Some people find it difficult to detach from their work responsibilities and they keep working nights and weekends. Other people find it difficult to detach from their thoughts about work. This post addresses the latter situation.
Detaching from work can refer to physical separation or to mental / emotional separation. In the former case, separating effectively is related to your relationship with the external demands and responsibilities of your current job. Perhaps these demands and responsibilities entail frequent and lengthy contacts with colleagues and staff both during as well as after normal business hours. Detaching effectively would then involve changing the nature of your relationship to your environment, i.e. identifying your priorities for your work and your personal life; exploring possibilities for changing your role / responsibilities at work or at home; finding out if you could develop some boundaries between work and the rest of your life.
Oftentimes however, people also find it difficult not only to detach from external real life demands (e.g. weekend calls; working on projects late at night, etc.), but also to detach from their thoughts about these work demands, calls, and projects. In order words, many people find it difficult not to think about work.
From a coping skills perspective, mindfulness practices could help someone detach from thoughts about work more effectively. Mindfulness essentially entails learning to exercise greater control over one’s attention – as opposed to trying to control the content of thoughts. In words, a mindful approach to the problem of detaching from work would not entail trying to stop thoughts about work. Instead, a mindful approach would lead someone to “step back” internally from those thoughts – as if he or she were observing the stream of “work thoughts” on a “movie screen.” Then without making any effort to change that stream of “work thoughts”, a mindful approach would have that person deliberately focus his or her attention towards something else – like choosing to slowly turn your head away from a real movie screen and choosing instead to pay attention to the person seated next to you.
As mentioned above, mindful practices belong to the realm of coping skills which can be helpful in addressing distressing experiences. An insight oriented approach to this “detaching” problem would entail an inquiry about the self. For example, what function might it serve in your life to spend so much time thinking about work? What are the benefits to you of thinking about work as much as you do? What do you find problematic about thinking about work as much as you do?