Female relaxing in sunshine with headphones on

How to disconnect from work at the end of the day

The dangers of overworking and the importance of balance

3 minute read
Female relaxing in sunshine with headphones on

With emails accessible via our phones and blended work-from-home arrangements, it can be difficult to fully switch off at the end of the day.

No matter your profession, Brain Fit Founder and Chief Wellbeing Officer Jenny Brockis said separating your working life and leisure time was essential for better mental and physical health.

“We are human,” she said.

“We’re not designed for continuous stress or long-term focus, so we have to treat ourselves like an athlete would – work hard, rest, unwind and devote time to the things we enjoy.

“We’re not put on this planet to work all the time and, certainly in Australia and in other countries, we’re seeing the problem that overwork is causing people.

“It leads to premature death, heart attack, stroke and suicide.”

Long work hours lead to extreme health issues

According to the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation, working 55 hours or more per week is associated with an estimated 35 per cent higher risk of stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.

Dr Brockis warned this had become the new normal for a variety of professions, with many employees left feeling obliged to answer emails or respond via phone after hours.

“We’re expected to work hard and to always be busy, so we think this is the only way to become successful and it’s simply not true,” she said.

How to switch off when you clock off

Whether it is a walk in the fresh air or a bubble bath and a good book, switching off looks a little different to everyone.

In order to achieve optimal rest time, Dr Brockis said it was crucial to be aware of overtime and set boundaries in the workplace.

“It’s important that work colleagues and the people you’re living with respect these boundaries so you can honour them,” she said.

“We also need to have non-work-related activities like a hobby or a sport – when you do take the time out, it makes us happy, it relaxes us, it puts us in a better place and we feel good.”

According to Redefining Health Founder, General Practitioner and Health Coach Kelly-Anne Garnier, determining how to best reset after a busy work day varies from individual to individual.

“My wind-down will likely depend on the context – if my day simply ended after a normal consultation day seeing patients, I’ll likely have a wonderful cuddle with my golden retriever, get out of the scrubs and pop on the most comfortable outfit possible – that in itself helps me transition from Dr Garnier to homebody,” she said.

“I’m likely to head out for a walk, sometimes with an audiobook or perhaps music – depending on my mood – and by the time I’m home, I’m back to me.

“Ruminating over some cookbooks – I’m a terrible cook but an ambitious one – will see me then try to prepare something for the family. I find cooking with music in the background a really wonderful way to ground myself in my home and in the moment.

“If it’s been a shocker of a day, I’ll usually try to debrief with a colleague.

“I’m also a huge fan of writing, so I may even journal or write a reflective piece, which I find incredibly cathartic.”

Rest and productivity go hand in hand

When we leave work at the end of the day feeling at the top of our game, Dr Garnier said it was more likely for us to engage in positive, meaningful activities in our play time – whether this be feeling energised enough to head out for a walk, shop for fresh ingredients to cook a delicious meal or to engage with our children positively.

“Whereas, leaving work feeling despondent and disempowered sees a greater tendency to just want to park up on the couch with a glass of red and takeaway for dinner – again,” she said.

“Rest also has the power to improve workplace productivity and provides the opportunity to unwind and relinquish so many of the cognitive, social and emotional demands put on us by the workplace.

“Coming back into work after setting aside the time to exercise, eating healthily and getting adequate sleep allows people to contribute to their organisation, to volunteer a unique perspective and to participate,” she said.