4 Practical Ways to Recover from Work (Backed by Science) – Part 2 of 2

This is the second part of a series full of practical tips on how to properly recover from work (you can read part 1 here).

Let’s dive right in shall we.

5. Take frequent breaks rather than save them up

If you need a break – take a break.

If you want to maintain high levels of productivity at work then you have to take regular breaks.

If you need a holiday – go on a holiday.

When you work for long stretches of time without taking a holiday, it can be exhausting and such an approach will only hurt you in the long-run.

You risk over-depletion.

Through over-depletion, you end up digging into your compensatory resources.

So when you take your holidays too late, it is likely you will face a more prolonged and difficult recovery process.

In fact, a lot of your holiday will probably be centred around bringing yourself (and your personal resources) back to baseline rather than expending energy to do new things or travel.

After all, if you’re in an over-depleted state – you don’t have much energy at your disposal.

Take regular holidays because if you deplete yourself, it will be difficult to recover from that and bring yourself back to baseline.

6. Don’t check work email during off-job time

If you get work email over the weekend and decide to check it, you are activating work-related systems during your leisure time.

Not only are you robbing yourself of 100% unadulterated leisure time, you’re actually doing yourself a tremendous disservice to your overall well-being in the long run.

What this means is that you are not recovering from work properly and that you are risking burnout in the long term.

Studies have shown that better psychological detachment in employee leisure time predicts better performance in the long-term.

In fact, employees who don’t respond to emails on weekend tend to perform better at work in the long run.

Easiest way to help your cause?

Don’t have email on your phone.

7. If you’re a workaholic, focus on exercising into your recovery time

You can read more about that here.

8. Get rid of hassles – Cut toxic people out of your life

Fritz et al. 2010 paper prerequisite

But you know how stress hormones are summoned by your body to tackle job-related assignments in the workplace?

Well, emotionally taxing people will draw on the same stress-related functional systems in your leisure time and will burn you out.

In his book Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich emphasises that you cut out the negative people and spiritual vampires from your life because, otherwise, “you are fighting off stress, anxiety, and worry rather than pushing forward toward what you want to achieve.”

Toxic and emotionally draining people also affect your overall productivity, as filmmaker, artist, and found of the Webby awards, Tiffany Shlain posits in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“You’re letting those people into your brain and they’re going to influence your thoughts. I find that I even dream about some of the people I follow [on social media]. We need to be really mindful of who we let into our stream of consciousness.”

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

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4 Practical Ways to Recover from Work (Backed by Science) – Part 1 of 2

You have to be able to reset properly on a daily basis.

Otherwise you’ll turn up to work the next time running on fumes.

Works takes away a lot from you; it drains your resources (e.g. energy, mood etc.)

You need to replenish and be able to build up those resources through the right types of activities so that you’ve properly recovered during your free time.

It’s important, not just because recovering from work properly translates into better productivity (at work and at home), but also translates into better psychological health and overall well-being

As recovery becomes increasingly elusive, some become so depleted that they suffer from burnout.

This is the first of a two part series full of practical tips on how to properly recover from work during your free time.

1. Identify activities that replenish your resources

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

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

Resource-replenishing activities are called recovery experiences.

Physical exercise is great because it has huge stress-management potential and changes the chemistry of your body, not to mention other help benefits that are worth bearing in mind.

Social activities are great too, although there are notable exceptions when socialising fails.

Resource-replenishing activities can include those that require different sensory activation.

So if you’ve been reading all day at work, try cooking as part of your recovery from the workplace.

If you’ve been staring at a monitor all day, smelling and tasting some good food will surely restore you.

2. Remember what makes a great recovery experience

The best resource-replenishing recovery experiences are those that incorporate the following:

  • Psychological detachment from work 

This means “switching off” and completely forgetting about work during leisure time.

It’s not enough to physically distance yourself from work.

You need to mentally distance yourself in equal measure and think about something else entirely – other than work. 

You can read all about psychological detachment here.

  • Mastery

Mastery can be gained from seeking out and experiencing intellectual or physical challenges; doing something that will broaden your horizons.

This is where low-effort activities fall short. 

There’s no mastery in low-effort activities.

There’s no greater meaning to them, no greater sense of progress or accomplishment.

For me, I gain a sense of mastery from writing this blog, discovering the secrets of human psychology by reading books, or cooking, to name a few examples.

But I also experience mastery in my swimming and cycling, striving to improve every time I hit the pool or hop on the bike.

  • Control

A sense of control (or autonomy) in whatever it is that we do is a fundamental human need. 

We experience a lot of autonomy from deciding our schedule in the sense that we get to choose how we spend our time.

Filling out your taxes after work may theoretically be classified as recovery, but it’s not necessarily something you’d like to be spending your leisure time doing.

In fact, quite often is the case that people procrastinate on filling out their taxes to such an extent that little choice is involved in actually choosing to do this particular activity.

It is a fundamental need to have a choice in what we want to voluntarily spend our leisure time on, a sense of autonomy in choosing what activity we want to participate in.

  • Relaxation

Your activity needs to relax you.

It needs to help you kick back and chill.

Whether this is hitting the pool, reading, or chilling with friends while listening to some tunes, it’s all good if it’s relaxing.

3. Try to avoid low-effort activities if you’re stressed

Low-effort activities aren’t always great for recovery.

If physical activity is the healthy, nutritious meal of all recovery experiences, then you could say that low-effort activities can sometimes be thought of as the junk food of them all.

You might feel you’re recovering while chilling on the sofa, but if you’re still thinking about work or are worrying about a job-related task while doing so – you’re not recovering from the workplace properly.

In such a scenario, you’re still activating the same job-related functional systems and you’re still experiencing prolonged activation – it’s as if you’ve never left the office.

Low-effort activities can backfire on your recovery this way.

Be done with work the moment you are done with it.

Be done when you’re done.

4. Learn to disentangle from worry

Worry is a future-focused emotion.

You think of an uncertain event in the future and imagine the anxiety stemming from an outcome that hasn’t materialised and doesn’t simply exist.

By worrying about a future event, you are not living in the present moment.

Don’t let worry poison your leisure time.

Instead, learn to relate to it differently.

One effective way to do that would be to practice mindfulness so that the worry has less of an impact on you, both emotionally and behaviourally).

“It [mindfulness] is awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of the experience moment-by-moment”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn (2003)

The mindfulness approach encourages people to accept their difficult thoughts and feelings rather than working against them.

“Anxiety is an emotion. It is an emotion that disempowers you and accomplishes nothing. So when you learn how to get into the moment and how to engage in active meditation, you no longer feel anxiety and you get into a state of flow.”

-Mike Cernovich, author of Gorilla Mindset and the popular blog Danger and Play

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, be sure to check out part 2 of this series. Feel free to sign up to the whatmybrosaid email list for more posts like this.

Why You Should Cut Toxic People Out From Your Life

Chances are you have a toxic person or two in your life right now.

You know you’d be better off if you shut this person out of your life but you’ve either invested too much time or have become too emotionally invested in him/her that it can be difficult to severe all ties.

I’m here to guide you through the world of logic and reason (and science) and show you why keeping toxic people orbiting around your social circle is a bad thing (if you needed any further convincing in the first place, that is).

Toxic people drain your energy

A group of researchers (Fritz et al., 2010) gave pre-school teachers daily surveys at 3 different time points (Friday evening, Sunday to cover weekend, next Friday).

They wanted to find out how having hassles at home affects recovery and subsequent well-being in the weekdays that followed.

Here’s what the researchers found:

Affective well-being during weekend Affective well-being the following week
Psychological detachment ♦♦
Mastery ♦♦♦
Relaxation ♦ ♦♦♦♦ ♦ ♦♦♦♦
Control
Non-work hassles (negative impact) ♦♦♦

So you know how you’re supposed to relax and mentally detach from the workplace during your weekend?

Hanging around toxic people doesn’t help with that one bit.

The researchers found that well-being was negatively impacted by non-work hassles.

This doesn’t mean that toxic people in the families or social circles of these pre-school teachers are to blame, but it does raise an interesting idea:

Toxic people will ruin your leisure time, hamper your recovery from work, and most importantly, adversely affect your overall well-being.

Stress is stress

You know how stress hormones are summoned by your body to tackle job-related assignments in the workplace?

Well, emotionally taxing people will draw on the same stress-related functional systems in your leisure time and will burn you out.

In his book Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich emphasises that you cut out the negative people and spiritual vampires from your life because, otherwise, “you are fighting off stress, anxiety, and worry rather than pushing forward toward what you want to achieve.”

Toxic and emotionally draining people also affect your overall productivity, as filmmaker, artist, and found of the Webby awards, Tiffany Shlain posits in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“You’re letting those people into your brain and they’re going to influence your thoughts. I find that I even dream about some of the people I follow [on social media]. We need to be really mindful of who we let into our stream of consciousness.”

So not only can toxic people influence your thoughts, but they will impede your recovery from work and ultimately influence how you use your newly accumulated energy.

Choose to surround yourself with upbeat and vibrant personalities that you will build a positive ecosystem of emotion together with.

After all, eliminating negative people and refusing to argue is a choice, not luck.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

Read This If You’re a Workaholic

So you’re a workaholic.

Or at least there’s some reason for you to think so.

You’ve been going through an intense phase of “all work and no play”.

Or maybe it’s just that the work has kept piling on and you’ve been in a state of perpetual catchup for so long that you can’t even call it a phase anymore.

Whatever the reason – you’re here for some reason.

Maybe for answers.

Maybe for suggestions.

There’s plenty to be had here – I’m sure they’ll pique your interest.

Who is a workaholic?

Life is all about balance.

Perfect balance is what you find in the exact middle of the spectrum, in between one extreme and another.

Between work and play.

Homeostasis.

Mr. Miyagi: You remember lesson about balance?
Daniel: Yeah.
Mr. Miyagi: Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?

The Karate Kid (1984)

Workaholics have none of that.

And it’s not necessarily their fault.

They just have an inner drive that compels them to work excessively hard.

An insatiable urge that makes them work so hard that it borders on compulsion.

They work too much and, some of the time, don’t even enjoy their work.

It’s part of their unique psychological makeup.

They’re workaholics because, fundamentally – they are perfectionists.

They have incredibly high standards with regards to the fruit of their labour.

work

Holidays for workaholics aren’t quite holidays

Workaholics tend to experience extreme feelings of guilt and high levels of anxiety when away from work and not working.

This is why workaholics can’t relax when on holiday.

They are so involved in their work that they find it very difficult to detach from it.

So what’s the best thing a workaholic can do to recover properly from work during their leisure time and their holidays?

The best thing a workaholic can do to recover from work

Arnold Bakker and his colleagues tracked Dutch workers over a period of nine work days to investigate what workaholics could do in their leisure time to help them in their off-job recovery.

Over these nine days, the workers provided detailed information on work and leisure activities and well-being.

The main finding of the experiment is that physical exercise helped protect workaholics from damaged psychological health.

In other words, the workaholics obtained considerable protective benefits from sports and exercise during evening workouts.

This resulted in them having higher evening happiness and greater feelings of vigour and adequate recovery at bedtime.

What Bakker and colleagues also found was that social activities might not be the best thing for workaholics to do in their leisure time.

Here’s Arnold:
“As individuals can talk about work-related issues even when they meet friends during off-work time, it might be that workaholics used the time spent on social activities to ruminatand speak further about their work with their friends, thus undermining the favourable effect of social activities.”

It seem that workaholics might need the psychological detachment that physical activity provides them with.

Otherwise they would continue to worry and ruminate about work – either by sitting in front of the television or by complaining to friends.

“…for workaholics, it seems to matter more what they do in their leisure time than for non-workaholics.”

So if you’re a workaholic looking to recover from work during your leisure time – exercise.

To quote author of Gorilla Mindset Mike Cernovich:

“No matter how you feel before going to the gym, you will always feel better afterwards.” 

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

Thank you to Paul F. for introducing me to this study.

On Burnout and How Long Holiday Effects Last

On Burnout and How Long Holiday Effects Last

After a long day’s work, we need to recover from all that effort to be able to go back to work the next day and do it all over again.

During recovery, our mood states return to a normal level and the effects of job-related stressors on our overall well-being are minimised.

Think about your well-being in economical terms (Conservation of Resources theory).

At work, you spend personal resources like mood or energy to get tasks done.

At home, you accumulate these resources through recovery.

If you spend too much, you will become depleted so much that you won’t be able to spend anymore.

We have a finite amount of these resources and so if we spend too much, we dig into our reserves – our compensatory resources.

This means that if we go back into the workplace without having sufficiently recovered, we will expend more effort than usual (i.e. compensatory effort) on normal work-related tasks.

And if we continue to spend our resources without properly recovering (i.e. accumulating resources), we will become fatigued, emotionally exhausted, and on the verge of developing chronic conditions such as burnout or depression.

What is burnout?

Burnout is an excessive depletion of the person’s personal resources.

Quite simply, people who don’t adequately recover during their leisure time burnout.

They experience very deep emotional fatigue and become both cognitively and emotionally depleted to the point where they just cannot give any more.

This can be particularly harmful because in some cases you have to spend resources in order to accumulate them. Think social support.

In order to gain social support and share your problems with a close friend, you have to first reach out to them and expend energy in the process.

If you’re burnt out, you’ve got no energy to spend and so you won’t actively seek out support.

15852116647_257a13983a_z.jpg
Branislav Kubečka via Flickr

In Sweden, burnout is a clinical symptom. It takes about 2 years to recover from a clinical case of burnout.

Once you develop such a condition – it can be really difficult to bounce back from it.

Burnout is quite common in teachers.

A well-known element of burnout in teachers is depersonalisation whereby the teacher no longer views the pupils as human beings and speak of them in cold terms.

In such cases, depersonalisation is a coping response in people who haven’t had enough recovery time.

Sometimes you just a need a holiday

Going on a holiday might be one of the best decisions you’ll make for the entire year, especially if you really need one.

The science behind holidays effects on employee well-being are a testament to that.

But we all know that once we go on holiday and come back, we just want to go on another one again.

Big names in the literature on job stress and recovery from work like Jessica de Bloom, Charlotte Fritz, Sabine Sonnentag, or Jana Kuhnel have immensely contributed to our understanding of holiday effects.

Typically, these experiments look at the well-being of people heading towards a holiday and examine the effects of these holidays after they come back.

So how long do these holiday effects typically last?

16569919274_96e2c232f3_h.jpg
Nick Kenrick via Flickr

Perhaps unsurprisingly, well-being is generally better after a holiday compared to just before it.

The question that has interested vacation study researchers the most however is – how long do these vacation (i.e. respite) effects last?

What these studies have found is when a person goes back to work straight after a holiday, there is still a positive, lingering effect for a few more days.

Two weeks after the holiday and the effects of the holiday are still working their magic as there is still some respite effect.

What’s intriguing is that after 3-4 weeks of having come back from holiday, the holiday effects are seen to have faded out completely.

This is the same exact pattern that researchers Kuhnel and Sonnentag found in their experimental results.

In this experiment, emotional exhaustion was tested in a sample of teachers.

What we see in Figure 1. below is that there is a significant drop in emotional exhaustion levels at ‘Time 2’. This is the time when the teachers have come back straight from their holidays.

‘Time 3’ represents the emotional exhaustion of teachers only a couple of weeks after their return from holiday.

em ex
Source: Kuhnel & Sonnentag (2011)

 

We can see that their emotional exhaustion is creeping back up again but it’s still not as high as the emotional exhaustion they had experienced at ‘Time 1’. There’s still a respite effect.

At ‘Time 4’ however, around 4 weeks after the teacher’s vacation, emotional exhaustion levels are back to the levels of ‘Time 1’.

Conclusion

You might be thinking – well, what’s the point of going on holiday if only a few weeks later to return to the same level of emotional exhaustion?

If you didn’t have this drop, you would mostly likely be experiencing prolonged activation.

Holidays are the moments that protect us from slipping into burnout syndrome and experiencing emotional exhaustion.

The dip in Figure 1. is crucial if we want to maintain long-term psychological as well as physical health.

Sure, a few weeks will pass after we get back from our holiday and we will bounce back to high levels of exhaustion.

But it is the holidays that make sure we fully recover because otherwise our bodies become damaged by stress hormones.

What You Can Do to Prevent
Burnout and Emotional Exhaustion

Research on vacation studies suggests that you shouldn’t procrastinate on taking a well-deserved and probably much needed holiday to relax and recover from workplace hassles and responsibilities.

It is important that we give ourselves regular chances to recover by going on holidays.

Even short and regular holidays will do the trick. Depending on your levels of exhaustion, you will need shorter or longer breaks from the workplace.

I have friends who work long months at a time and run themselves into the ground until they mysteriously disappear for 3 weeks and come back as new men and women.

So do yourself a favour – take a break if you need one.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

When Socialising Fails

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

– Why socialising might not be the best thing for your recovery from work.

The best recovery experiences

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.

Sometimes though, low-effort activities might not be the best thing (read here).

But it turns out that socialising after work might not be the best thing for recovery.

Especially for people who work in customer service (e.g. flight attendants, teachers, or call centre employees).

When socialising fails

One study conducted by Sonnentag and Natter (2004) investigated recovery processes in flight attendants.

They investigated whether social activities during their leisure time was beneficial for their recovery from work.

In the study, it was found that engaging in social activities after work while staying at a hotel was linked to higher levels of depression in the flight attendants.

Now generally, social activities are beneficial for successful recovery (Sonnentag, 2001).

For flight attendants however, social activities during leisure time further draw on their resources.

Social activities after work further call upon work-related functional systems.

This is in line with the Effort-Resource Model mentioned in a previous post

It is well known that flight attendants travel the globe and spend a lot of their off-job time in hotels with their colleagues from work.

So they spend the majority of their leisure time with colleagues.

Oftentimes, colleagues aren’t always close enough people for you to be able to totally let loose and be yourself.

Even with colleagues, you have to posture a bit.

Only with close friends can you relax because you know that they have fully accepted you for who you are.

So if a flight attendant spends his/her 9-5pm catering to the needs of other people (i.e. passengers) and then goes on to spend his/her evening with colleagues – the functional system of “being nice” is constantly being used.

It does not recover.

This is quite common for people working in service-related professions (e.g. flight attendant, teacher, employee in a call centre).

Serviced-related employees face particularly high emotion work demands. In other words, their work requires emotional labour.

5981426878_ddbf91ae0d_o.jpg
Kenneth Lu via Flickr

Here is a definition of emotional labor by Morris and Feldman (1996):

“Emotional labour is defined as effort, planning, and control needed to express organisational desired emotion during interpersonal interaction.”

In some way, emotional labour is “faking” emotion.

That is, flight attendants often have to portray themselves as happy people – even when they might not necessarily be feeling that way.

Interestingly, a high-degree of emotion work has been found to be related to poor well-being (Sonnentag and Fritz, 2015).

Sonnentag and Natter (2004) practical implications:

It is important that people find out which activities are most beneficial to them and which improve their well-being.

In the flight attendant experiment, it was also found that physical exercise demonstrated positive effects, regardless of the fact that their job is physical already. 

The researchers reasoned that going to the gym after work is a different type of physical activity compared to standing and walking in the aircraft while catering to passenger’s needs.

Thus, physical activities seem to be a very efficient way to regulate one’s well-being during off-job time.

Physical activities, even for short periods, has positive effects on well-being, particularly on vigour and low depression.

For flight attendants better find social activities that help them regain resources rather than further deplete them (spend time with close friends, call family etc).

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

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.