Throughout the pandemic, our working lives have seen some significant shifts in balance. For many of you, working from home was never an option. Instead you worked through tough shifts and got through more bottles of sanitizer than you ever thought possible. Some took your work home with you, transforming kitchens, living rooms and spare bedrooms into offices. The last 18 months have really impacted upon our work life balance and more and more of us are finding it harder to switch off from work. So, in this article, we will share our three top tips to help you create the boundaries needed for you to enjoy your down time.

The ability to switch off from work is vital for a healthy lifestyle. Not doing so can lead to increased stress, low concentration levels and mental exhaustion. Research has shown that police officers are already at considerable risk of emotional exhaustion, psychological distress, burnout and PTSD, but those who can successfully disengage with work at the end of their shift are more likely to be able to manage their stress levels well.

Literally, switch off (and mute the work Whatsapp group whilst you’re at it)

As soon as work is over, turn off your work phone and mute any notifications from email accounts related to work on your personal devices to start the process of turning your work brain off. You are entitled to time off and there are very few things that cannot wait until you are back at work. If there is an extremely specific and niche incident that needs your immediate attention, your supervisor has access to your personal phone number and will be able to get in touch with you. But by checking your devices “just in case” someone needs you, you are remaining permanently engaged with work. In this day and age, people often expect instant access to you, so it is understandable that you may feel uncomfortable with the idea of your emails sitting unanswered for three or four days. If that’s the case, you should set up a polite auto-reply explaining what your working hours are and that there may be a delay to your response. 

Remaining connected with others and feeling like part of a group can help to combat poor mental health. But if the group you are connected with are discussing work matters on your days off, this too will stop you from fully disengaging when you’re at home. No one wants to miss out on the group chat, but consider muting it for a day or two if it’s constantly reminding you of work. We could all benefit from spending a little less time with our heads buried in our phones, and a little more time connecting with the tangible reality of life – whether that’s with people, pets or outdoors with nature.

Accept your limits

You are not a superhero. 

Read that again. You are NOT a superhero. You cannot complete all of your work, solve everyone’s problems, and then take on other people’s work, all day, every day, ad infinitum. Trying to achieve that will just lead to burnout. All you can do is your best everyday. Accept that some things won’t get done and as long as you have tried your best, this isn’t your fault. 

Due to the nature of policing roles, it’s not always possible or suitable to write down a to-do list of tasks, but it is possible to prioritise your workload. Knowing what has to be done, what is important to get done as soon as possible and what you would like to get done in an ideal world can help you to mentally unwind when you get home, through the realisation that you have done all that you could today. If you are significantly struggling with your workload, you should always speak to your supervisor or manager and let them know. Derbyshire Benevolent Trust Group Insurance Scheme members also have free access to Care First, who can provide impartial and confidential online or telephone advice on tackling stress.

Use exercise as a barrier between work-time and down-time (not alcohol)

For many who have been working from home, the loss of a commute has resulted in the blurred lines between work-time and down-time. The temptation to do a little bit more after hours can easily exist when you’ve still got the laptop half open next to you. Instead, try to create separation between work and home by putting your work away in a different room then heading to the gym or going for a run or bike ride as soon as you have reached finish time. Vigorous exercise will help you to burn off any built up work-related stress, boost your endorphins and help you to get a better night’s sleep. 

Many people report using alcohol as a way to switch off from work and working from home has made it easier for us all to walk straight to the fridge and grab the wine. But alcohol should never be used as a coping mechanism, as this can quickly spiral into the much more serious issue of alcoholism. Moderation is key – there is nothing wrong with a few drinks to wind down from a stressful week, but try to keep this to weekends only. Too much alcohol can increase anxiety levels, so remember to drink water to feel more in control and refreshed.