Why Worrying About Work Can Ruin Your Leisure Time

In this third part of my series of articles on recovery from work, you will learn:

– Why thinking or worrying about work away from work is bad for you,
– Why watching T.V or relaxing on the sofa (i.e. low-effort activities) might not be the best thing for your recovery from work.

Worry & Rumination

Thinking about work during leisure time can be just as bad for recovery as working at home.

Recall the definition of successful psychological detachment:

a) not being involved in job-related tasks during off-job time, and

b) not thinking about job-related issues (Sonnentag and Fritz, 2007).

Not being physically involved in job-related tasks is one thing.

Thinking about them is a totally different issue.

Think of it this way:

In the workplace, you are “activated” to complete work-related tasks. At home, you should be recovering from work.

However, if you think about work while being at home, you’re experiencing prolonged activation. That is, your mind and body are “activated” to complete job-related tasks – even though you might be at home!

Thinking (e.g. worrying or ruminating) about work-related issues during off-job time impedes successful recovery and can have significant adverse effects on health and well-being.

For instance, one study showed that high job stress employees showed elevated heart rate and blood pressure after work (Vrijkotte et al., 2000).

By worrying or ruminating, the stress response experienced at work is experienced also during off-job time. It’s as if you’ve never left the workplace!

Such thinking or worrying has been termed Perseverative Cognition (PC).

Here’s how Brosschot et al. (2006) defines PC:

“PC is the repeated or chronic activation of the cognitive representation of one or more psychological stressors and the sustained activation of stress-related emotional and physiological response systems.”

For this reason, no recovery occurs as the individual has not disengaged mentally from work (i.e. has not psychologically detached) and the negative activation of job stressors (i.e. negative states such as anxiety or anger) experienced in the workplace will continue to increase strain levels.

When low-effort activities fail

In a previous post, I talked a bit about what constitutes a great resource-replenishing activity.

According to Sonnentag (2001), resource-replenishing activities include:

– Social activities (e.g. meeting up with friends),
– Low-effort activities (e.g. watching TV),
– Physical exercise.

I also mentioned that some research (e.g. Sonnentag. 2001) found that low-effort activities were a positive predictor of well-being at bedtime in teachers.

Low effort activities include watching T.V, chilling on the sofa, sitting around and doing nothing, or even taking a bath.

But now that you know about how poisonous of a role worry and rumination can play in your recovery, it has to be said that low-effort activities aren’t always the best type of recovery experiences.

These activities might seem relaxing at first, but if you’re thinking and worrying about work then you’re not really relaxing or recovering from work.

If you’ve had a particularly stressful workday (e.g. as a result of severe hassles or negative social interactions), proper recovery and psychological detachment can be made difficult. 

This is also in part due to the fact that you are more likely to dwell on these negative experiences while engaging in low-effort activities.

In such cases, avoid low-effort activities if you want to maximise successful recovery from work.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter so you don’t miss out on the rest of the posts in this “recovery from work” series. 


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