Whether you work in or outside the home, consistently following this one piece of advice will make you happier.
The biggest problem with a capitalist economy is that the people making the economic engine run are not robots. The more efficient our economy becomes, the more pressure we put on the human component. Hours get longer, responsibilities expand, and “extra” workers get trimmed; but there’s a limit to how much one human can accomplish. Overly efficient economies can literally work their employees to death. In Japan it happens so often they have a word for it: karoshi.
The US economy seems to be heading that direction as well. Nine to five jobs are rarely nine to five anymore. More like seven to seven, or worse. The time workers have to relax and recover is shrinking. Time to connect with family is limited and time to exercise or connect with friends is virtually non-existent.
I remember when I first started working, I could hardly get off the couch at night. I arrived to work at 7am, worked all day, and came home wiped out, sometimes as late as midnight. My husband travels around the world as part of his job. His body never knows what time it is and he rarely gets a solid night’s sleep as a result.
One thing neither of us feel like we ever have enough of is: down time. We are always on, always connected. Anyone can reach out via text or email whenever they want our help with something, and our children have needs around the clock as well. It’s important—some might say critical—for us to maximize our moments of relaxation.
But how? That’s what so many of us are trying to figure out. And after much research and trial and error, I have a strategy that can be summed up in one simple, but easier-said-than-done phrase: relax in motion. Use your down time to do things that fill you and make you feel worthwhile. This might sound like more work, but it won’t feel like work if you engage in activities that recharge you, activities with the highest nutritional content, so to speak.
For example, if you come home from a stressful day at work and you have the choice to either sit on the couch and play Candy Crush, or play with your children before they go to bed, it’s tempting to collapse onto the couch, I know. That’s what I used to do too; but whether you admit it or not, making that choice also means ignoring the people you love and deep down you feel that. You might tell yourself you deserve a rest (and you’re right!), but that doesn’t erase the nagging guilt, does it?
Then, not only do you need downtime to recover from work, but you also need down time to recover from your guilt. If you do the same thing tomorrow, your feelings of guilt will multiply and you will need even more time to recover.
In technical terms, this is called the pain of avoidance. Simply put, when you avoid doing things that matter to you, it hurts. It takes up space in your mind; it burns energy. You might not recognize that hurt consciously, but if you never feel like you have enough down time, that could be a clue.
My dad did his medical residency before there were laws in place limiting how many hours residents could work. He often worked for several days in a row without more than one or two hours of sleep. I can remember him coming home, and sitting at the dinner table with blood-shot eyes, fighting a valiant, but losing fight, to stay awake long enough to see his family.
Those were hard days for all of us, but what I remember most is the fact that he made the effort. He gave as much as he could to his kids until his face literally collapsed into the mashed potatoes on his plate. Sometimes all he could give us was thirty seconds, but no matter how brief our time together, he always demonstrated that he loved us more than he loved himself; and we felt it.
It’s challenging to exert extra effort at the end of the day when you’re worn out, but because most jobs only fill a fraction of our needs, shutting down immediately afterwards will almost always leave you feeling unfulfilled. Relaxing in motion involves doing—with your body or brain, or both—things that feel meaningful, even if you don’t feel like doing them at first. Exercising is a great example. It’s common to resist going to the gym, but few people regret having gone.
Engaging in after-work pursuits doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or take away from getting a good night’s sleep. Making manageable goals, like spending a few minutes playing with your family, or scheduling time to connect with a friend, pursue a creative endeavor, exercise, or prepare a healthy meal, can go a long way towards maximizing your downtime and helping you feel more content.
The key is doing what you can, within reason, and letting yourself be surprised – you might find the activity was so rewarding you don’t even want to pick up your iPhone, or flip on that mindless TV show. Or, you might find you’re still interested in spending some mindless time on the couch, but now you can do it guilt free.
Either way, investing in mindful and active downtime can reap great rewards for your body and soul, increasing personal fulfillment and relaxation, and decreasing the total amount of time you need to feel recharged.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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