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Rid yourself of work separation anxiety

Do you suffer from work separation anxiety?

Many of us say we are consumed with the work we love doing. Others, however, are not so blessed. When we define ourselves by our work or bring it home with us or spend our reluctantly taken holiday checking and responding to work emails and phone calls, we are in danger of forgetting how to switch off & be relaxed.

If this sounds like you, then you may have “work separation anxiety”.

Research shows that over half of us don’t take our due annual leave each year and a study by the Australian Institute Centre for Future Work revealed the following:

  • 36.7% of Australian workers did not fully utilise the paid holiday leave to which they were entitled. Australian workers have some 48 million unutilised holiday days, or close to 10 million holiday weeks.

  • The collective $$$value of that unutilised holiday leave in Australia is $11.1 billion.

The common reasons for not taking leave are we are too busy, have too much to do or we’re worried it would affect our job security/ promotional chances.

The good news is there are ways to stop this type of anxiety, take holidays, be considered for promotions and achieve satisfaction at both work and home.

Work strategies to reduce your anxiety when you are not there:

  1. We can reduce this anxiety by making a priority list of work and sharing this with others. This way you know everyone is on the same page and if you are not there they know what is important to get done.

  2. Create a buddy system at work. Have one person in your team who you get on well with and you can trust. Each of you share your work priorities and work methods. Each can cover the other person’s work. If you are a leader then use a peer to be your buddy. As a leader also coach one or two people in your team to be your 2IC and to be capable of doing aspects of your job. They can do the key pieces of your work when you are not there.

  3. In your team define emergency or crisis. That is, ensure everyone knows the type of crisis that requires you to be notified if you are away. At the same time, share ideas about how best to manage such types of crisis, sharing ways to solve problems and have a crisis plan. This can be a customer crisis strategy, employee injury, product crisis plan, etc.

  4. Establish a communication plan for when you are not there. For example, emails are not used for crisis or urgent matters. Text or phone is the communication method for urgent matters.

Personal strategies to switch off and reduce anxiety:

Personal strategies involve teaching yourself to switch off when you are not at work.

  1. At the end of the work day review your priorities and schedule. Tick off the things you have achieved. Then set the priorities for the next day and review your calendar to ensure you have time to focus on your priorities. Make this a daily habit – it’ll help you switch off at night and when holidays swing around you can use the technique to focus your mind on holiday activities and goals.

  2. On weekends, practice not looking at your phone or emails. Imagine you are on a plane trip and you cannot use your phone or email for a two-hour flight. A way I have found works well is to have a lot of distractions planned to keep your mind occupied. Activities where you cannot use your phone are great: Play a sport or musical instrument, paint, sculpt, bake, garden, hike, celebrate with others.

  3. Stay in the present. Practise thinking and being in the present moment. Observe your environment, observe other people around you, observe your breathing and actions. These techniques keep your mind focused and when you do this your mind doesn’t get anxious. Anxiety is about past or future events, or other things not in your present. The more you can accommodate your present mindset, the less anxious you will be.

  4. Family support – let your partner or children know you are trialling a new strategy and you want their help. Their job is to observe your behaviours and remind you to keep you in the present moment.

Freed from anxiety our brain has greater capacity for rational, creative and logical thought processing, allowing us to relax, experience joy and happiness and view our work as a job and not all consuming.

For support relating to work separation anxiety, contact Paul Saunders, Psychologist at

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