Real, deep and sustainable relaxation is often imagined as an escape from everyday life. A walk over green hills. A sun lounger under palm trees, turquoise blue water. Well, or at least an hour in the sun – with soundproof headphones on.
But recovery actually works differently. The English speak of “recreation”: creating yourself anew, that’s how we could translate it. We’re getting out of a situation that affects us gehas created and hecreate us anew as the people we want to be, who think the way we want to think and also live that way. Okay, unrealistic. But an interesting idea. So relaxation is a bit more complex than a quiet afternoon.
Research says that recreation for employees consists of switching off, relaxation, mastering challenges and self-determination. These criteria are useful for questioning your own recovery program. They identify needs that exist in each and every one of us, albeit with varying degrees of intensity. And depending on the temperament and life situation, we neglect individual needs.
An activity can hardly fulfill all the factors. Relaxation and challenge are usually hardly compatible. But let’s take a closer look at the aspects of recovery.
Sometimes we think we have to deserve relaxation. There is also a very low voice that whispers: You worked for hours, really got into the job. You went shopping. You wiped the kitchen clean, played with your daughter, tidied up, successfully put her to bed. That’s enough, now relax.
And then there is the very loud voice that says, Are you sure the data you used today is correct? Not from the previous year? No number rotator in there? Is the laundry in the washing machine from yesterday or the day before yesterday? When was the last time you worked on your business plan? You could also do some research on how to properly support a child of 21 months! And what does it look like here? What are you good for anyway?
And who can relax when they keep hearing voices?
Relaxation is a choice. A tough decision, but one that is worth it. Everyone has to decide for themselves what is actually relaxing. Television tends not to work that well because the brain is very active. Therefore, it belongs more to the “switch off” category. This also applies to audio books. A massage, meditation, a careful glass of red wine could have a relaxing effect. Maybe also the feeling of presence in your own home. We don’t have to criticize every overturned book. We can also be happy that it is what it is.
The ability to mentally detach oneself from work is one of the really important and completely lost skills of modern humans. We are unable to leave work behind. That is why it is difficult to enjoy the freedom – or even to accept that we have a right to it. And some working conditions make it impossible to actually switch off. Because emails could still come, because there could still be questions, because something could be or because someone could want something important. Could, could, could, could.
This “could” is perhaps the most important recreational killer in the modern world. This is why it is so crucial to allow yourself to switch off. The vibration alarm and the sound, the display. In teams, it can help to firmly agree on times to switch off. If nobody, who doesn’t have to, sends emails or expects answers after 7 p.m., a lot has been gained.
Distraction can help cover up thoughts about work or worries about the future. It’s just a plaster on a wound. On the other hand, a smart podcast or an inspiring audio book can both distract and stimulate new ideas.
Most people would not associate the term challenge with relaxation. It is a central element in this! Science actually speaks of “mastery” here, it is about facing a challenge, getting involved with it. And that is good: only if we do something that does not come naturally to us, the task really binds our minds.
Then I don’t brood anymore – I can’t even do it. This is the opposite of much-lauded routines and habits. I know this from swimming: It felt most relaxing when I wasn’t very good at it. The challenge helped me switch off. In short: try something new! Do something that you can’t think of anything else.
Do what you want. This, too, is a key element of recovery. Self-determination is so important to us because it makes us feel really free. If we do what others want us to do or how they would like it, then we are not free and that is not relaxing. Because the demands of the others follow, i.e. they bind energy.
Today, self-determination is something that people want from their work. And yes: this factor is important. But that’s why we shouldn’t forget it in our free time. If the free time is only the skilful allocation of time resources to housework, care work and family logistics, then this may not be taxable – but it is far from being self-determined free time.
Self-determination is a valuable asset. The further we progress in life, the clearer it becomes. In the 20s, self-determination was still the agony of choice for leisure time. In the 30s, self-determination sometimes only means the option of choosing the running route yourself. That is why it is so valuable and such an important part of recovery to create self-determined periods of time.
And now: personalize the four elements
All the elements of good relaxation are difficult to combine – or to calculate according to exact proportions. That is also not necessary at all. Research projects like this can be a valuable starting point for us in everyday life to question our own leisure activities. What is missing? What can be more? What may generate inner rejection – and why?
The best way to deal with these four elements is to personalize them for ourselves. Are you missing the challenge? Find out how to create interesting challenges for yourself. At the moment I tend to lack self-determination, so we have to get creative as a family. So there is still a little work ahead of each and every individual. But it’s also your own leisure time – and ideally you can live it independently.