We’ve all been there. You decide to check your email–just once, quickly–after office hours and WHAM! a negative or nagging email from a co-worker, client or boss knocks you sideways. Whether it’s an aggressive, passive aggressive or sometimes totally innocuous email–if it represents an outstanding issue for you, the email can get deep under your skin and bother you all night. (Flash forward to 2AM and you’re still drafting the reply in your head… Yikes). It’s a slippery slope and a common problem for professionals (aka, you are not alone!).
The truth is that while we’re more prone to negative thoughts at night, we actually don’t accomplish much by becoming consumed with work stuff at night (and it’s certainly not productive to take it out on your spouse or to catch a wicked case of insomnia all night). Experts agree that it’s best to close the book on work, get some rest and then tackle the issue in the morning. Down time is key for any high-performing player, and these are the ways to guarantee that you get yours in:
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Plan activities that you enjoy right after work. It seems obvious, but having two or three activities that you enjoy–like taking an exercise class, meeting friends for a drink or dinner, going on a date, watching a show that you’ve DVR’d, or making dinner, is the best way to shed any negative feelings that might be lingering from your day. If you can create a routine with these activities, even better. Routines are one proven method for quelling anxiety.
Exercise. The best short-term cure for negative thoughts that persist is aerobic exercise. In fact, just 5 minutes of aerobic exercise, like running or biking, has been proven to decrease tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem thanks to the endorphins that your brain increases. You don’t have to do a 50-minute spin class–just get outside and run around the block once or twice to see the affects.
Have a clear plan for checking and answering emails. Determine whether you can or have to check email at night, create some healthy boundaries, and stick to them. For example, ask your boss if it’s OK for you to check and reply to her emails early in the morning. If it’s acceptable with her, turn your phone off and physically put it away in a drawer or bag until morning rule. If you work with paying clients and aren’t able to tune them out–ever–set email filters so that emails from certain people land in one inbox that you check at an appropriate time of night (i.e. Not 2am!). For co-workers and reports, set some healthy boundaries as well. Tell them what you emails you will read and reply to at night, and which you expect them to act on as well. Make a vow as a team to stay within the guidelines (for non-emergency issues), and I guarantee that you will come to quicker and better solutions for problems in the light of day.
Have a mantra for work-related problems. Have a phrase that you can repeat to calm, center and reset your thoughts once they start driving off course. Focus on your breathing, close your eyes, sit or lie down in a darkened room and repeat them. This is an important aspect of mindfulness and meditation. Try a meditation app, like this one specifically for mantras, if you’re a beginner.
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