Barry EIchenbaum, Psy.D.
Mind Full at Home or Mindful at Home?
Imagine walking into your home at the end of a busy and stressful work day. As you open the door, a sense of freedom envelops you. You kick off your shoes, settle down on your comfy couch, and appreciate that you’ve made it through yet another day. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, this idyllic scenario is not the reality for many of us. While our bodies might have relocated to the safe haven of our home, our minds often do not easily do the same. This makes a lot of sense. For many of us, our workday doesn’t necessarily end when we close our office door. Some of us have work projects, assignments, or emails to catch up while at home. Additionally, the mental transition from work mode to home life itself can be challenging. Even while we try to relax and unwind on the couch, a myriad of thoughts may bounce around our minds, perhaps rattling our attempts at respite at home. Will I complete the assignment by the deadline? What do my coworkers really think about me? I can't believe I'm being asked to work over the weekend!
The difficulty with mentally shifting from work to home has arguably increased since the beginning of the pandemic when many individuals began regularly working from home. Of course, this has been a convenient change for many. Gone are the days of long and tiring commutes. The elimination of commuting time has allowed many to sleep later, with some people literally rolling out of their beds into their desk chair. However, despite these conveniences, the boundaries of work life and home life are now less clearly defined. As a result, the difficulty in shifting our minds from work to home has only increased.
What can we do to facilitate a more complete mental shift from work to home? Simply telling ourselves that it isn’t helpful to think about work is likely not going to cut it. It's actually pretty likely that while you are home your mind will have some thoughts of work, no matter what you do. As I discussed previously (see more here), we do not have direct control over whether or not we have a particular thought . So let's first accept that having some thoughts of work at home is basically inevitable. That being said, there are definitely things you can try to allow yourself to stay more present at home.
For many, the practice of mindfulness can be a very helpful way of mentally transitioning from work to home life. Mindfulness is the state of purposely paying attention to the present moment (see more here). One of the main ways of tuning into the present in this technique is by paying attention to your body, such as by focusing on your breathing or your senses. The idea is that these bodily processes constantly occur in the present, and so focusing on them can help you stay grounded in the present moment. When you are grounded in the present and are able to unhook from past events or future concerns, you may notice yourself feeling more relaxed. In addition, practicing mindfulness can make you more resilient when you encounter stressors in the future. In fact, according to neuroscientist Adrienne Taren (2015), practicing mindfulness can help our brain create neural connections that can help us be less reactive to stressors and have a better recovery after experiencing a stressful event.
While you can practice mindfulness on your own, beginners and even experienced practitioners of mindfulness can benefit from listening to a guided mindfulness exercise to help them manage distractions. There are various mindfulness apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer, that you can easily access on your phone. Mindfulness is a skill that takes practice and you may not see the immediate results after your first exercise. Taking a few minutes a day, maybe when you begin your day, finish work, or before walking back into your home at the end of the day, you may see the positive benefits of increasing your sense of mindfulness. If you are open to this practice, take a couple of weeks of daily mindfulness practice, perhaps even tracking your experience over time, to better understand the effects of this practice on your life.