Decompressing: How to Unwind After Work

It can be very difficult to switch gears and avoid bringing work anxiety home with you, especially depending on your job and your commute. How do working parents unwind and let go of job-related stress? Here are tips from PSP working parents.




Original poster:

“I heard from a fellow mom that she finds it very difficult to decompress from her day and to make sure that she is present for her baby when she only sees her for a very limited amount of time in the evenings. I will be going back to work in 2 weeks and I am wondering what techniques you use, when you are running back from work, to decompress and de-stress, and be present for your baby?”


Advice from fellow working parents:




Use the commute to divide your work life from your home one:

“The commute from daycare to home: we can take the subway to/from daycare, but more often than not we walk home, which takes about 30 minutes.  It feels like a clear divide between work and home.  It clears my head, and my daughter loves pointing out all the dogs, birds, and (randomly) plants that she sees.”


Take a timeout for yourself before you even get on the subway:

“I went back to work three months after my son arrived and am experiencing that feeling of non-stop-rushing-to-work-and-out-at-5-sharp-swept-by-the- river-of-people-in-Grand-Central-home-to-relieve-our nanny-and-then-to-bed. To me it's the relentlessness that gets to me. So, lately, I will leave a few minutes early when I can and will find a bench outside my building and sit for a FULL five minutes. I will listen in to my thoughts and slow them down by taking a few deep breaths, I will observe people rushing by me, and take a few more deep breaths. By the time I get up and walk to GC I have managed to slow down my "waterfall mind" enough to have a mindful evening with my son. I hope this helps you and others, it helps me immensely lately.”


Do what you can to make the commute as calm as can be:

“Commute-wise, I leave a few minutes early and I take a local train home. This almost always assures me a seat and I can relax and read a book or play Freecell on my phone which I find utterly calming. So my first piece of advice would be to do whatever you can to make your commute as stress-free as possible. That may even mean going to a stop that is further away from your office so when you leave you have to walk for a few minutes - that walk helps you clear your mind and disengage from work.”


Look at baby photos on your phone:

“I am now on my 4th week back at work and have found that scrolling through the countless photos I have of my 13 week old during my commute home really helps me shift gears mentally, and get excited to see her.  I've even printed out one favorite photo per week to hang over my desk and make me smile periodically through the workday.”


Read something mindless:

“It is hard to leave work at the office, but I have always found that reading something totally unrelated on the subway home really helps me switch gears.”


Work in working out into the commute. Plus, those endorphins will help you unwind:

“I work up until the second I have to leave to pick up my daughter. It's a 15 minute walk. I put on some music (lately "Hamilton") and the walk becomes my 15 minutes of bliss.”

“I have been citi-biking on the way home from work (from midtown to fort greene) and it really helps me to decompress and change my focus. An added benefit is that it works exercise into my schedule, which gives me more energy overall.

A friend runs home from her job (also to Fort Greene) and feels similarly about working exercise into her commute.

“I second the walking/biking/running home. I could commute every day but instead I walk to and from work and it is often the only alone time I get. The closer I get to work in the morning, the more I think about it and the closer I get to home in the evening, the more work melts away.”




As soon as you get home...


Change into something relaxing:

“As soon as you can when you get home, take off your shoes and change your clothes. I do the former and my husband does the latter. If you can take a moment to do that and not be in a mad rush, it will register with your mind as a transition. There is a Mr. Rogers quality to it that is really soothing.”


Find a few moments of alone time:

“It's important to give yourself some alone time when you first walk through the door.  Yes, you want to go to baby first, but I find that once I have [my daughter] I can't stop fussing over her, I just love her too much. I get home at 9 after being out since morning. I’m usually upset because I missed her so much and i'm thinking about-work-life-commute-everything. However, I don't want her to feel any tension with her little baby senses coming from me. I  find that this give me a lot of anxiety also [...] Sit down, relax, if only for 15 minutes before I grab my child. Her dad understands this. After that, I give him some alone time.”


Put away the phone/ email:

“When I am home with her in the evening, I make a genuine effort to put the phone down and pick her up as much as possible.”


...and make it less tempting to check those emails:

“I actually take my phone into the office, leave it in there. Leave my emails alone. If I'm hungry grab a snack.”

“I also make every attempt not to look at work email before or after work unless absolutely necessary. My work and personal phone are the same and I hide the work email app in a folder within a folder on the second screen so I'm not tempted to look as the email notification number increases throughout the night.”

“I realize not all jobs allow it, but I do think putting your phone in a drawer for two hours when you get home really helps me to stay in the moment from the time I arrive in the house to putting my son to bed around 745.  Otherwise I find my mind drifts back to work and emails, etc. And the truth is 90% of the time that stuff can wait!”

“It took a little time, but after a suggestion from my (much more Zen) brother, I've transitioned all my email accounts to not notify me at all. Not even (or maybe especially not) that little red number that kills all us anal people who can't stand to see little red numbers living on the screen. Zero notifications. And it's great.
Here's the thing about email. If anything is genuinely an emergency - so important it can't wait a few hours while I have dinner with my kiddo or watch a movie with my husband - the people who have emergency access to me and my life can call or text me. Everything else can wait. Without notifications, I now only look at email when I actually have time to look at, process and respond to email.
Now, to be clear, turning off notifications doesn't mean I can't open my phone at any time and look at email. Nor does it prevent me from looking at my phone at times when I should probably choose to prioritize something more important (like sleeping or reading a book). But, and this is a big BUT, I now hold all the control over when I choose to look at that information. My phone never "reminds" me to look at it.
Take advice from my super-chill brother (who happens to also be employee #2 at an international startup doing things that will change the world), and get rid of those silly email notifications. You'll get to it when you get to it, and your mind will thank you.”


Multitask baby bonding with household chores:

“If your baby is still small you can wear your baby in a wrap while you putter and tell him or her about your day as you snuggle and get things done.”


Wait on household tasks until after your child has gone to bed (in another working moms thread, some advise to outsource them entirely):

“If you can, leave the household administration (picking up toys, cleaning dishes, throwing a load of laundry in, replying to emails or any work you have to do) until after you put the baby to bed for the night.”




Plan dinners and meals:

“Do whatever you can to make dinner planning as easy and stress-free as possible. That may mean prepping the night before or even ordering something depending on the day.”

“I try to streamline her (and our) weeknight meals as much as possible so I don't have anxiety about making it home in time to do all of the things.  When we get home I can just pull things out of the fridge, warm them up, and her dinner is ready.”


Set a standard time when it is you and your child:

“Set aside a standard of simple quality time with your kiddo during the hour or two that you will be together. Dedicate that time to reading, dancing, simple playing (like blowing bubbles), taking a walk, going in your backyard, singing, watching Jeopardy! haha - whatever makes you feel connected and focused.”


Make sure your get bonding time for your partner as well:

“After [my daughter] goes to bed, we will spend time together, chat about our day - or if we have a pressing work issue, go handle it. However, I know for me, I need time to be in my head, in my home. It's a plus when you're in your comfort zone surrounding by people you love.”


Change perspective:

I met with a friend, a dietician, who was trying to shift the focus of her practice to focus on helping women with self care. She did an 'audit' with me about my schedule and asked me about each task/activity: Does this help you relax or bring you joy. I found shifting my perspective from "If I could only have more time to myself" to "Listening to the radio while making dinner is relaxing and sitting on the train alone is relaxing" helped me find more moments of joy and relaxation in my day. It sounds like BS but it has helped. Because....let's be honest. ALL THE TIME IS SCHEDULED AND THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME!




Things you can do at work and throughout the day...



“If there's a way to take a yoga class or walk or something midday, that helps too. I used to work a very stressful 24/7 job and when my husband moved in with me he kindly requested I find a way to blow off some steam so he didn't get the brunt of my work stress when I got home. I started better habits and have been trying to keep them up now that baby is here!”


Meditate - and there’s an app for that:

“During my first pumping session at work I meditate with an app for 15 mins and that helps keep me sane and centered throughout the whole day and get less sucked into work in a negative all encompassing way. I leave work at exactly the same time each day, where before baby I often stayed late, and this helps me mentally switch gears.”




The first few weeks are the hardest:

Good luck! The first few weeks are bananas but I ultimately found I had more trouble adjusting to WORK than to shifting gears back to my kiddo. Now that she is almost two I hardly recall the days when that adjustment was difficult. It will get better!!!


Another question from a PSP working parent:


"I am having a really hard time letting go of what's going on at work. I have a difficult supervisor who is negative, negative, negative with me. I think she feels the need to put and try to keep me down based on her own insecurities. I do think she's smart and adds value to my work, although she's constantly looking for ways to tell me I'm wrong about my own work (even when it's clear I'm right). And I don't feel like she deals with me in good faith - she's under-handed, makes stuff up when it suits her etc. For various reasons I'm not worried about getting fired, so that's not an issue for now (although I feel like I need to be very careful on this front to make sure it doesn't become an issue in the future). And thank goodness, I'm fairly self-motivated regarding my work, although she really knows how to kill my enthusiasm.

I live here in Park Slope with just my son, and I feel like that's part of the problem. When I come home at night, after he goes to bed, I have hours to stew about it. It's hard for me to go out - too expensive, so I feel like that's not a feasible option.

I wish so much that I could just walk out the door at end of the workday, leave it at work, and not care. But obviously, I do. I'm losing sleep over it and it's making me feel generally unhappy. I also really am trying to get this under control so that it doesn't affect my productivity.

I'd love to hear the strategies that others use in order to deal with this situation. Thanks so much in advance."


Advice from members:


Condition your mind to think differently:

“I had a very similar situation in a previous job, and I know, it’s really not easy to let it go and not keep replaying the frustrations of the day over and over in your mind. I used to let the negativity at work impact my entire life. When your work is important to you and takes up so much of your time, it feels like there's not much else to fill up your thoughts with. This is perhaps somewhat simplistic, but it all comes down to strengthening and conditioning your mind to do something different, and it’s really worked for me.

Right now you're allowing your horrible boss not only to make your work life miserable, but to make your personal life miserable as well, and you're not even getting paid for that time! I'm guessing you wouldn't invite her over for dinner, so why is she welcome in your house every night, especially during your precious alone time? During the time you're at work you have to deal with her s*** and you’re getting a paycheck in return, but when you're at home you're choosing to spend your time on it and getting nothing for it except poorer mental or physical health (as hard as it is to control those thoughts, I know). When you have a work-related thought off the clock, acknowledgeit, and then say to yourself, I am not getting paid to deal with her now, she is not welcome in my house, I will not let her impact my health and my life, this is MY time! If the thoughts are constant, then that response to it will be too, and after a while all you hear is the this is MY time part.

It may also help to have some sort of transition ritual when you walk in the door. Allow yourself your commute to mentally hash things out if you have to, but when you walk into your house/apartment, envision the slime of negativity coming off of you as you take off your coat or change your clothes. You could also sit in a chair and take full deep breaths for a minute, envision clean positive energy coming into your body and toxic negative energy coming out. Or maybe engage your son in some kind of silliness to fill up on positivity and laughter while letting the negativity of the day go.

I hope this and the other suggestions you receive will help. It’s so hard, I know!”


See a therapist, try acupuncture, practice meditation and do yoga:

“This sounds so familiar, I am starting to wonder if we know the same person!  For this kind of stress, you will probably need a professional. Between my therapist, my acupuncturist, and some yoga classes, I was finally able to "not care" and "let go" when I left the office during a year-long period when my boss was everything you are describing.  Acupuncture can do amazing things for stress, as can yoga. Both solutions are also hours where you can just focus on you - not her, not work.”

“If you cannot afford or have time to do acupuncture or outside classes, the next best thing I think is tapes that address meditation, stress reduction, breathing etc.  After a while they really do help, I have found.  Good luck”


What can you do AT work?

"For starters, are there peers or fellow colleagues who you can talk to to see if they are having a similar experience? Sometimes, just knowing you are not alone can be helpful, especially if they can share some of their tips. Not only coping mechanisms, but also ways they may have been able to address, change and/or bypass their boss's behavior.

Escalating this issue to HR or your boss's boss can have its consequences, but it could also address the situation head on. Check your company's policies about escalating issues to HR, but generally HR is there to talk to about this - confidentially. If you are lucky, your company may have an EAP provider who you can call for advice. Something to consider, especially if other people are also struggling with the same person and there's a concern that the boss's behavior is having a negative impact on the business (and business results). And by business/business results, I mean whatever the organization's objectives are - results are results.

Taking some of these steps may help the OP to regain some feeling of control and feeling of success about the situation, which may also help in the off hours.

Longer-term, perhaps a job search is in order, although transition costs are usually high unless you are entering a new situation that you are pretty familiar with as you need to regain political capital - and with a child at home, sometimes knowing you are performing well enough not to be fired for a while is paramount!"


Further reading on PSP:

Work Life Balance: De-cluttering Your Mind

PSP reviews for Acupuncture

PSP reviews for Meditation

PSP reviews for Yoga Classes

PSP reviews for Therapists