How to switch off from work these holidays

There’s nothing wrong with thinking about work or specific projects outside of your set work hours. For many people, a little space can provide some great ideas. These might come to you while letting your brain wander during a morning shower or the commute. However, not being able to switch off from work can be detrimental to some people and their mental health.

With the ubiquity of technology in our daily lives these days, we’re very easily contactable. Whether it be via email, phone call, text message, WhatsApp, Teams, Zoom, Slack, Skype or a variety of other ways. It has also meant that the lines between work and personal life have become more blurred than ever. Some people have no problem with this, while others understandably want to leave work at work or during designated work hours and be free to not think about work or hear from their boss or colleagues outside of those hours.

As we head into the festive period, many of us will be taking annual leave from work. Even those who aren’t may have consecutive days off with weekends and public holidays aligning this year. To help make the most of precious time off with family, friends and loved ones, try implementing some of the tips below if you find switching off and putting work out of, or at the very least, to the back of your mind during your time off.

Make a list (and check it twice)

When you finish work for the day, it’s natural to almost immediately think about what you forgot to do or need to do tomorrow. So when preparing for the end of the year and heading on holidays, create a list and write down all the things you need to do before you head off for a break. Then you can check them off as you go and anything not finished can either be an action item for when you return or handed over to someone else depending on your job. If you’re worried you’ll forget to put everything on the list, have a chat with your line manager to find out what they expect from you before you wrap up for the year.

Set up a countdown reminder

One way to condition your brain to kick into holiday mode when it starts, and not a few days after, is to constantly remind it that a break is coming up. A good way to do this is to use a countdown app or set up alerts in Outlook to remind you daily how many days until your holidays. That way when you begin your holidays, your brain won’t take several days to adjust and it will be more likely to be ready for holidays as it’s spent days or weeks preparing for the holiday.

Dress for the holiday you want, not the job you have

While you may not have clothes that are only for work, the chances are you have items of clothing that are predominately worn to work, so it would make sense for you to mainly associate them with going to work. So unless you’re going out to a fancy restaurant and you need to wear those chinos, boots or that dress that you often wear to work, try and wear clothes you never wear in the workplace. If you’ve been working from home, you could even try and wear clothes you haven’t worn recently working in your home office for a while. You just might find it helps you switch off.

Change notification settings

Switch off notifications from work-related apps such as email and Teams. Even just seeing the red dot at the top-right hand corner of an app can be enough to initiate anxiety for some. So turn these off, or even move work apps to another screen on your phone to remove the chances of accidentally seeing them and being reminded of work.

Pack it up

If you’ve been working from home during the year, like many of us have, pack up your work things and put as much of it out of sight as you can. This might be as simple as putting your laptop away in a cupboard or its carry bag, while others might want to go further and remove the monitor, keyboard and mouse from the desk on which you normally work. The fewer physical reminders of work in your home where you’re trying to relax and switch off, the more likely you’re able to do so.

Change the subject

When catching up with people over the holidays that you haven’t seen for a while or even meeting people, it’s natural that work will come up for most of us. However, feel free to say, politely of course, that you don’t want to talk about work because you’re having a break from it. You could instead talk about any hobbies or interests you have or any projects you’ve gotten into since you last saw them. Another way to avoid talking about work is when meeting someone for the first time, maybe your cousin’s new partner, don’t ask what they do for work, instead explicitly ask what they do for fun. Most people aren’t expecting it but it normally leads to finding more common ground and a more free-flowing conversation than talking about what you do for a crust.

Write things down

If you’re really struggling to not think about work, assuming you’re finding it problematic, it may often be because you’re thinking about things you have to do when you return or goals or KPIs you have to set or meet in the new year. If this is the case, try writing these things down in your notes app on your phone or even in a journal or notebook. Knowing it’s been logged and can be actioned when the appropriate time rolls around tells your brain that you won’t forget and it can focus on other things. If you’re really worried about forgetting, set these action items as reminders in your phone for when you come back to work or send an email from your personal email account to your work one, then when you log back in you can action these.

Celebrate the end of work

When you finish work for the year, make sure to do something to acknowledge the achievement. Be it on your own or with others. Maybe you treat yourself to a fancy drink, or go out to dinner or hit the town to celebrate. Doing so can help remind your brain to switch off from work moving forwards.


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