You’re Not Being Paid to Ruminate at 2 A.M.

Jancee Dunn is the Well columnist for the New York Times and, for over two decades, has written about health for a variety of publications in addition to being a New York Times bestselling author of nine books. Recently she turned her attention to a common problem: how to stop thinking about work all the time. Rumination is a common issue, whether our focus is on work, relational problems, geopolitics, or anything else under the sun. Her full article can be read at and some tips for battling this phenomenon are listed below:

Keep a Journal – Experts suggest keeping a “rumination journal” to record the hours they devote to chewing over work issues each week. This can help orient you to how much time you are really dedicated to ruminating, which one can think of as hours as overtime for which you’re not getting paid.

Set Guardrails – Establish a clear line when your workday ends, and be strict about maintaining it. Ritualize your transition from job to home by changing your clothes, putting on music or taking a walk. Doing so not only erects a psychological boundary but it can also make us more likely to use that time to rest or connect with people in real life. Keep in mind that technology “empowers rumination” so if possible turn off your notifications for email and workplace messaging apps after a certain hour; if you must check them, do so at a designated time. And set a timer, so you don’t spend the rest of the night responding to messages.

Turn Ruminative Thoughts into Productive Ones – There’s evidence that ruminating about work during leisure time can affect our emotional well-being, but thinking about creative solutions to problems does not. So when you’re stewing ask yourself: “Is there something I can do about this situation? And if so, what?” Frame specific concerns as problems to be solved. Are you brooding that a new hire is performing better than you? Ask yourself what that person is doing well, and what he or she is not doing that you are.

Learn the Difference Between Unplugging and Recharging – Unplugging at the end of the day will not stop rumination, but recharging will. A recharging activity leaves you feeling energized mentally, and pleased with yourself for doing it. That can include activities like working out, crafting or meditation.

Distract Yourself – Distraction techniques have been shown to break the rumination cycle. If you can’t find a way to solve an issue doing something that requires focus, such as a crossword puzzle or a word game, can help. Or, if it’s the middle of the night, try a memory exercise, like naming every teacher you can remember from kindergarten on up.