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Don’t Bring it Home | 5 Tips to Keep Your Work Burnout From Affecting Relationships

Two people sitting on the ground.

Work is piled up on your desk, your boss is being extra demanding, you didn’t have time for a proper lunch, and you just can’t wait to get home and relax at the end of this long day.

After a commute spent rehashing all that went wrong, you walk through the door, see your roommate, your partner, your parents, or your kids, and explode. You want to feel relaxed and happy to be with them after leaving work. But, it feels like they can’t do anything right and they just don’t understand how difficult your day was.

It’s an all too familiar scenario for those who work in the public impact space, and according to a study conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 79% of men and 61% of women report that work stress impacts their personal relationships.

Here are some things you can do to stop bringing your burnout home.

Recognize that you have different coping mechanisms

Everyone has a different way of coping with stress. Some people want physical activity, others need quiet relaxation, and some want to talk it all out. The key is understanding how you and your partner cope with stress so you can come to a compromise.

Beth Salcedo, Medical Director for the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders and President Elect of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, suggests talking with your housemates about coping mechanisms prior to stressful situations.

“For example, one person could say ‘It would be helpful to me if you would give me some quiet time between the time I arrive home from work and when we sit down together’ or something similar,” says Salcedo. “Everyone has their own ways of managing stress, and we are all so different. Talking together about what restores, rejuvenates and relaxes one partner versus the other is extremely important but not always intuitive.”

Find someone else to talk to

When you are really burned out at work, you may be complaining about it more often than you realize. No matter how much you love your partner, roommate or family, listening to them complain all the time just isn’t good for relationships.

“The stressful situation bleeds from work life into home life and becomes both of their problems, both of their stressors, and then can really make home life toxic,” Salcedo said.

She suggests that partners and families talk about how to set limits. For example, the duo may agree to only talk about work for 30 minutes each day, or they may agree to keep work out of the conversations on weekends. The burned out person needs to accept their situation and either make a decision to change or start thinking about the positive things they experience at work. She suggests keeping a journal to write down what you like about your job.

Pro Tip: You can also find other people to talk to. Join a local or online support group for stress or anxiety or a peer networking group like a local chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals. Schedule weekly dinners with other friends or family members and talk to them. And of course you can also find a therapist.

Practice self care together

Try meeting up for a walk or hitting the gym together right after you finish your work day. Studies show that exercising with a partner can actually help improve the quality of your relationship. And exercising is known to improve your mood and can help you process the stressful day.

Salcedo suggests building self care into your relationships, which could include meditating together, eating healthy together, and getting enough sleep. Making sure to prioritize your friends, family, and relationships and spending time with them is vital, she said.

Stop working, or at least try to

Leaving work at the office and turning it off when you enter your front door is ideal. But, of course, in today’s world that is difficult and sometimes impossible for many of us to do. The reality is that there are times when you have to bring work home.

If you do have to bring work home, set up a time limit and make sure you discuss it with your partner, your roommate, or your family, Salcedo suggests. Maybe you work from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. at night, after first spending some time with the family. As long as everyone agrees and understands what needs to be done it can help stave off fights.

There are other things you can do, too. Try to set similar rules and limits to your use of mobile devices so that you are not constantly checking your email during dinner hour. And, if it helps, find a separate space—a coffee shop, a library, even a home office—to finish up your work responsibilities.

Take care of yourself

Of course, you have to focus on your own self care first. Here on Idealist Careers we have written extensively about how to deal with your work stress and burnout. Check out “Recognizing Compassion Fatigue in the Helping Professions” and “When Self-Care Isn’t Enough: How to Take Control of Your Mental Health.” Your burnout could also mean it is time to look for a new job. Not sure, read “6 Signs it’s Time to Find a New Job.”

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About the Author | Samantha Fredrickson has worked in communications and nonprofit advocacy for more than a decade. She has spent much of her career advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations. She has degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno and New York Law School.

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