Before I married my husband in 2005, we never lived together. Instead, we each paid a zillion dollars to rent our own apartments in New York City. But after a small ceremony uptown followed by a very fancy dinner downtown, we were husband and wife, and two apartments became one. Other marriage clichés aside, there was one that stuck: He was always there when I got home from work.
This would’ve been wonderful if I hadn’t adopted a decade-long habit of walking in the door still stressed after a long day at the office. Running the online division of a big media brand meant long meetings, tons of to-dos, a team to lead and famous people to please -- including many Freaky Friday moments when I was sure I’d swapped lives with the likes of Sisyphus and his boulder, or at least Liz Lemon.
Suddenly, when I came home from work completely fried each day, there was a real man to deal with. I loved this man, so snapping at him for leaving his shoes in the hallway because I was in a foul mood wouldn't work. I had to find the energy to enjoy our free hours together, of the more wedded bliss, less why-are-you-in-my-space variety.
"If we walk in on family life already tapped out, then we have nothing left to give and no energy to even receive," explains Bernadette Noll, author of Slow Family Living: 75 Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect and Create More Joy. "While it’s not always possible to leave all your stress behind at the office, in the name of fun and connection with your family, it is really necessary to find ways to walk into your home ready to have a good time."
Who wouldn't like a good time when they got home from work? With the help of our top experts, we've compiled three easy ways to de-stress and decompress before walking through the front door.
Good: Breathe deeply before entering.
Who knew a simple inhale-exhale could serve as an on/off switch for stress? Yet as it turns out, deep breathing is scientifically proven to reduce stress and boost energy. "Turn off your car in the driveway and just take three deep breaths before you go inside," advises Kate Hanley, author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity. "This will help demarcate job time from personal time, and it will wake you up and refresh you."
Once you walk through the door and say your initial hellos, Noll stresses the importance of forging a connection. "Try to make little bits of eye contact and physical contact," she says. "Look at each other when you talk, touch a shoulder as you ask a question, hug intently."
Better: Trade the front door for the back yard.
Movement is another medically proven way to create the kind of feel-good endorphins that calm your nerves. "The most effective way to leave workday stress [behind] and be ready to enjoy an evening at home is to do something physical, preferably outdoors," suggests Hanley. "Take the long way to your car or play with your kids outside for a few minutes before you even go in [your home]. You've likely been sitting all day. Movement will clear your head and boost your circulation, and if you move enough to deepen your breathing, you'll also trigger your relaxation response." And if that still doesn’t do the trick, try this tip from Hanley: Shut down your computer before you call it quits, and imagine the work part of your brain also shutting off.
Best: Don’t let work stress you out.
Jeff Gaines, author of Never Enough Nation: Managing Your Health, Wealth and Stress, says the key to leaving stress at the door is "not picking it up in the first place." For many, this seems easier said than done, but Gaines says there’s a big difference between real stress and manufactured stress -- the kind that’s really in your head. "Can’t pay your bills? Real stress," he says. "Worried about coworkers talking behind your back at the office? Manufactured. Seventy to 80 percent of stress is manufactured. These are things made up in your mind and getting in the way of real stress that you should be paying attention to. The problem is, many people have too much manufactured stress crowding in, making it more difficult to discern which is real, which is manufactured -- and what to do about either one."
Lauren E. Miller, author of 5 Minutes to Stress Relief, says stress is something we just have to grab by the horns and tame. "Nothing has the power to define your worth and value unless you allow it to, so be the gatekeeper of your thoughts," she says. "Your thoughts form your choices, and by your choices you form your life." Decide which stressors are real, make changes, and put the rest out of your mind. That’s the goal.
Surprisingly, younger Americans are feeling stress more than older generations. USA Today reports that although stress levels for most Americans are falling, Millennials (those aged 18 to 33) are feeling an uptick in stress-related issues such as depression and anxiety. The main culprit? Work.
That said, the moral of this story is to strive for stress-free downtime by cleaning mental house after work. "It’s important to come home with a clear head," says Hanley. "Evenings are the only times that are truly yours during the week. You deserve to actually enjoy them and to give yourself downtime so you can savor your personal life and so you can be fresh for tomorrow at work."
I think that guy I come home to each night would agree.