For most of us, 2020 was an exhausting year. The COVID-19 pandemic heralded draining physical health concerns, social isolation, job dislocation, uncertainty about the future and related mental health issues.
Although some of us have enjoyed changes such as less commuting, for many the pandemic added extra punch to the main source of stress – engaging in or searching for work.
Here’s what theory and research tells us about how to feel more rested and alive in 2021.
Recovery activity v experience
Recovery is the process of reversing the adverse impacts of stress. Leading recovery researchers Sabine Sonnentag and Charlotte Fritz have highlighted the important distinction between recovery activities (what you do during leisure time) and recovery experiences (what you need to experience during and after those activities to truly recover).
Recovery activities can be passive (such as watching TV, lying on a beach, reading, internet browsing or listening to music) or active (walking, running, playing sport, dancing, swimming, hobbies, spiritual practice, developing a skill, creating something, learning a language and so on).
relaxation: being free of tension and anxiety
control: deciding yourself about what to do and when and how to do it
enjoyment: the state or process of deriving pleasure from seeing, hearing or doing something.
Benefits of mentally disengaging from work include reduced fatigue and enhanced well-being. On the other hand, inadequate psychological detachment leads to negative thoughts about work, exhaustion, physical discomfort, and negative emotions both at bedtime and during the next morning.
Here are five tips, drawn from the research, to feel more rested and alive.
1. Follow the evidence
More promising are social activities, avoiding work-related smartphone use after work, as well as engaging in “receptive” leisure activities (such as attending a concert, game or cultural event) and “creative” leisure activities (designing and making something or expressing yourself in a creative way).
Spending time in “green” environments (parks, bushland, hills) is restorative, particularly when these are natural rather than urban settings. “Blue” environments (the coast, rivers, lakes) are also highly restorative.Shutterstock
2. Assess your ‘boundary management style’
Your boundary management style is the extent to which you integrate or separate your work and life beyond work. Work-life researcher Ellen Kossek has created a survey (it takes about five minutes) to help assess your style and provide suggestions for improvement.
- ^ mental health (www.blackdoginstitute.org.au)
- ^ Sabine Sonnentag (www.uni-mannheim.de)
- ^ Charlotte Fritz (www.fritzpoplab.com)
- ^ recovery experiences (psycnet.apa.org)
- ^ recovery experiences (doi.apa.org)
- ^ fully disconnecting (doi.org)
- ^ in learning mode (doi.org)
- ^ 2017 meta-analysis (doi.org)
- ^ reduced fatigue and enhanced well-being (doi.org)
- ^ negative thoughts about work (doi.org)
- ^ exhaustion, physical discomfort (doi.org)
- ^ at bedtime (doi.org)
- ^ during the next morning (doi.org)
- ^ mixed findings (doi.org)
- ^ social activities (doi.org)
- ^ work-related smartphone use (doi.org)
- ^ “receptive” leisure activities (dx.doi.org)
- ^ “green” environments (doi.org)
- ^ “Blue” environments (doi.org)
- ^ walks and relaxation exercises (doi.org)
- ^ physical exercise and get plenty of quality sleep (doi.org)
- ^ a survey (purdue.qualtrics.com)
- ^ developed by Kossek (core.ac.uk)
- ^ CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org)
- ^ profession (doi.org)
- ^ employer (doi.org)
- ^ performance (doi.org)
- ^ other identities (doi.org)
- ^ Dan Caprar (www.sydney.edu.au)
- ^ Ben Walker (people.wgtn.ac.nz)
- ^ two useful ways (theconversation.com)
- ^ identity play (doi.org)
- ^ Here's why you're checking work emails on holidays (and how to stop) (theconversation.com)
- ^ news media (doi.org)
- ^ pandemic updates (doi.org)
- ^ doomscrolling (www.wired.com)
- ^ social media (doi.org)
- ^ online shopping (doi.org)
- ^ video games (doi.org)
- ^ gambling (doi.org)
- ^ pornography (doi.org)
- ^ alcohol (doi.org)
- ^ illicit drugs (doi.org)
- ^ alternatives you enjoy (www.tandfonline.com)
- ^ Three ways to achieve your New Year’s resolutions by building 'goal infrastructure' (theconversation.com)
- ^ automatically repeat (doi.org)
- ^ tiny habits (www.tinyhabits.com)
Authors: Peter A. Heslin, Professor of Management and Scientia Education Fellow, UNSW