How to Unwind After a Day of Caring for Others

26 April 2022
Victoria Conway
Female counsellor talking with a female patient

As we move into Mental Health Awareness Week (w/c May 9) what better time to consider how we can unwind and look after our own mental health at the end of a stressful day.
We often know, but sometimes find hard, how to put into practice those actions which care for us. Yet if we perpetually feel stressed and do not care for ourselves, how can we best care for others?

Switch off from work

Before we can really start caring for ourselves we need to be able to properly switch off from work.

We can easily be contacted whether we are physically in the workplace or not, the boundaries can be blurred and before we know it we are answering work texts and emails, chatting with our colleagues on a WhatsApp group about work issues and find ourselves unable to switch off.

What about turning notifications or phones off, putting them on silent or putting phones away somewhere at a given time to create a boundary? Really say this is my time to concentrate on looking after myself.

We may feel anxious and fearful about what could happen if we cannot be contacted. Sadly (!),  I am old enough to remember adulthood without mobile phones – nothing drastic happened!  

As Al Gore said, fear is the most powerful enemy of reason, so remember when deciding about your phone that measuring likelihood and severity helps us to overcome fear to objectively assess risk and respond in a proportionate way.

This may also mean being prepared to assert yourself with others who may not be so clear about their own boundaries. 

Follow the recognised pathways to wellbeing

  1. Connect with other people
  2. Be physically active
  3. Learn new skills
  4. Give to others
  5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

By applying some of these principles to our time spent after a stressful day we have some useful guidance about how to unwind and care for our own wellbeing.

So, whether you want to help your children with their homework, enjoy a family meal together, do an exercise or adult education class, spend 10 minutes on meditation, take the dog for a walk or go out with friends …
The list goes on and it is for you to decide what interests you, what you will enjoy and what makes you feel good and relaxed. It is also important to feel motivated about what you choose or it will be hard to sustain if this is a change from how you usually spend your time after work.

If you find that during some of the ways you spend your time trying to relax you are still distracted by intrusive thoughts about work issues perhaps try introducing more time spent doing activities that demand your mental focus as well as your physical presence.

For example, we can easily fall into thinking about work when having a bath or taking the dog for a walk alone, but if we are learning a new dance routine at a dance class or having a meal with the family or non work friends it is a lot harder for work to interfere!

Establish a routine

If in the past you have been full of great intentions about how to change the use of your after work time, but despite this you have somehow not managed to sustain that change you could try to deliberately establish a routine.

Routines can be powerful determinants of behaviour and are habit forming (do you usually sit in the same chair in your living room or have a set order of actions before bed?).

The National Center for Biotechnology Information in the US has found that good daily habits determine success throughout life while poor daily habits (such as not getting enough sleep or limited exercise) have the opposite effect.

Sometimes it can be hard to sleep with a lot on our mind. A routine preparing for bed and going to bed at the same time can help support us with this.

Creating specific intentions and schedules about how we spend our time after work, perhaps involving our family too to help us decide, be actively involved and support us in maintaining our new routine, could be a positive start to forming new habits.

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