When you get to the end of a long work day, it can sometimes be difficult to switch from a working mindset to relaxation. People often refer to this as struggling to ‘switch-off’. Many people have stressful jobs and lots of us work long hours, so it can be tough to balance work and relaxation.
Yet, relaxation is key to staying healthy and happy. Our bodies and minds need time to rest, and we need time to enjoy our lives. We can’t be in work-mode all the time!
There are lots of things you can do to help yourself relax when you finish work. Let’s take a look at some basics.
1. Leave Work at the Door
One of the most important things is to have a separation between work and your home life. It’s crucial you don’t bring work problems home with you or find yourself doing tasks related to work in your downtime.
When you walk through the door at home, mentally tell yourself that you are leaving work outside the door and it isn’t coming into your home with you. Once you’re settled at home if you find your mind wandering back to work, try to gently bring your focus back to the present. If you can (depending on your job of course), turn off work notifications while you’re home.
Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, explains that work notifications in your time off: “inject an undercurrent of stress in your system”. He states that they can prevent you from relaxing and enjoying quality time with loved ones, as well as making you feel less in control of your life.
If you work from home, this separation can be more difficult, but it’s still possible. You can leave your work equipment in another room when you finish work and set your mind to having time off.
Something I find really helpful working from home is having a specific action that ‘signals’ to my mind that it's the end of the working day. For me, that’s closing my laptop, unplugging it, and setting it aside. Once I do that, I don’t reopen it again until the next working day.
2. Take Time to Rest
When you arrive home or end the working day, take some time to rest and decompress.
Your mind needs a bit of time to process the day and transition into being able to relax. It can be really helpful to set aside 20 minutes to half an hour (if you’re able to) to just sit down or lie down when you get home to let yourself reset.
3. Do Some Exercise
Doing some exercise after work can be very helpful. Not only is it good for your health, it also helps you to relax.
This is because during exercise levels of stress hormones, known as adrenaline and cortisol, are reduced. At the same time, the levels of endorphins in your body are increased. Endorphins are the body’s "feel good" hormones, they elevate our mood and even reduce pain!
It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise if you’re tired after a long day: a walk, some light stretching, some yoga, or even just a quick 10 minutes of your favorite exercise can be beneficial.
4. Do Something You Enjoy
Set aside some time, even just half an hour, to do something you enjoy. This one is quite obvious, but sometimes when we’re tired or we have other responsibilities at home, we forget to make it a priority.
This could be anything from watching a film, reading a book, doing some crafts, or getting out in nature. Whatever brings you joy and makes you feel happy is what matters.
5. Spend Time With Loved Ones
As humans, we need connection in our lives, so spending time with loved ones is really important. Sometimes when we’re in each other’s presence, it isn’t really quality time because we’re just going about our daily lives. Often we’re watching TV or we’re distracted by our phones.
Set aside phones and electronics and do an activity together. Be present in the moment and enjoy spending time with your partner, family, or friends.
6. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness practices are all about being present in the moment without judgment, achieving a sense of calm. Mindfulness has so many benefits for your health, which you can read more about in our guide on the benefits of mindfulness.
Research has proven that mindfulness alters stress pathways in the brain, reducing stress, helping to regulate our emotions, and helping us to think more positively.
There are so many types of mindfulness exercises you can try, including meditation, visualization, breathing exercises, and mindful movement. You don’t have to set aside a lot of time each day if you’re busy, even just 5 or 10 minutes of mindfulness can bring you all the benefits you need.
7. Eat Well
We all know that what we eat is important. It’s the fuel we give our bodies and minds to function. After work, it’s a good idea to have a balanced meal to give yourself the energy to enjoy your time off and to help yourself recover from the activity you’ve done during the day. Don’t forget to hydrate too!
8. Prioritize Sleep
Just like eating well, you’ll know that sleeping well is important for your health. However, it’s common not to prioritize sleep enough, especially when you have a busy life.
Let’s face it, we’ve all chosen to stay up later than we should to make the most of our time off, especially when it feels like we don’t have enough downtime. While this is fine once in a while, if you do this regularly it can really take its toll on your health.
You need to give your body and mind time to rest and recover, and time to prepare for the next day so you can function at your best! Try to find a balance between enjoying yourself and making sleep a priority.
Sleep hygiene can be really helpful. Sleep hygiene refers to positive habits that help you to sleep more restfully. Positive sleep hygiene habits can include:
- Having a regular, consistent sleep schedule, meaning going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day and night
- Making time to wind down before bed
- Turning off electronics at bedtime
- Making your bedroom a relaxing sanctuary
- Dimming your lights close to bedtime to signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep
- Getting enough exercise during the day
- Watching what you eat and drink close to bedtime
The National Sleep Foundation states that: “strong sleep hygiene means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep.”
It’s important that your sleep routine is realistic for you in the long term. You can make gradual changes over time, rather than making lots of changes all at once, to make it more manageable.
You can check out more tips for restful sleep in our article on how to get to sleep earlier.
9. Find a Balance
Perhaps one of the most important things is finding a balance between work and life. This can be really challenging, but it’s worth putting the effort into trying to achieve that balance.
The Mental Health Foundation explains that work/life balance can look different for everyone, but is essentially about trying to make sure you feel fulfilled and content in both areas of your life.
You can find balance by using the tips we’ve mentioned to help you relax and create that all-important separation between work and home. Giving yourself plenty of down time is key.
While this is easier said than done for most of us, it’s something we can work towards over time. Making gradual, sustainable changes that fit in with your lifestyle can be helpful.
In the end, it’s your life and you need to figure out what works for you. Put your health and happiness first and consider how you can improve your work/life balance.
Deborah Jian Lee, (2014), “6 Tips For Better Work-Life Balance”. Forbes.
Harvard Health Publishing, (2020), “Exercising to relax”. Harvard Medical School.
American Psychological Association, (2019), “Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress”.
Eric Suni, (2021), “Sleep Hygiene”. National Sleep Foundation.
Mental Health Foundation, (2021), “Work-life balance”.