If you're wondering how to switch off after a particularly long week, know this: you're not alone. I often find it hard during busy periods and would be lying if I said I don't often think about my emails come the weekend.
So, to help myself on my journey to a more stress-free life, I did some research. Time and time again, studies have shown that one of the simplest self care ideas and ways to switch off is treating yourself to some downtime. What that looks like will be different for everyone - for some, running will do the trick, while others will prefer lying in front of the television.
Working out what works for you can be tricky, especially with social media, socialising, and a full-time job constantly vying for our attention. That said, learning how to switch off and being able to do so in a healthy and nurturing way is important for our wellbeing.
Why? Because we're only getting more stressed, more quickly. Statistics show that burnout levels are the highest they've been in a while, with Headspace's recent Workforce Attitudes Toward Mental Health Report showing that 13% of workers say they feel worse mentally than they did last year and 70% of people feel a sense of dread at work multiple times a month.
While self help books can come in handy, finding the time to read them can prove, well, challenging when you're so busy you can barely think. That's why we've picked the brains of Dora Kamau, a meditation and mindfulness teacher at Headspace, and Teresa Keller, a licensed professional therapist at Headspace Health, to share all their tried and tested ways to switch off.
How to switch off: Your guide
Why is it important to switch off? Aka, the benefits of switching off
Good question - as it's something many of us find difficult. "Fully switching off can be challenging, particularly in this post-pandemic era in which so many of you are now working from home, blurring the boundaries between work and your personal lives," explains Keller.
Constantly staying connected to work or intense situations can lead to feelings of prolonged stress and burnout, so it’s important for your wellbeing that you find ways that work for you to disconnect, rest and recharge, continues Kamau.
If you don't, you might experience physical symptoms, such as migraines, panic attacks or difficulty concentrating, alongside mental stress, burnout or an impact on your emotional wellbeing.
The therapist warns that the physical symptoms are "extensive," with stress having the potential to impact nearly all bodily systems, including the nervous system, musculoskeletal system, respiratory system, cardiovascular function, gastrointestinal health, and more. "In particular, stress can impact a person’s immune system response, and as a result, cause them to suffer from more frequent illness. The inability to switch off from work might also disrupt our sleep patterns, which can contribute to further physical and mental health problems," she continues.
The benefits of learning how to effectively switch off, then, span a more peaceful, stress-free life, fewer physical symptoms, and an opportunity to focus on what genuinely makes you happy. "Taking the time to focus your energy on things other than work can provide you with the balance and clarity that truly puts life into perspective," explains Keller.
How to switch off after a long day - 10 expert tips
1. Put away anything work related
First things first - closing your laptop or putting anything else work-related away is key to truly switching off, share both experts. "Not having access to emails or the ability to check in means that you can create the space to engage your mind," explains Keller.
Another top tip: turn your Gmail notifications off come the end of the day if they are on your personal phone so you're not constantly on high alert.
2. Use transitional markers
Ever heard of transitional markers? In short, they're small prompts that "help the conditioned mind recognise a time to shift," explains Keller. Think sliding on a pair of slippers or changing from work clothes to loungewear - basically, anything that helps you go from work mode to relax mode.
Keller also suggests washing your face with water or lighting a candle. "This concept can be integrated into transitioning through the day, such as walking through a doorway to pause and bring awareness to the space between happenings," she continues.
3. Have a change of scenery
If you've been working from home all day, this is particularly important. "If you find yourself not being able to relax in one location, it can be helpful to move to another room or to head outside," explains the therapist.
Why? Well, it might be that you associate that particular space with work or meetings, making it almost impossible to think of anything else. Getting outside can also have numerous other benefits, with a 2019 study published in the journal Science Advances showing that contact with nature increases happiness, positive social interactions, as well as a decrease in mental distress.
4. Practice meditation and mindfulness
Did you know? Just a few minutes a day can help you to let go of negative thoughts that might have been building throughout the working day, providing an opportunity to reconnect and be fully present.
"The Headspace app has been proven to reduce negative emotions and sadness by 28%, and reduce stress by 14%," Keller tells us.
5. Tidy your workspace
A bit like putting your work laptop away or switching off your email notifications can create a calm space for you to relax in, tidying your office space can be a surefire way to help you close your working chapter for the day.
"Whether you’re in the office or working from home, tidying your workstation at the end of the day can become a ritual that signals the end of work and the beginning of your personal time," the therapist explains. "Try clearing your workspace and putting away your work items until you start to work the next day."
Try this: "You might also find it helpful to state out loud that you are "shutting down" for the day, helping you shift your focus elsewhere," recommends Kamau.
6. Plan for tomorrow
If you've invested in one of the best wellness planners, you'll already be all over this, but research has shown that, while planning ahead might seem like the opposite of switching off, it can actually enable you the headspace to fully switch off.
Think about it - getting all your thoughts and to-do's down on paper means they're all in one place to be tackled tomorrow.
"Write down any outstanding tasks for the following day so that they’re not lingering in your mind, distracting you from disconnecting from work," Kamau explains.
7. Get outside
Not a novel concept, sure, but being outside in fresh air and nature has been proven time and time again to help humans relax. "If you’re able to, taking a short walk outside can help you transition from your working day into a relaxing evening," explains Kamau. "If you’re working from home, you can even frame it as a mini commute," she recommends.
A little bit of sunshine will boost your Vitamin D levels, too, important for calcium absorption, immunity and regular blood pressure levels.
8. Get cooking
FYI, cooking is another great way to switch off, according to our experts. Why? Well, because "it requires your attention throughout the process," shares Kamau.
"Incorporating mindfulness into your cooking can help to shift your focus from any work-related thoughts or worries, too," she goes on.
9. Have fun
This one's important - we all need a belly-hurting laugh sometimes to really switch off. Laughter is important in reminding us that life doesn't always need to be serious
- far from it.
The experts suggest doing something you enjoy, with emphasis on something you enjoy. It might be a run, an episode of your favourite Netflix programme, or running a bath - "whatever you find relaxing," stresses Kamau.
Other ideas span cuddling your favourite pet (or human), enjoying the sunshine, reading one of your favourite books, listening to music to boost your mood, giving yourself a gentle massage, or doing absolutely nothing at all.
10. Prioritise pleasure
Last but by no means least, truly switching off entails prioritising your own pleasure and self-happiness. "It’s important to ensure you have dedicated time for both yourself and your own relaxation," Kamau shares. "Use this time to do whatever your body needs."
How to switch off when you only have ten minutes?
If you're eternally on a tight schedule and feel like you simply don't have time to switch off, know this - sometimes ten minutes is all you need to switch off.
Try the following three steps. First up - breathe. "Breathing exercises or breathwork, is when you intentionally control how to breathe to experience a sense of relaxation and calm in the mind and body. Try lengthening your exhalations to slow down your thoughts, breathing in for three and out for six," the expert explains. See our guide to breathwork training if you're not sure where to start.
Next up, the expert recommends journaling. "The reflective process of journaling can allow you to gain perspective, process your feelings, and release any residual stress or tension associated with work," says Kamau. Find our complete guide on how to journal, here.
Lastly, connect with your loved ones - this can be a quick phone call or even a hug from your partner. "Is there someone you have been missing or haven’t spoken to? Making a phone call and engaging in meaningful conversations with your loved ones can offer distractions from your work-life, and also offer emotional support if needed," says Kamau.
While sadly, high stress levels are normal from time to time, know that recalibrating to calm is essential for maintaining your general wellbeing. If none of the above techniques work for you, our experts advise seeking help from a medical professional to make sure you avoid burnout or future stress further down the line.
Remember this: you deserve to be able to switch off.
How to switch off when you feel like you've tried everything?
If you've tried all the different ways to switch off and still haven't got the rest you require, Keller suggests taking "regular digital breaks." Why? "Something as simple as being on your phone can disrupt your ability to switch off," the expert explains.
Consider deleting any social media profiles for 24 hours, or if this feels too big of a step, simply putting your phone in a drawer out of sight for one evening can help to unwind. "By taking these small steps, you may start to notice changes as we move away from the "always on" mindset," she explains. "This space is where you can clear your head of the day’s challenges and mute the omnipresent societal chatter that can clutter our minds as a result of always being digitally present."
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Dionne Brighton is a writer at Marie Claire UK, specialising in all things shopping, beauty and fashion. Born and raised in North London, she studied Literature at the University of East Anglia before taking the leap into journalism. These days, you can find her testing out the latest TikTok beauty trends or finding out what the next full Moon means.
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