To no one’s delight, the hours after work regularly zoom by. Before you know it, you’re back at your desk and gearing up for another eight-hour workday. In other words, the time between work and bed is short and is often full of responsibilities and to-dos that aren’t very exciting.
“It’s a sacred part of the day and for whatever reason, it also feels like the most stressful part of the day,” said Joy Kiesch, clinical director and owner of Miami Vibes Counselling Center. This is why it’s important to make the most of this short time.
Experts say there are things you can do to capitalize on your 5 pm to 9 pm routine and incorporate more international fun and relaxation into your nights, whether you’re a busy parent or a single person. Here’s how to make the most of your post-work hours:
First, change out of your work clothes
Put on your pajamas or some comfortable clothes once your workday ends. ”[The] big one I recommend is simply changing your clothes when you get home — taking off your work uniform, taking off your uncomfortable heels … and putting something on that feels good on your body,” Kirsch said.
This is one way to signal to your body that you’re done with work and can relax for the evening. Kiesch added that this should be done as soon as you get home or turn off your computer if you work from home — even staying in your work clothes for an hour or two can keep your body in work mode.
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And create an after-work routine you look forward to
“Having a ritualized nightly routine is very important … it gives you something to look forward to after a work day [and] it helps you just wind down so your body and your mind can rest,” said Noreen Iqbal, founder, and psychotherapist at Olive Branch Therapy Group in New Jersey.
This routine will differ from person to person and should reflect what you need at the end of a workday. If you’re someone who craves social interaction, add that to your routine. If you need quiet after work, honor that.
“The biggest [thing] is to be self-aware enough to know what you need,” Iqbal said, adding that you can tune into your needs by listening to your body, writing in a journal, or going to therapy.
Iqbal also added that a ritualized nightly routine could include cooking or ordering a nutritious meal, turning off electronics, lighting a candle in a cozy room, or taking a bath with your favorite products.
“Just keeping it simple and I think is self-aware knowing how much sleep you need. So the next day you have a good day,” she said.
Get in some movement
“I surveyed some of my friends, and everyone said that the thing that helps them the most is some sort of movement,” said Meredith Van Ness, psychotherapist, and owner of Meredith Van Ness Therapy in Colorado.
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This could mean an in-person workout class, an online yoga class, or even a walk through your neighborhood — whatever kind of movement you prefer is best for your after-work ritual.
“I like to tell all my clients, a 60-minute workout is great, but it’s just not realistic if you have kids or you’re trying to cram a lot into a short period,” Van Ness noted. And that’s OK — “give yourself grace,” she said.
If you can’t fit in a long workout, commit to a 10-minute walk or a 10-minute stretching session. The intentional movement will help with that transition from work to personal time, Van Ness explained.
If possible, get in your movement as soon as the workday ends. As the night goes on, the less likely you will be to go on that walk or take that fitness class.
Play your favorite song
According to Kirsch, putting on your favorite song as soon as the workday ends is a good way to tell your mind that you’re out of work mode.
“I think people forget how influential music can be and how it can get us out of any kind of funk,” Kirsch said.
Van Ness added if you’re feeling stressed out after a long day at work, you can also put on a playlist of calming classical music or soothing yoga sounds.
The music you choose is up to you. Either way, it can help you feel relaxed and ready for your after-work routine.
“If you have a job where you’re consumed with being on your email all day, really [try] to unplug. So, putting your cell phone in a different room … closing the laptop, maybe intentionally hiding the remote so you’re not drawn to the TV immediately,” Kirsch said.
This will allow you to be more present with yourself, your partner, and your family, she said.
“Oftentimes, I think people don’t realize that being online and spending more time in front of the screen is likely not going to give you what you need to feel recharged or relaxed or fulfilled,” she said.
If you don’t feel up for totally unplugging, you can put limits on how much time you’re going to spend on screens in the evenings, Kiesch added.
Get your chores out of the way
There are few things more annoying than realizing you have a sink full of dirty dishes as you brush your teeth before bed.
Van Ness said it’s important to do your chores as soon as you can and ideally in the moment — like washing the dishes as you cook or hanging up your coat as soon as you get home.
Leaving these bothersome tasks for the end of the night can create a burden that weighs on you when you should be taking advantage of your downtime.
Be mindful of overstimulation
It’s easy to rush around after work — rushing out of your office, racing to pick up your kids, hurrying to get dinner on the table — but it’s important that you don’t overstimulate yourself after work, a time that should be a break from the grind, Van Ness said.
While this is a challenge for many people (school pickup is a designated time), Van Ness said it’s important to at least be aware when you’re rushing so you can either do something about it or do some relaxation routines throughout the evening. Ideally, you want to decrease your stress levels after work, she said.
If you’re someone who constantly rushes around after work, Van Ness said you can try some breathing exercises. “I’ll just take maybe 30 to 40 seconds … just to take in some deep breaths and to exhale,” she said.
Van Ness said you can breathe in for four seconds and breathe out for six seconds. “The longer exhale is the reset to your nervous system.
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At the office, she recommends that you set a timer for 15 minutes before you need to leave so you can work on getting yourself set up for a calm evening and productivity the next day.
Do something different
A major part of having an after-work plan that you look forward to is planning activities that feel special.
“Oftentimes, people get home [and] they’re in the same routine,” Kiesch said, “we’re creatures of habit — we often eat the same things, we have the same routines when we do get home from work … a lot of what we do is probably not going to bring us a ton of fulfillment or recharge us.”
To combat this, Kiesch said you should incorporate some newness into your weeknights and it doesn’t have to be something big, either. You can have a make-your-own pizza night with your partner or invite your neighbor over for a glass of wine.
This adds some excitement to your week and will help you feel more rewarded once the next workday comes.
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