You've got a problem at work, and you can't stop thinking about it once you get home. It fouls your mood, distracts you from paying good attention to the important people in your life, and possibly even keeps you up at night.
If this is a habit of yours, be encouraged--you can stop, no matter how thorny your work situation is. That's according to Peter Shallard, a former psychotherapist turned consultant who now describes himself as "the shrink for entrepreneurs." Here's his advice.
First, identify if you are problem solving or ruminating.
The former is good use of your time. Ruminating, however, involves thinking again and again about something without coming up with solutions or having any new insight. "If you're coming home from work [with a lot] on your mind," Shallard says, "and it takes you a half an hour to work it out, and then you solve problems and feel great, maybe that's your way of processing. But if you're up all night stressing, then something needs to change."
Get a hobby.
Immersing yourself in something that occupies your mind can help you surface solutions that may not have occurred to you before. "It forces you to think laterally," Shallard says, "and to take more data in from around the edges, from around the periphery of what your actual problem is."
Shallard calls this "divergent thinking" and says a former client who had a highly stressful job used this strategy in the form of paying close attention to his swimming form and breathing. In doing so, he was able to subconsciously untangle work issues, oftentimes having an "aha" moment through the exercise of distracting himself.
"This is why people build little ships inside of glass bottles as a way of unwinding," he says, "because when you can occupy that conscious side of your brain and allow the more intuitive creative processes to occur, that's often going to be a lot more relaxing [and] lead to better actual solutions."
Change your emotional state.
Ruminations go hand in hand with a particular emotional state, so if you leave work stressed, frustrated, or anxious, you're going to continue uninterrupted on that psychological path unless you proactively do something to change your mood.
You can do this in healthy or unhealthy ways. Consuming chemicals or cupcakes can make people feel better, but probably aren't ideal as long-term mood enhancers. Instead, Shallard suggests exercising, eating healthy food, listening to good music, or any kind of emotional input that will change the tracks you're operating on.
"Sometimes, the problem will just vanish, even temporarily, and give us respite," he says. "Then maybe in the better state we'll find a solution that we couldn't have because those mental resources weren't available to us in the negative, stressed, anxious state of mind."
Don't talk about your problems.
It can be particularly easy for people who work with a significant other to bring work issues home. If that's you, and you're feeling unbalanced, it can help to set rules about how much talking about work can be done at home. Though debriefing during dinner can be OK, talking about work problems reactivates the negative emotions associated with them. "It's actually serving to throw that person straight back into the same neurological state that they were in all day," he says.
Get outside perspective.
Whether he or she is a coach, therapist, or mentor, getting regular input and advice from someone outside your situation can be remarkably freeing. "Sometimes, having a weekly coaching session or just something to kind of anticipate really serves as a powerful container," Shallard says.
Want more psychology advice? Check out The Flip Side of Negative Emotions, in which I interview a brilliant Harvard psychologist and executive coach.