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When work stress affects the home

I often live my life through music. I hear a word and my mind leaps to all the songs I know about it. For example, the word “work”. Immediately I start singing classic songs by Dolly Parton, The Beatles, and Jimmy Barnes, just to get me started. So many artists sing about work because the it consumes so much of our daily lives.

Whether you live to work or work to live, all jobs come with a degree of stress. Sometimes at work you are so busy that you don’t have time to consider how you are going, then suddenly when you arrive home it hits you. The strain of the stressful days carries over into the home. Suddenly work stress has become a home stress. You may pick an argument with your partner or withdraw emotionally. You may be quicker to raise your voice with your children or spouse. You’re more easily antagonised. Researchers call this the spillover effect, as our stress at work spills over into our home and leads to conflict with those we love. This in turn can trigger a downward cycle of stress, particularly when you carry the effects back to work the next day, damaging your ability to concentrate and be productive

There are different ways in which we respond to stress. Some default to a fight-or-flight response, where they either start an argument or avoid their partner. In contrast others adopt the tend-and-befriend response, taking care of their offspring or seeking social support from others. Interestingly this can sometimes cause more arguments in the relationship than the fight-or-flight response.

We often hear about the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Contrary to some thinking, work-life balance is not based on hours at work vs hours at home. The reality is that for a fulltime worker, you are already spending more hours at work than awake at home. Rather, work-life balance is about being mentally and emotionally able to savour the time you do have. Work and life feel unbalanced if all your mental and emotional resources are going to work and you have none left over for life.

If your relationship is feeling a little unbalanced at present, you may want to consider the following questions.
Do you need to change jobs?
Do you need to let you partner have some down time before talking about your day?
Do you need to create a space and time to debrief?
Do you need to change your routine?
Do you need to work on your communication? Maybe text your partner during the day to check in on each other’s needs?

Some couples who have faced similar struggles have come up with their own solutions.

One man decided to make time to sit down at the beach after work to enjoy the outside peace and space before arriving home each day. His partner knew that he would be home half an hour later and used that time to prepare dinner and listen to music.

Another couple created a ‘third space’, a time after work in which they could both pursue individual activities to unwind (such as the gym and reading) so that they had the emotional energy needed to relax together later in the evening.

For another couple, walking the dog together after work provided an opportunity to debrief and download, with the agreement that they would leave all their work stress behind before walking through the front door.

If you or your partner are feeling overwhelmed with work stress, maybe it’s time to look at the best solutions for you.

“When I’m home everything seems to be right
When I’m home feeling you holding me tight, tight, yeah”
A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles

South West Counselling Inc.
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Beyond Blue
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