How to relax your mind and body while you’re working from home

On the surface, working from home frees you up to spend more time doing the things you love. No commute, a full kitchen to make your lunches, time to spend with your family — what could be better? But you probably quickly realized that working from home can mean being busier than ever before.

Without set office hours and clear physical boundaries, it can be easy to let your work seep into all hours of your day, and when you’re home it can be tempting to use your lunch break to fold laundry or catch up on vacuuming. Soon your days are full and you’re exhausted.

You need a break, and that includes your mind and body. We’ve got the answers to the most common recovery questions so you can start recovering better at home.

Why is it important to fit in recovery?

If adding in time to relax and recover just feels like one more thing on your to-do list, consider all the stress you feel from different sources.

“If we think about it from a physiological level, the body treats all sources of stress the same, regardless of where it’s coming from,” says Giovani Urrutia, a tactical education specialist at EXOS. “Mechanical stress, family stress, work stress, pandemic stress — from a chemical standpoint the body perceives it the same.”

Urrutia says to think of your body like a cup, and stress — from any source — is like filling that cup up. When that cup is full or even overflowing, things start to break. That might mean a physical injury, getting sick, or just feeling run-down. It’s impractical to think your cup will ever be empty, so recovery strategies help you empty your cup so you can fill it up again as needed.

“If you don’t feel good, you can’t be good to your family and to others. That’s where self-care is important,” says Omi Iwasaki, a doctor of physical therapy and senior vice president at EXOS. “You need to find a passion or a hobby that you can do that’s for you. It’s not a selfish thing; it’s something I think everyone needs.”

Do I need to recover if I’ve just been sitting at my computer all day?

The need for recovery might seem obvious after strenuous athletic activity, but it’s also important to recover from sitting all day. “It creeps up on you,” says Iwasaki. “You don’t want to get to where your neck is stiff because you’ve been sitting in front of your laptop all day without realizing it.”

Even with perfect posture, it’s not good for your body to be in the same position all day. If there’s only one room you use to work privately you can still change up your position from time to time. Make yourself a standing desk by using boxes, try sitting on the floor, or whatever other positions you can integrate into your day.

Iwasaki also recommends trying triggers like alarms, calendar alerts, or apps to help you remember to take intentional breaks during the day. If that kind of thing is more annoying than helpful, find other ways to remind yourself to move and change things up.

How do I know if my recovery is working?

“Awareness is number one,” says Urrutia. “You need to be able to look at your habits, work backward, and think, what have I been doing that may contribute or take away from my stress level?”

If you’ve been irritable, experiencing changes in sleep or appetite, moodiness, overall fatigue, physical soreness, aches and pains, and stiffness, those can all be signs that something needs to be addressed. If you want to get more high-tech, you can try smart wearables that track your resting heart rate or apps that give you a stress or recovery score.

To address signs of poor recovery, start by improving your sleep habits while working from home since this is one of our most important recovery activities but is so easily disrupted.

Where can I find the time?

When you’re working from home it can be difficult to get away from work during the day to make time for recovery. Iwasaki likes to schedule time every day to take a lunch break or fit in a recovery session. “You can have the right intention, but if you don’t schedule it, it’s not going to happen,” he says. “Having a framework set up, and trying to stick to the same schedule and routine, without being overly rigid, allows me to find mental and physical recovery.”

Then work on cueing your body when it’s time to start winding down to recover by establishing certain habits and rituals. The gold standard is turning off electronics at least 90 minutes before bed, but starting with as little as 20 minutes and working up helps your body get the quiet time to prepare for sleep, which is a huge part of recovery.

“I don’t think people understand the power our hormonal systems have over us, and how slow those systems are to move one way or another,” says Urrutia. “When you’re on your phone right before bed, your body says, OK let’s create a hormonal environment that says we’re working, not sleeping.”

How can I involve my family?

Ideally you’d be able to take time away from your family and others in your home whenever you need some space for recovery, but that isn’t always the case. In those instances, get creative with how you involve your family in recovery. Take a family walk or play an active sport to help your body move and get everyone outside. (Try this 15-minute workout if you need something to burn off your kids’ energy.)

And don’t forget mental recovery for the family, too. “Try something that involves everyone so they’re fully present in the moment,” says Iwasaki. “It doesn’t have to be anything significant, and it doesn’t have to be anything formal. It can be any small thing that takes your mind off things and allows you to enjoy being together.”

This unique opportunity might help your otherwise busy family connect over meals and newly discovered interests. And that same electronic shut-off time is important for your kids too. Helping them learn healthy recovery habits now sets them up to make healthy choices throughout their lives.

What kinds of activities count as recovery?

There’s no right answer to this one. Different activities work for different people at different times. Doing a workout or going for a run might be great mental recovery for you, a partner massage might help with physical recovery, and yoga and breathing techniques might help with both.

“It’s all about individualization. Some things are going to resonate with you and some things you’re going to hate,” says Iwasaki. “Just try one and experiment and see what works for you.”

If you need ideas, Urrutia says you can start simple with some box breathing, a bretzel or pigeon stretch, or just pausing to reflect during the day so you don’t have to lie awake at night going over everything.

Once you start emptying your cup and increasing your recovery capacity, you may find you’re even able to handle more than you were before.

Looking for more ways to destress? Try following our destress DIY plan on exosathome.com.

About the Author

Kelsey Webb

As an editorial assistant at EXOS, I'm eager to help others improve every aspect of their lives through healthy living. I enjoy bringing effective strategies and information to light by working with experts in all fields.

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