Why it’s crucial for psychological “recovery” after work

Advancements in technology have made it easier than ever to stay connected with others. However, this constant connectivity also makes it challenging to disconnect.

A survey reveals that only 45% of employees feel that they can truly disconnect from work, while the remaining 55% feel obligated to respond to calls and emails outside of working hours.

Overworking can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. Recent research published in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology suggests that the quality of recovery after work directly impacts our mood the following day.

The study, which analyzed diary entries from 124 employees over 887 days, found that individuals who experienced better recovery in the evening felt more awake, calm, and happy when they started work the next day. However, their wakefulness and calmness tended to decline throughout the workday, emphasizing the importance of daily recovery.

Dr. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, explains that winding down after work is crucial for mental recovery. It signals our brain and body to transition from a high-alert state to a state of relaxation, reducing stress hormones and allowing us to physically and mentally recuperate after a busy day.

Engaging in relaxing activities in the evenings can help alleviate tension, calm the mind, and prepare us for restorative sleep. This not only aids in our mental recovery but also enhances our overall well-being, making us more resilient in both our personal and professional lives.

Katie McKenna, a psychotherapist and co-author of “You’re Not the Problem,” adds that the nature of our work can increase our need for rest.

How to switch off and recover after work

She states that continuous work, without pauses and sufficient rest, can result in burnout, particularly when the work entails cognitive tasks and requires intense focus in stressful settings.

According to McKenna, we are constantly expected to be fully engaged in our work, and it feels like there is no distinction. The constant demand for availability poses a significant obstacle in establishing professional boundaries, often leading to reluctance in refusing tasks.

This hesitation often arises from worries about potential conflicts, the expectation of being judged, the fear of rejection, and ultimately, the fear of being excluded and abandoned.

When faced with the pressure to complete tasks, it can be challenging to establish clear boundaries around work. The responsibility largely falls on employers to ensure that employees are not expected to engage in work-related activities outside of working hours, such as checking emails or responding to messages.

Nevertheless, there are measures you can take to make it easier to disconnect from work.

According to Touroni, “Setting specific rules, such as refraining from checking work emails while in bed or answering work calls beyond a certain time, can be helpful.”

By communicating these boundaries, you can effectively manage expectations and reduce the pressure to always be available.

If you find it difficult to resist the temptation of checking your phone or laptop, one suggestion from McKenna is to physically separate yourself from these devices by placing them in another room.

Additionally, McKenna recommends turning off your phone in the evening and activating your out-of-office response.

“After all, constantly hearing the ‘ping’ of your work phone can prevent you from truly relaxing,” she explains. “Although it may initially be uncomfortable, with practice and confidence, you can experience the benefits of achieving a better work-life balance and fostering healthier work relationships.”

Replacing the habit of checking work emails or messages with alternative activities can help fulfill the desire to stay connected while still respecting your personal time.

“Remember, taking time off provides an opportunity to engage in activities that nourish you and contribute to your overall well-being,” Touroni advises. “Plan walks, participate in online classes, or treat yourself to a new book – anything that allows you to prioritize ‘me’ time.”