Separate work and private life? Don’t do it!

Why separating work and private life is unhealthy for you

Has the mantra of many years, ‘work and private should be kept separate’, had such a big influence on you too? You are not the only one. This statement has taken on a life of its own, as if it were knowledge that has been passed on by many generations. One day, under the shower – very private – I decided to find out for how many people this ‘separating’ has worked, and if so, what it had brought them.

Some of the answers:

  • ‘My mother moved to a care home and I tried not to think of it while I was at work. As a result, it seemed like the thought became ever stronger, and I found myself unable to focus on what I was doing.’
  • ‘We had a sick colleague, so I tried to solve the things she usually does. Especially when I was at home, sitting quietly on the couch, I could take some time to ponder on the challenges and find a solution. But I shouldn’t do that, of course.’
  • ‘I was given so much information during my induction period that I sometimes dreamt about it at night. I didn’t mind, but my parents said: you should relax more and stop thinking about your work when you’re in bed. Because I couldn’t do that, I started having doubts about myself.’
  • ‘I had left my child at school, crying uncontrollably. Since I could not talk about it at work, because I feel that work and private should be separated, I felt tense all day. Obviously, my colleague can do without my issues.’

This went on for quite a while. All I heard was that people felt that they had to separate work and private, but not that it did them any good. I was not surprised. Are you? 

Imagine the following scenarios:

Your mother is moving to a care home. It makes sense that this takes its toll on your mind, both emotionally and mentally. You tell your colleague that this is going on. Halfway through the day, your colleague asks: ‘Do you perhaps have an account at that home, in which you can check how your mother is doing?’ Yes, we have. You take a short look at it. You see how things are. When they are well, you feel relieved. When they are not so well, you send a message or make a call. You can do the same in the situation with the crying child. It is a relief to be able to do more than just suffer in silence. Because your colleague knows about it, you are not on your own anymore. A lot more relaxed! 

Or this situation:

At home on the couch, after work, your work challenge crosses your mind. You take a pen and paper and write down what you have just – in peace – come up with as possible solutions. You put the paper into your bag or next to your workstation. The next day, you discuss your ideas with your colleagues and help each other implement the right solution. Result: a more relaxed feeling and more self-confidence. 


When you have to deal with a lot of things, for example during an induction period, the physiology of your brain is set to process the information correctly. If you allow this, instead of rigidly sticking to an infeasible choice, your body and mind will just do what they are good at: taking care of you. 

It is not even difficult. Indeed, it is really very easy.

It is worthwhile not allowing yourself to fall apart in a thousand pieces, like a mirror crashing down onto the bathroom floor, with me at work, me as a parent, me as a child, me as a colleague, me as a citizen, me as a … This is very unnatural behaviour and therefore takes up a lot of energy. Natural behaviour is knowing very well who you are – after all, you are just one human being – because feeling and thinking, doing and being will then be interconnected. In fact, this is normal. If you force yourself to take on another role every time, this will result in (artificial) stress. Such a waste! In such a situation, you also unintentionally activate your frontal lobe, which has become quite proficient in the question ‘What if …?’ By suppressing your thoughts every time, you are building up more and more tension and your brain will start to create really scary situations. 

Do you want me to say something about making assumptions about what your colleague ‘can do without’? You don’t? Exactly.

Accepting that life is not always a picnic, that you are only human and not a robot (nor are your colleagues, family, friends and household members, by the way), and that no harm will be done if you just take a moment to relieve your feelings or to think, at home or at work, means that you will gain a lot:

  • you will feel more relaxed;
  • you will feel part of the whole and you will be less lonely;
  • you will save energy, because you will spend less energy on unnatural thoughts;
  • you will increase your self-confidence;
  • you will be better able to enjoy what you are doing at that moment;
  • you will be better able to let go, because you give vent to a thought or a feeling for a bit;
  • you will be able to take life as it comes.

The one question that remains is: do you allow yourself this?

back to top button