The simple gesture that helps me relieve work stress
I‘m a cranky commuter. Every evening, leaving my office, I step onto the train with a brain packed full of all the day’s stressors and still-to-dos. And I enter my “home life” with the exact same attitude and thoughts simmering from my office life.
Needless to say, it doesn’t make for a very relaxing evening.
So many of us do this without even realizing it–we let the stress of our 9-5, whatever that may be, seep into our “personal” time when we’re supposed to be off the clock.
That’s why it’s important to come up with a “Third Space”–a bridge between your work life and your personal life.
The peak performance researcher Adam Fraser dreamt up this concept of the Third Space and shared it in a TED Talk.
A Third Space doesn’t have to be a new physical area, he says. It could be your drive home, commute, evening dog walk, or your short trip to the gym. “It’s just a space where you think about, ‘How will I show up when I walk through that door [home]?’” Fraser says. “How you show up determines what sort of evening you have . . . And how you transition home determines how you unwind, relax, and socialize–or obsess and worry about the day.”
The Third Space is a passageway in which you can leave behind whatever you wish. Here’s how to make your own:
Identify your different “modes”
Your modes are going to be singular and specific to you. Maybe you go from school to home, or from work to an apartment with roommates, or a part-time job to caring for your children.
Distinguish what modes you’re usually operating in, and the optimum time to break up your day with a Third Space.
Try to get creative. If you don’t have a commute, you can still put the Third Space idea into practice–I once read about a writer who worked from home, but walked around the block every morning and every evening to signal the start and end to his day.
Create a game plan
Once you identify the time for your Third Space, think about how you can best use it. If you’re driving home, for example, what are you listening to as a way to reset?
One of my friends is currently doing a two-hour commute–her way of managing all that car time is by listening to audiobooks. So my friend’s Third Space is narrated by Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Not bad, huh?
Pick a ritual
I noticed during my short subway commute I was wasting time by opening texts or emails–and not responding because I didn’t have Wi-Fi. (Then I’d have to open and read them all over again the next day.)
The commute wasn’t long enough to dive into a novel, so I started to use that time to practice writing lyrics. Not only did this exercise require very little except a notebook and a pen, but it also stretched my mind in a different way than it was stretched during the workday. Diving into the world of rhymes allowed me to leave all the day’s activities behind.
Other rituals that might help you create a Third Space include lighting a candle and taking a moment to wind down, writing down something that happened during the day that you’re grateful for, or even setting the table for dinner.
Go to a specific location
A Third Space doesn’t have to be a physical area, but if that’s available to you, give it a shot.
Do a few yoga poses in your living room to unwind your mind, or take your dog for a walk to signal that it’s time for “home life.”
No dog? No problem. Take a solo stroll!
Don’t discount the magic of a few simple moments of alone time. I’m convinced this is why so many people go to the gym after work. Despite being tired after a long day, a detox of the brain and body happens while sweating to a HIIT class or running a few miles. You’re clearing your mind–and all the events and emotions of the day.
Ask yourself a question
You can also use a Third Space to reflect on what happened during the day.
Even something as simple as, “So, what was the high point of my day?” or, “What can I try to improve tomorrow?” can close the loop on the day you experienced, and subconsciously point you to notice more positive events later in the week.
Stick with it–and pivot if necessary
Committing to a Third Space can structure your unstructured time. Try to stick with your new routine for at least a week and assess any benefits or downsides.
If you decide to read or listen during this gap of time, you might also be surprised by the progress you make by chipping through a great book every day.
The point is to unwind in a way that feels right to you. A Third Space might give you more space than you ever imagined. It’s time to enjoy it.