Do You Worry About Work on the Weekend? A Psychologist Offers Advice

12 Dec ‘22
4 min
Stress and anxiety
Work performance
Lisanne van Marrewijk
Reviewed by psychologist Judith Klenter
man on the couch
It’s not unusual for work to keep us busy. For many people, it’s where we spend a lot of time – sometimes even more than with our family and friends. There’s nothing wrong with that because work gives us purpose, creates meaning and, of course, makes sure we can pay our bills. So, work is important. Another thing is when you can’t let go of work. When you can’t really relax on the weekend because your to-do list is playing on repeat in your head.


Psychologist Judith Klenter explains why we sometimes worry so much about work and how to let go of these worries.


When you want to let go of work for a while


Letting go of work sounds so simple, because what’s the point in worrying about something at times when there’s nothing you can do about it? 


“Even though we know it doesn’t make sense to worry about work when we’re not there, we do it anyway,” explains Judith. “There’s a reason for this and it has to do with the fact that it is one of the ways our brain has to protect us.”


In the past, there was no such thing as chronic stress. There was danger or there was no danger, and you wanted to escape from danger immediately. For example, a lion hunting you or a storm that you want to shelter from. Acute stress. Fear. That is when your brain gets to work looking for a solution: it tries to find a hiding place.  


“These days, our brain still works in the same way, but we face different challenges,” continues Judith. Instead of a storm, we have high-performance targets, and instead of a lion, we have a major project. These are all things we worry about but that we can’t do anything about right away. 


“If you understand why your brain does this, it makes it easier to let go of your work worries,” advises Judith. “Say to yourself: hey, I can tell that my brain is getting worked up about something again, but I know that it’s no use to me at the moment. Thanks, brain, but I’m not going to take any notice of you.”


Letting go of work worries


Understanding that your brain wants to help you is step one. Judith also has the following tips for letting go of work on the weekend.


1. Listen to your thoughts and feelings


If your work is also occupying your mind outside of work, there’s probably a reason for this. Judith says: “Examine what’s behind your worries. What exactly is it that you’re worried about? This could be anything from high-performance targets to outstanding tasks, an overflowing inbox or that colleague you can’t stand. Or a combination of all of the above.”


When you know exactly what you’re worried about, you can look for a way to solve it. Is it perhaps a busy period and do you know that things will get quieter soon? Or is there something going on that you’d like to raise with your manager?


2. Write it all down. Everything.


At the end of the working week, it’s tempting to just stop where you are and head home – or to the pub. But before you do, get your thoughts down on paper. 


“First, write down what you did this week. It’s always more than you think and that will help you go into the weekend feeling good about yourself. Then write down which tasks you still want to do or finish next week,” advises Judith. “By writing it down, you’ll get the task out of your head.”


Research shows that making a to-do list reduces cognitive activity. This means that you worry less, don’t overthink things and fall asleep quicker at night. And the best part? It only takes about five minutes.


3. Get moving


Exercise – whether you go for a brisk walk, do 30 minutes of CrossFit or take a bike ride in the sunshine – it will get you out of your head and into your body. This is exactly what you need if you’re worrying.


Research shows that exercise makes you worry less. It also reduces the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol and increases happiness hormones such as endorphins and dopamine, the natural painkillers and mood boosters of the body,” explains Judith.


Plan to spend some time on Saturday morning or Friday after work building up a sweat. Or, more accurately, getting out of your head. 


4. Shift your focus


Recognise that work is not within your circle of influence during the weekend. It’s a time when you can’t do anything about all the thoughts that are racing through your head. So, try to shift your focus to things that are within your control. 


Judith clarifies: “You might be focusing on the fact that you don’t want to think about work. Which will just amplify your thoughts. You can break this by shifting your attention to the things that you can influence, such as making fun plans and doing activities.”


Make sure you’re doing things that don’t just offer distraction, but also bring you joy. You can decide for yourself what that is. Consider meeting a friend for coffee, visiting family, taking a class, exercising, learning a language – you name it.


Do you still keep catching yourself thinking about work? Then think of something you can do instead. Read a book, call someone you haven’t spoken to for a while or, what about sudoku?


5. Make Mondays fun 


Worrying about the following workday on Sunday not only is not useful, but it’s also a waste of your Sunday off. Why do we tend to find Mondays so hard? And what can we do to make Mondays that bit more bearable? This is how to handle your ‘Monday Morning Anxiety’.


💡 Oh, and before we forget: Do a mindfulness practice to let go of your thoughts and worries. Try this one. Or take part in our group sessions. People who regularly practice mindfulness have more control over their emotions and feel less agitated.