Building a healthy relationship with work can be tough when you're just entering the workforce.
You want to excel and prove yourself, and "it's so easy to be defined by what you do," says Mary Gleason, a therapist based in Mentor, Ohio, who works with teens and adults and specializes in depression, anxiety, and grief. That could lead to daily overtime and, eventually, even burnout.
Almost a third of American workers reported feeling emotional exhaustion in 2021, according to the American Psychological Association's 2021 Work and Well-being Survey. Nearly half reported feeling physical fatigue.
That's why it's critical to remember that "there's more to your life than work," says Gleason. Setting boundaries is key for your health and wellbeing.
If you're one of the millions of recent college grads preparing to start your career — or even if you've already started — here are a few strategies therapists recommend using to make sure your job isn't taking up more time than it needs to.
During job interviews, before accepting any offer, ask lots of questions and get a sense of expectations: What's a typical day like in the office? When do people usually start and finish work? What's the company policy on taking a sick day or vacation?
You can also try connecting with current employees on sites like LinkedIn, or checking reviews on sites like Glassdoor to see what it's like on the inside. The idea is to learn the company culture and your boss's demands upfront.
For example, in some jobs and industries, pulling more than 40 hours per week is the norm. You may or may not be fine with that — and either way, it's useful information. The more you know about the parameters of the job, the easier it'll be to see if it aligns with your priorities.
Once you start the job, set boundaries by "creating a life that you really enjoy outside of work," says Hannah Springer, a therapist based in Austin, Texas, who specializes in anxiety, life transitions and stress. Spend time on hobbies like joining a dodgeball team, editing cat videos or reading National Geographic.
Make time with family, friends or a significant other, too. We "get a lot of great chemicals in our brain when we're connected in a healthy way with people," says Ann Kearney-Cooke, a psychologist based in Cincinnati, Ohio, who specializes in life transitions and difficulties with self image. It gives your brain a boost of oxytocin, which "helps decrease stress, regulate emotions and leads to feelings of relaxation."
Springer suggests actively scheduling time in your calendar for hobbies or socializing. Maybe a Sunday Zoom call with your parents is your way to get in some quality time, or sitting in your backyard and crocheting on weeknights gives you a chance to feed that creative side.
"If you are being intentional about what you're doing outside of work, it helps you leave work at work," she says.
Even on a busy workday packed with assignments, you can take advantage of little breaks to disconnect.
Take drinking a cup of coffee, for example. Springer suggests bringing all five senses into the experience: How does your cup of coffee smell? How does it taste? What do you hear and see around you?
Immersing yourself in that moment can help you take an active break from work and create a little separation between your job and the rest of your life, Springer says.
"You can't just be 100% all in [at work] all the time," Gleason adds. "You're going to burn out pretty quick."