How to stop thinking about work during your free time

It can be frustrating at times, to think about work even when we are not working. And it is not as if we do it on purpose; the thoughts keep coming to us. We are not able to detach ourselves from work. This, in turn, stops us from de-stressing as well. And before we realise, we feel burnt out. This is not a good feeling and, if anything, is extremely unhealthy, too. Every person must and can switch on and off, thereby maintaining a work-life balance.

In this Ted talk, psychologist and author Guy Winch shares his own struggles with managing his work thoughts. He reveals how he once felt depleted and hence, could not help another person when the situation arose. "The problem wasn't the work I did in my office. It was the hours I spent ruminating about work when I was home. I closed the door to my office every night, but the door in my head remained wide open, and the stress just flooded in," he says.

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Winch goes on to say that the interesting thing about work stress is that we do not experience it while at work. Instead, we feel it when we are going back home, when we are trying to rejuvenate. "It is important to recover in our spare time, to de-stress and do things we enjoy. And the biggest obstruction we face in that regard is ruminating. Because each time we do it, we are actually activating our stress response," he says.

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Winch says we are only ever stressing about work when we are not in our workspace. (Designed by Gargi Singh)

Drawing a parallel with cows, Winch says that the way they digest their food is the way human beings ruminate. They chew things over and over. While it works for cows, it certainly does not work for humans. "Because what we chew over are the upsetting things, the distressing things, and we do it in ways that are entirely unproductive. It's the hours we spend obsessing about tasks we didn't complete, or stewing about tensions with a colleague, or anxiously worrying about the future, or second-guessing decisions we have made," he says.

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"We have to trick our mind into defining work and non-work times and spaces. First, create a defined work zone in your home, and try to work only there... Next, when you are working from home, wear clothes you only wear when you are working... Battling rumination is hard, but if you ritualise the transition from work to home, and if you train yourself to convert ruminations into productive forms of thinking, you will succeed," Winch recommends.