How to Relax After a Hard Day
Leaving Work at Work
You had a challenging, productive, and sometimes stressful day at the office.
You then battled traffic to make it home. Now you need to put your mind at ease, recharge your battery, and refresh yourself so you can do the whole thing again tomorrow. Yet the house is a mess, the kids are restive, and your partner wants to know what you're cooking for dinner (yes, it's your turn!)
Or perhaps things at home are relatively calm, but your mind is anything but. Try as you might, you just can't stop turning over the day's events – and obsessing about tomorrow's challenges. Your evening leisure hours have been stolen by work thoughts – and before you know it, it will be time to go back.
If either of these scenarios describes your after-work evenings and weekends, you might need to work a little harder at something that seems like it should come easy: taking a well-earned breather after a long day at the office.
Like most other tasks, relaxation is a skill – one that repays the effort of learning it. Mastering the art of relaxation off the job can make you more rested, focused, energetic – and successful – on it.
In this article and video, we'll explore how to use relaxation techniques and good habits to relax after a hard day at work.
Not being able to relax can lead to low mood, poor concentration and lack of enthusiasm. De-stress using these seven tips.
Does Relaxing Really Matter?
If you're having trouble resting your mind away from the office, you already know it. But what are the consequences? Here are just some of the troubles the tired and relaxation-challenged face at work:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Bad moods and rising workplace conflict.
- A lack of new ideas or fresh insights.
- A loss of enthusiasm for, and enjoyment of, their jobs.
Combined, these unfortunate tendencies can highjack the highest-flying career. Learning to chill might be your most urgent task!
With all the other demands on our time, relaxation can seem a low priority – even an indulgence. Fight this attitude: if work is not to turn into an exhausting hard grind, relaxation is key to your success and your overall happiness. Learn to prioritize off-work fun – and take it seriously!
How to Relax
We suggest a three-pronged approach to relaxing after work, involving your body and mind, your home environment, and what you do in your time off. It may take you a little while to set everything up for relaxing after work, but once you have you'll be able to enjoy your "down time" more as well as recharging your batteries so that you're raring to go the next morning.
Start by reading our article on deep breathing, progressive muscular relaxation and the relaxation response, to learn how to relax your body. And take a look at the relaxation techniques section of our stress site for some other useful techniques.
Although relaxation is important, your body can only be truly prepared for the next day if it gets the amount of sleep it needs. Our article on Getting a Good Night's Sleep offers several tips to help you increase the quality of your sleep without needing to spend any longer in bed.
Taking the Stress out of Your Home Environment
Clean your house, free your mind: if your relaxation problems stem from a stressful home life, you probably need to focus on making your house a calm haven. This will take some up-front energy – the actual act of changing habits may not be particularly relaxing – but it has potential to pay serious mind-clearing dividends.
The first step is to consider your messiness level; most people find it hard to relax in a chaotic home. When you arrive from a long day at work, are there dishes piled up? Are clothes strewn throughout the bedroom? Adopt a house rule common to restaurant kitchens the world over: clean as you go.
The old-fashioned saying "A place for everything and everything in it's place" has a lot going for it. This goes for dirty clothes and used crockery and utensils too: ensure there is a hamper in every bedroom and a place to stack dirty plates and cups so that no one in the house has any excuse for leaving these lying around.
If your house is tidy but still seems cluttered, perhaps you've just got too much "stuff"! Consider getting rid of things you don't need.
If you can afford it, consider hiring a maid or cleaner. Would you rather spend 5 or 6 hours a week cleaning and ironing, when you could spend that same precious time doing something that really uses your talents?
Much depends on dinner: modern life has made dinner both a challenge and an opportunity. It's a challenge because modern working and commuting have made it difficult to share a leisurely, well-cooked home meal with family and friends. Yet it's an opportunity because there are multiple time-saving options for the evening meal.
One strategy for maximizing relaxation is to plan dinners for the week ahead. If this seems excessive, stop for a moment, and think about what you're doing from a project management perspective. You're sourcing materials, and creating deliverables for three or four people over a seven day period to a fixed schedule. Would you do this at work without planning ahead?
A plan like this opens time and headspace for real relaxation. As with your to-do list at work, keeping everything in your head is stressful. Once you've got it down on paper, you no longer need to remember every detail. Your mind can relax!
Everyone has to eat, but food preparation can be drudgery. One solution is to use convenience fare, although you sacrifice some flavor and nutritional value. Another option is to make cooking your hobby – and making eating an art. The cookery book market is awash with excellent tomes on everything from French cuisine to Asian street fare. Have fun exploring them!
Engaging Your Mind
So, now your body is calm, you've sorted out housework and brought dinner to heel. What do you do with all the time you've opened up? The trick is to find a way to engage your mind, to take it away from work, so you can be more present at work when you go back.
For many people, the fast-and-easy way to forget work is to self-medicate with alcohol. But this solution muddles rather than clears the mind, and will return you to work feeling depleted, not refreshed. What's more, in excess, it can damage your health.
Here are some better alternatives:
Indulge in a hobby.
Many of us have interests we've been too busy for years now to develop. But there's no more healthy way to take your minds off of work than immersing yourself in some fascinating pursuit.
Do you love to be outside during the warm months? Try your hand at gardening, even if it's just in planters on your balcony. Have an eye for design? Take woodworking lessons and make your dream chair. Learn to create gourmet meals through cookery books or by taking a class. Take up a musical instrument. Do some volunteer work. The trick is to find something you love doing, and then – within your time and budget – throw yourself into it.
Be a connoisseur.
Sure, overindulging in drink has its obvious problems. But enjoying an after-work tipple is a time-honored practice, and it can be reasonably healthy when done in moderation. So why not take it one level higher, and really learn to appreciate the subtleties of wine, beer, whiskey, and other alcoholic beverages?
Get to know your wine merchant – and seek his advice. Once you develop your palate and learn what you love, consider starting a collection. If fine wine seems too pricy for your budget, think beer. The trick here is to make your daily tipple an event – an experience that unites mind and body through contemplation of sensory pleasure.
Take up a sport.
Exercise offers all manner of opportunity to clear our minds and take them off work. For many, though, modern exercise machines are tedious – devices that enforce repetition and never let us forget we're exercising. For people with this mindset, an organized sport might prove the way forward. Team sports work the body to the maximum while requiring the mind's full attention – a complete diversion.
If you didn't learn to play a particular sport as a kid, but are intrigued by it anyway, consider taking a class. Many community colleges offer adult classes in everything from indoor rowing to fencing.
Look to the East.
If exercise machines and competitive sports don't do it for you, you might look to Eastern forms of relaxation: yoga, tai chi, martial arts, and meditation. In Eastern philosophies, mind and body represent a union, not two separate entities. More and more over-committed, stressed-out Westerners are turning to the Eastern traditions to combine exercise and relaxation.
Yoga studios have popped up seemingly everywhere, making it more convenient than ever. Yoga comes in a variety of styles and difficulty levels. The Chinese practice of tai chi is a more contemplative, slower option, while martial arts like Tai Kwon Do are more vigorous and athletic. Anyone who struggles with Western form of exercise and sports should experiment with these increasingly accessible options.
Relaxing in your leisure time is an important factor in your success at work. More importantly, it can be what makes life fun! But to get the most out of this precious commodity, you need to set a few ground rules and plan what you want to do.
First, use physical techniques to relax your body after work and clear it of tension and adrenaline.
Next, adopt habits at home that mean you're not coming back to a messy environment after work, and consider decluttering, if there's still too much mess.
Then, work out a system for evening meals which means that cooking and eating becomes an enjoyable social activity, or at least a quick and efficient process.
Finally, fill the extra time these approaches create by spending time on a rewarding activity that will take your mind off work.