About 10 years ago I was in a job where I spent my days providing telephonic crisis counseling and consultation to companies on the best way to address behavioral-risk issues impacting the workplace. I often spoke with people as they were going through the worst moments in their life. I enjoyed helping, but it was a mentally and emotionally draining job.
I didn’t realize the impact the job was having on me either. My work-life balance was completely out of whack, and I was quickly becoming unbearable to work with. I was extremely stressed and ignoring my own mental health.
I bounced between being angry for no reason to lacking motivation and energy to do anything. Even though I talked to clients all the time about effective stress management techniques, I wasn’t using any of them. Luckily, my wife finally stepped in.
We were walking home from work one night (This is back when we lived downtown like cool kids and took the light rail to our jobs) and she stopped in front of a tree near our apartment. She said, “You see this tree? From now on, you are going to hang your work problems on this tree. Don’t worry. Nobody wants your problems, so they will be there in the morning for you. But, you aren’t going to bring them into our house anymore!” I really had no idea it had gotten that bad. Thankfully she decided to say something.
After that, I hung my work issues on the Problem Tree every night. It became a mental exercise that helped me disconnect from my work day and create a separation between my professional and personal life. As I walked towards the tree, I quickly replayed the stressors of the day. I would even make a quick mental note of the first thing I would do once I was back in the office tomorrow. Then I placed everything on one of the branches of the tree and went home.
I immediately began to see a difference. Compartmentalizing my roles in life was a tool that helped me focus on my own self-care. I found greater happiness by being fully present without having the frustration and exhaustion from my workday following me around.
So, your question for the week is this: What self-care techniques do you use to make sure workplace stress isn’t negatively impacting your relationships and personal life?