What do you do after a hard day at work to wind down and recover? In a recent poll asking people this question, the most common answers included binge watching TV/movies; scrolling on social media; eating comfort foods; and spending time alone.

This fits with the idea many people have which is to rest and withdraw in an effort to recover and recharge after a hard day at work. While some rest and alone time can be useful, the fatigue you feel at the end of the day is often more mental and emotional, not physical (depending on the job you do of course).

Rest is great for physical fatigue, so you should take some if there are physical demands in the work you do e.g. standing for long periods; lifting and moving heavy objects.  But unfortunately resting doesn’t help as much with recovering from mental and emotional fatigue.

So what else can you do to pick yourself up after a mentally or emotionally draining day at work?

  1. Connection with Others

When we feel overwhelmed after a stressful day at work, we often don’t feel like talking to anyone. The reasoning is that you think it will require too much effort, you’re not in the mood for talking, or you’re feeling low on patience and understanding so you don’t want to risk saying something that will upset someone else.

However, feeling connection with those around us is an important component of recovering from a mentally or emotionally stressful workday. Even 10-15 minutes of meaningful conversation with one person who you know, like and trust can help. Withdrawing and isolating might feel like the obvious thing to do, but when we get caught up in our own negative thoughts, it increases feelings of stress and isolation, neither of which are helpful when you are already stressed!

Your conversations don’t need to focus on rehashing what has happened at work that day if you don’t feel like talking about it. You can push pause on work-related conversations and instead you can ask the other person about their day, or focus on other topics of conversation that you find interesting or uplifting.

  1. Recharge your Energy Levels

The other key to dealing with mental and emotional fatigue is to do something active that re-energises you, and is often the opposite of what you feel like doing such, as lying on the couch watching something and indulging in your favourite comfort foods or beverages. What we should be aiming for instead is the “I totally wasn’t in the mood for doing this but I’m so glad I did it” feeling. When you get that feeling afterwards it means you’ve recharged. There is no amount of screen binging  or comfort eating you can do that will make you feel energized afterwards, that only comes from doing something active.

Wind Down After Work

If you’re not clear about what activities can help you to recharge, here are some guidelines to help you:

  • Even if it takes a big effort to get yourself going, a recharging activity should leave you feeling mentally energized, excited, and give you the feeling that “I’m glad I did it.” Avoid choosing activities that you think you “should” do like tasks and jobs you’ve been putting off. Those are for another time.
  • Choose activities that relate to your personal identity. For example, if you consider yourself creative, try activities that require creativity e.g. music, art, writing, gardening, cooking. If being physically fit is important to you, workouts, walking, yoga or other exercise practices can be recharging. Just 15-30 minutes of engaging in an activity that you connect with can help you get in touch with that part of yourself and feel re-energised.
  • Choose activities that put you in a state of Flow. Flow is a mental state that happens when you’re fully focused and immersed in an activity, so absorbed that you lose track of time. Our focus and attention on the activity means that you also get a break from all the other thoughts that go through your mind about work that can trigger stress and other negative feelings.

It’s best to have a number of different recharging activities from which you can choose or can rotate based on the amount of time you have to accomplish them. For many, it’s difficult to do something recharging every day, but the more recharging sessions you can fit during the week, and especially on your days off, the better.

Using connection and recharge strategies can help maximize recovery from the a mentally and emotionally stressful workday/week. In the long run this can also have a positive impact on your work performance and personal life.

If you need help to find ways to unwind from the stress at work, please reach out to your EAP and make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists. We’re here to help.

(Adapted from: The Get Wrong Do Right Emotional Health Newsletter from Guy Winch 9.23)