How to Care Less About Work


13 Ways To Stop Worrying About Work

Work-related stress can have a significant impact on your ability to prosper both professionally and personally. This is especially true when anxiety about work makes it challenging to relax or recover while you’re at home in the evenings or over the weekends. If you worry frequently about work, it may be helpful for you to explore various strategies for overcoming your anxieties and focusing on self-care. In this article, we discuss the many benefits of learning how to stop worrying about work and outline 13 methods for doing so effectively.

Learning how to stop worrying about work can help you lead a more fulfilling life, both personally and professionally. While it can be challenging to focus on rest and relaxation as you experience work-related stress, working toward a healthier balance as a professional can help you cultivate success and mental wellbeing. Here are a few benefits you may enjoy when you’re purposeful about making space for yourself, practicing self-care and leaving your worries at work:

Stress reduction: While most professionals experience stress at some point in their careers, it’s important to be able to manage these emotions effectively so you can preserve your health. Being able to stop worrying about your work in the evenings or on the weekends may allow you to reduce your stress levels overall.

Improved work-life balance: If you frequently worry about work at night or on the weekends, it’s likely you aren’t taking enough time to relax and recover from the work week. Learning strategies to overcome work-related anxiety can help you improve your work-life balance and dedicate enough time to your personal needs.

Heightened productivity: Worrying about work on a regular basis may cause you to experience general fatigue, anxiety and trouble focusing, which can reduce your productivity levels. If you find effective tools for managing your stress about work, you may be able to boost your productivity in the long term.

Mindfulness: You may be able to become more mindful of your emotions by learning how to mitigate your worries about work. From here, you can apply mindfulness to other situations in your life, which may improve your mental wellbeing and allow you to overcome potential obstacles more efficiently.

How to Care Less About Work

A photo illustration of an arrow puncturing a clock

A t the bleakest moment in the pandemic, when you felt your most stressed, most scared, least centered, you probably heard some variation of the phrase This is really hard. Maybe you read it; maybe your manager said it to you; maybe you said it to yourself. But that’s the truth: Our nearly two years of living through a pandemic have been hard. And like everything else in the United States, that difficulty has not been evenly distributed. It has been hardest for those on the front lines, those afraid of how customers will react to their requests to put on a mask, those out of work or in constant fear of the way COVID variants are whipping through their community. It has been hard, in different ways, for those attempting to work and supervise school from home, for those in complete isolation, for those terrified of being around other people. It is fucking hard, in so many intersecting and unfair ways.

All that hard, seemingly never-ending work has been worth doing so that others—especially the most vulnerable in our lives—might be safer. Even in your most lonely, overwhelmed, or terrified moments, you can still grasp at that purpose. But many knowledge workers long ago arrived at a breaking point—if we’re being honest, this happened well before the pandemic for a lot of people. We worked far beyond the 40 hours of the prescribed workweek, but the goal of all that work became opaque. It was seldom to create work that was meaningful or innovative, even if we could mumble something to that effect when asked what we like about our job. It wasn’t so that we could someday work less overall. We worked hard to prove that we were alert and available for more work.

Societally, we are taught to revere and strive for hard work, even as we internalize that we’re never quite doing it. You might be working excessive hours, or you might feel as if you are suffocating under the weight of demands on your time and body, but that labor will always fall short of the venerated hard work of someone else. Many of our preconceptions of hard work are still rooted in an agrarian or industrial mindset, and they strengthen as the percentage of the American workforce laboring in those fields has declined. To labor outdoors, or in a factory, or in any way that taxes the body, is considered good, noble, even patriotic work. If you work indoors, at a computer—even if it affects the body in ways that don’t leave calluses—it is distinctly less venerable.

So what work is actually valuable? It’s incredibly unclear. Many knowledge workers, ourselves included, find themselves insecure in some capacity about the work they’re doing: how much they do, whom they do it for, its value, their value, how their work is rewarded and by whom. We respond to this confusion in pretty confusing ways. Some become deeply disillusioned or radicalized against the extractive, capitalist system that makes all of this so muddled. And others throw themselves into work, centering it as the defining element of their self-worth. In response to the existential crisis of personal value, they jump on the productivity treadmill, praying that in the process of constant work they might eventually stumble across purpose, dignity, and security.

The treadmill rarely provides the kind of value and meaning that we hope it will. People are growing more certain in the notion that the status quo of American working life is untenable. But the pandemic has created an opportunity to reconsider and reimagine the structure of our lives and, perhaps, remove the vestigial, extractive elements. We believe that flexible work—not flexible work during a pandemic, not flexible work under duress—can change your life. It can remove you from the wheel of constant productivity. It can make you happier and healthier, but it can also make your community happier and healthier. It can make the labor in your home more equitable and it can help you be a better friend, parent, and partner. It can, somewhat ironically, increase worker solidarity. It can allow you to actually live the sort of life you pretend to live in your Instagram posts, liberating you to explore the nonwork corners of your life, including hobbies and civic involvement. We are trying to get off the damn treadmill so that we can remember the purpose and dignity that can come from the whole of our life.

S o ask yourself this: Who would you be if work was no longer the axis of your life? How would your relationship with your close friends and family change, and what role would you serve within your community at large? Whom would you support, how would you interact with the world, and what would you fight for?

Detachment, not lack of ambition

By being detached, though, don’t you run the risk of not moving up within the company and getting left behind when it’s time for promotion? Could this way of thinking make it harder to get a pay rise? And could your manager and colleagues see you as a lone wolf, or as someone who’s just along for the ride? Is detachment incompatible with ambition? “No!” the three interviewees say in unison. “Quite the opposite!”

“I’ve noticed that by setting boundaries and responding with a firm ‘No’, I get more respect,” says Lucien. “Taking a step back is not about a lack of ambition, but the ability to be free and be respected. Now if my boss calls me after 6pm, he’s quick to apologise, while others are regularly disturbed, without any acknowledgment. I sincerely believe that this work-life balance, and the respect it affords me, will help me move up within the company. If I become a manager one day, I’ll instil these values in my team.”

Vincent has also seen that his approach makes him more available for training and helps with his personal development. His work is better quality, too. Anaïs agrees. “It was precisely when I stopped putting pressure on myself, when I gave in, that I started to get lots of requests from exciting clients,” she says. “And ironically, I’ve never made so much money. Yes, I could work five times harder and make five times more, but why bother? That’s not my ambition. As long as I’m happy in my work, I’m good at what I do and I have a certain level of financial comfort, then everything is good.”

The art of not giving a damn: four tips

Put pleasure first

Vincent has created a rule for himself: “My work has to be a blast. I have fun when I work, I enjoy it, and when it’s not fun any more, I stop.” He knows he’s not going to be made to do anything he doesn’t enjoy. “It’s been this way since I was a kid,” he says. “I can’t help it, that’s how I am.” It’s the same for Lucien. “It’s not just natural nonchalance,” he says. “It’s a conscious approach. I own it and I’m proud of it. I’ve developed a strong desire to enjoy life, to assert myself and to set a framework for my career.” He left law school midway through when he saw the amount of work that lay ahead of him. “I saw the lawyers putting in long hours,” he says. “It wasn’t right for me. There was no way I was putting my life on hold like that.”

Don’t make work a priority

Lucien grew up with a mother who was stressed out by her job. “I quickly decided that I wasn’t going to have the same attitude,” he says. “Whether it be at school, university or work, I refuse to panic. Whenever there’s a so-called ‘emergency’, I weigh up the pros and cons. I generally come to the conclusion that it’s not really an emergency, there’s nothing crucial at stake and the project can wait until the next day. It’s not the end of the world.”

It’s a story that mirrors Vincent’s. His father, who is also his “best friend”, runs his own business. “He’s old-school,” says Vincent. “He’s a hard worker, with long hours and lots of stress. I refuse to do that.” Vincent has his priorities in life. One day, when his cat fell ill, he had to take him to the vet. “I didn’t even hesitate,” he says. “There are priorities at work, and there are more important things in life. It’s non-negotiable. I can find another job. I’ve only got one cat.”

Set boundaries

When he started his current job, Lucien set the tone. “In the first few days I was there, I left the office space first, at around 6pm. After that, I turned off my emails, alerts and work calls. When I got a call from my boss at 10pm, I told him I wasn’t available but that I would be the following day. That’s how the boundaries were set.” It’s easier said than done, of course. It requires courage and self-confidence, both of which Lucien has always had. “I simply tell myself that we only have one life, and what I’ve seen is that by doing it this way, you get more respect,” he says.

When it comes to detachment, Vincent is on a whole other level. As a salaried employee on a fixed contract, he sees no problem in doing exactly as he pleases. “I am passionate about my work, I meet my targets and my deadlines,” he says. “But that doesn’t keep me from leaving at 5.30pm” – an attitude that has earned disparaging remarks from his colleagues. “My manager passed on rumours along the lines that I was ‘leaving early’ or ‘taking the afternoon off’,” he says, amused. “I immediately replied that I do my job well, that I wouldn’t change anything and they can take it or leave it. They got the message. This is how I am. When I negotiate a salary, that’s how it is: I propose a number and if it doesn’t work for them, I leave.”

Don’t feel guilty

Anaïs is, by nature, committed, hyperactive and highly motivated. So naturally, when she landed a freelance project especially close to her heart, she invested “body and soul in that adventure”. She stayed the course for a few months, in spite of differences with the management. Work gradually started to take up too much space, both in her head and in her life. “I was drained and exhausted trying to make the relationship work,” she says. “So, out of necessity, I took a break. It’s not my style at all, but I stopped working with the client and I distanced myself from almost any kind of work.”

She disconnected, turned off the alerts on her phone, stopped responding immediately to everything – and felt no guilt at all over it. “I freed myself from a lot of constraints,” she says. “I no longer accept projects I don’t like, I no longer feel guilty about sending an order at 10pm if I want to, or working hours that are nothing like a normal office timetable. I work when I feel like it. If I’m not in a good mood or I’m not feeling creative on a particular day, I stop!” And, against all expectations, clients didn’t complain. “It was the opposite, actually,” she says. “They noticed a change, but a positive one. The more I work like this, the more satisfied they are with my work. It’s smoother now, creatively speaking.”

So, should you take the plunge? What if you learnt to let go a little bit? It could help to stop you drowning in work, burning out and allowing your priorities to fall by the wayside. Life is short. Work is important, it’s true. But sometimes you have to take a step back. And, who knows, it might be that in doing so, you’ll discover creative powers you never knew you had.



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