October 11, 2021

3 ways to switch off lockdown 'stress leak'

Blurred boundaries between work and home life can cause stress to ‘leak’, causing a sense of overwhelm and even anxiety. Reset your stress with these boundary-setting tips.

Working from home and home schooling have blurred the boundaries between work and home life. No longer do you have the end-of-day commute to unwind and transition back to your private self or family life. The work day no longer provides a reprieve from the demands of domestic life. It can feel like one big, chaotic, 24-7 blizzard of work emails, homework, washing, meal preparation and ironing a top for impromptu Zoom meetings.It’s no wonder demand for psychological assistance with stress and anxiety have sky-rocketed during COVID lockdowns. But why are those of us who previously coped with similar demands now feeling overwhelmed?

The stress leak

A key reason for feeling overwhelmed by stress is the lack of division between parts of our lives that were previously somewhat separate. Where before, our brains could compartmentalise or partition areas of demand and we could follow routines to feel a sense of control and order, now demands from each part of life run free. The boundaries that once seemed solid are now permeable. Stress from one part of your life is able to escape into another rather than waiting for its turn, which creates a kind of stress snowball. It makes sense, then, that creating mental boundaries between work and life can help us to cope with work-related pressures, reduce stress and restore balance.

Evidence-based advice

According to research at the University of Illinois, workers with greater boundary control over their work and personal lives are better at creating a stress buffer to prevent them from mood disturbance and negative rumination (or getting trapped in a negative, self-perpetuating thought loop). Research has also found that switching off devices such as tablets, laptops and phones in the evening can promote better sleep, which is a known factor in our ability to cope with daytime demands.

Practical tips to plug the leak

Feeling overwhelmed? Protect your wellbeing with these simple tips.

  1. Define expectations. Clarify expectations with your boss or HR, colleagues, associates and clients. Depending on your role, it may be reasonable to say that you’re unable to respond to non-urgent work messages after 6pm. You may say that you’ll check work emails once over the weekend and respond to anything pressing on Monday morning. This relieves the sense of obligation or guilt for not responding immediately each time you receive a message outside of work time and may deter others from contacting you out of hours.
  2. Switch off. Consider turning off work email alerts when not at work or putting your phone on silent after hours.
  3. Remove cues. Whether you work from home or take your work laptop or tablet home with you, consider removing your devices from living spaces after hours. By removing this work-related cue, you’re less likely to be reminded of work and tumble into thinking of all the things you need to do tomorrow. If the computer is out of the way, you’ll also be less tempted to ‘quickly check your emails’ in the evening or on the weekend.

If you frequently feel overwhelmed by work or experience symptoms of chronic stress or anxiety such as fatigue, headaches or low or erratic mood, consider consulting a psychologist who can help you to gain skills and techniques to manage stress while maintaining personal wellbeing.

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We honour the strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and pay our respects to all Elders, past and present.
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