How to Prevent Work Stress from Following You Home


I loved the show Alias. My husband and I actually started to watch it on DVD after it was over and we called it our nightly addiction.

The show is filled with plenty of this-can’t-be-real moments, but one thing that kept sticking out to me was the way Sydney Bristow (as played by Jennifer Garner), the CIA double-agent, manages to compartmentalize her work stress and leave it out of her personal life. (And it’s stress with a capital “S”, which often involves almost being killed several times in an episode while preventing the world from total collapse). At one point during the show she actually tells someone that it’s the only way she has figured out how to function — to compartmentalize her work, her double-agent work, and her personal life and keep them as separate as possible. (Which, of course, she doesn’t do completely, after she starts dating her CIA handler.)

I completely suck at this skill — I am horrible at compartmentalizing. I bring work stress home and  if something is stressing me out I have a hard time putting it on the back burner. It’s really frustrating and I know I need to get better because no work stress is worth my picking silly fights with my husband or not enjoying playing with my daughter after dinner. So here are some things I’m going to try:

Use my commute as de-compression time.
I am taking this tip right out of the quick tips we’ve shared here on Work It, Mom! about making the transition from work to home easier. My commute is about 20-25 minutes and I’m going to listen to less depressing news, more books on CD, and try to take a few deep breaths before I get home. Modest start, I know.

Meet a friend for coffee during the day to relieve some stress
. Sorry, friends, this may not be entirely fair to you, but this has worked before so I’m getting better about it. For example, it’s been a really stressful few days at work (and yes, by this I mean the weekend has been stressful, work-wise, an issue in itself) so I emailed a good friend to catch up for coffee tomorrow. I am sure she has some steam to blow off as well. (If you can’t meet a friend in person, how about a phone call or even an email exchange?)

Implant this thought in my brain: It’s just work.
This kind of perspective is hard for a workaholic like me. I invest a lot of myself into my work and I take it personally, both the good and the bad. But it is just work and however stressful a certain aspect may be — a passive-aggressive boss, an overwhelming project, or a clique of colleagues driving me nuts — it’s still not nearly as important as family, friends, health, and a million other things in life. I forget this. Maybe I need a bumper sticker to remind me right before I begin my commute.


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