Employment Journey

Turning My Brain Off and Disengaging From Work

I was never very good at not working. This isn’t a new development that’s emerged during my period of unemployment or underemployment. It’s not a new habit or quirk I’ve developed and I’m not just talking about not having work to do and feeling restless.

Instead I’m talking about turning the “work” part of my brain off when I’m not actually at work. I have a tendency to sit there watching TV at the end of the day or eating dinner and while I’m talking with my family part of my head is actually still back at work, trying to work out a solution to a problem or anticipating what’s pending tomorrow. And after everyone is in bed I will pull the computer back out and answer more emails or whatever instead of relaxing with a good book and going to bed at a decent hour.

Part of that has always been motivated out of guilt. In fact I’d say guilt is a primary factor in this attitude and behavior. When I was working for agencies I’d fear that the client was sending something through at any moment – likely as soon as I went to bed – that would need to be addressed immediately and the entire program was going to fall apart because I wasn’t responsive in a timely manner. Or that they were going to find my delay in response troubling and ask my bosses for someone more reliable, thank you very much.

Some of these fears were – and are – irrational, I know that. But they’re also borne out to some extent by actual events. Many are the nights when I was all set to turn in only to check my phone one last time and see that a request had been sent through that was urgent and couldn’t wait until I woke up at 6:00 the next morning. Usually it was because some bit of news was being announced at 7AM Central time the next day that necessitated my blowing up the editorial calendar, rearranging all the scheduled posts already in the queue and making other adjustments on the fly. So to some extent, this attitude was earned and warranted.

That doesn’t make it better, though. That doesn’t mean it’s not important to switch that off at the end of the day and engage with the rest of life.

In fact it’s at these moments, when things are at their most stressful, that it’s so very important to disengage and leave work alone for periods of time. When you know that every day is going to bring with it new challenges, stresses and problems, you need that time to recuperate, to give your brain time to decompress and do something other than react to the work-related stimuli that’s right in front of it.

That’s something I still struggle with, even during this phase of my life. I’m pounded by the voices in my head that say “No wonder nothing’s happening for you, you’d rather read and relax tonight than write that pitch that’s been unfinished for a month now.” Or “No wonder you’re not successful, you think you deserve downtime when in fact you do not.” I’m not being overly-dramatic here when I say these are the real thoughts that go through my head on the rare times I decide I’ve had enough, my fingers can’t handle any more and I’m done for the day. They haunt me.

To some that might be labeled as “a drive to succeed” but I think I’ve taken it too far into near-obsessive behavior. The world won’t fall apart because I didn’t get to an email or because it took me an extra day to write something. My supervisors would always tell me that I was under no obligation to answer late-night emails. If a problem cropped up, they’d say, then it’s mostly on the client for not telling us about a 5AM press release before 10PM the previous day. They had to bear some responsibility too.

But that’s not how my brain works. *I’m* always going to be the one at fault for these situations falling apart, for something not being done, for someone not being satisfied. I bear the burden of the success or failure of the company I work for on my shoulders. That’s what’s always been in mind as I flip open my computer at 9PM to “just take care of a few things.” It’s not the healthiest of attitudes and I’d discourage others from adopting it. It’s one I’m working hard to break myself.

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