No matter what your workday entails, we can all agree work is draining! Whether you’re just working to pay the bills or you genuinely love your profession and enjoy every minute of it, having to be “on” for most of the day can take it out of anybody. And your standard workday isn’t the half of it.
Maybe you have a job that requires you to network afterward, or you work in an office that places a lot of value on socializing with colleagues after work. Or maybe you just work from home and you have to force yourself out of the house at the end of the day to avoid becoming a hermit.
Whatever way you slice it, having a job is, well, a full-time job. And especially when that full-time commitment starts to feel like a 24/7 concern, figuring out how to unplug, unwind and truly relax can start to feel like almost as much work as the job itself.
So what’s the best way to reset after a long day (or week!) at work? There are a number of things you can try to get your heart rate down and your body ready for time off—or even just a great night of sleep.
When we say meditate, we don’t necessarily mean you have to get super spiritual about it, unless that’s your vibe. Meditation can be part of a larger practice, but it also can mean just finding a peaceful place in your home, sitting down, and taking some time to focus on your breathing and clear your mind.
When we’re go, go, go all the time, we often forget what it’s like to actually sit quietly, and calm our thoughts down. By taking even just a few minutes to do this when you get home, or even just getting into it as part of your winding down routine before bed, you can actually seriously reduce your body’s stress reactions, including the production of something called cortisol which is what starts off the processes that mess up your sleep, contribute to anxiety, raise your blood pressure and even give you a bit of brain fog.
If you want to kick it up a notch, making sure your environment is cozy and relaxing is key. Think warm colors, soft textiles, and other natural materials. Using an essential oil diffuser and essential oil that’s thought to have stress-reducing properties like lavender essential oil can also go a long way toward making you feel like those few minutes of your day are like a tiny trip to the spa.
If you’re not a gym rat by nature, this is probably one of the most frustrating suggestions people can make when telling you how to relax. If working out is stressful for you, thinking of it as stress relief can feel laughable. But whatever your other associations with exercise are, it is definitely true that physical activity can reduce stress and seriously boost your mood.
The exercise you do on your own as part of how to unwind at work doesn’t have to be like high school gym class, and it doesn’t have to feel like punishment. Exercise can be anything from a full-on lifting plan to a run, to something as simple as taking a walk or dancing alone to music in your home (the last one is one of our favorites!).
The goal here doesn’t necessarily need to be to help you get really fit or healthy, although that’s always good. You just want to get your heart rate up and get those endorphins flowing, and also to give your brain a chance to step out of the office for a little while, too.
Swap Your Shower for a Soak
While many of us tend to shower in the mornings before work, there’s actually some benefit to swapping your bathing routine to the end of the day. It gives you a chance to literally and metaphorically wash off the grime and stress of the day, and if you do work out or get moving in any capacity after work, you’ll obviously want to shower after that.
We’d suggest that rather than a quick, functional shower, you consider taking a nice, luxurious soak. Light some candles, turn on your favorite slow jams, and romance yourself a bit! Our Destress bath bomb makes a great date for just such an occasion, with a calming yet energizing blend of lavender, lemon, and orange essential oils.
Much like meditating, taking a bath forces you to take a little bit of time totally to yourself, and the combination of soothing essential oils and warm bath water will do wonders for relaxing your body and helping you to put distance between Work You and Real You.
If you work in a city, it’s sometimes hard to think of the last time you really spent time in nature. And especially as the winter months roll on, it gets dark so early and light so late, it can often feel like you don’t even see daylight during the workweek. But spending time in nature is actually shown to have a positive effect on your mental state, so there’s tons of value in making a point of taking a walk or relaxing in a park, or even just trying to meet your friends outdoors rather than at a bar or a restaurant.
It’s a great way to build a sort of mental wall between being on duty and off duty, too. Because work (depending on your job!) often takes place in an office, even if you work from home, making a point of getting out to see some greenery as soon as you’re off the clock can have a positive effect on your mood, and the change in scenery can really help you reset and look at the rest of your time as your own, rather than your boss’s.
Look, we get it. If you’ve had a super long day at work and are looking at what feels like an endless workweek spanning ahead of you, it’s so tempting to get straight home, order delivery, and veg on your couch until it’s time to go to bed. Sometimes, work can be so draining that the last thing we want to do is spend some of our valuable energy on something that doesn’t feel totally necessary.
Actually, though, making time for friends or family after work can really help you unwind. Whether it gives you an outlet to talk about the stresses of your day with someone who cares or just allows you to laugh and have fun with somebody who doesn’t work with you, putting the effort in to get out a couple of times a week is super helpful when it comes to teaching yourself how to unwind, rather than letting work keep you on the clock at all hours.
Especially if your normal routine is basically scrolling through your phone until it’s time to go to bed and do it all over again, you really are giving up so much more of your day to work than you would if you went out and made it time for you to have fun and catch up with people you care about. If your commute knocks a lot of time out of the day, or you’re not quite ready yet to commit to a post-work happy hour, you could even just give a good friend or family member a ring after work to have a conversation.
Half of the battle with unwinding after work is just letting your brain do something other than your job—and it’s hard to focus on that report you’re going to need to do tomorrow when your best friend from your hometown is telling you all the best gossip.
If you’re one of those people who gets push notifications every time they get a work email, this tactic is for you. While the pressure to be paying attention and available at all times is high (and even higher depending on your job), it’s super important to take some time away from your phone or computer and to create some distance in your free time between your life and your job.
While answering a text from your boss here and there can feel like no big deal, it adds up over time. And the mere fact that you know you can be contacted at any moment by a colleague will keep you from relaxing completely, even if you aren’t aware of it. If you can’t manage to disconnect entirely when you’re off the clock, make sure you take half an hour (or more, or less, depending on your lifestyle and needs!) to put any kind of technology away, and feel that release of constant pressure.
Finding the right work-life balance for you can feel almost impossible at times. At other times, we can be really good at convincing ourselves we’re disconnecting from our job and unwinding… even when we’re really thinking about work in the back of our minds or waiting for an important email at all times.
Figuring out which activity will work best for you when it comes to finding a way to designate time that is just for you to relax and recharge can be super helpful when it comes to keeping your stress levels manageable, and your body and spirit happy and healthy.
Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis | National Library of Medicine
Physical Activity Reduces Stress | Anxiety & Depression Association of America
Levels of Nature and Stress Response | National Library of Medicine