first, but the long term effects are worth the short term discomfort.
- Related: Reducing Social Media (podcast)
5. Practice self care
The final step is to incorporate self care into your evening routine to reduce stress and unwind after a long day.
Self care doesn’t mean self loathing. In fact, it’s not about sulking in a bubble bath. (It can be a bubble bath to love and care for yourself, though. So just know the difference!)
More on this here in The Self Care Myth podcast episode.
One of my beloved clients talked about self care this way:
I always thought this just simply wasn’t the season for me to do this [self care]. I have three small kids. Last week I felt so out of control and like I was slogging through the day, I committed to showering and getting dressed every day [to take care of myself]. The results have been kind of crazy. My house feels cleaner, I feel like I have more patience with my kids, I’m working out during nap time because I feel more awake after I’ve showered. Putting myself first matters. — Shannon
I just love her. She is so right on so many levels. When you take care of yourself—whether it’s showering, self coaching, exercising, or getting ready every day—the way you experience life changes. The way you experience home changes. You feel calmer and act with more love and patience because you’ve taken care of you.
Like they say on airplanes: take care of you first, my friend.
A Final Note!
Your day at work (whether at home or in the boardroom) likely includes you feeling stress—sometimes good stress and sometimes bad stress.
Either way, you likely don’t want to carry that stress with you into your evenings with your family.
With the steps above, you can put a plan in place to create more space for leisure time and all the goodness that you love.
Just like you have a work day routine, you can also create an after-work routine. And it is a game changer.