There’s finally a break in your schedule after bumper-to-bumper deadlines, and you decided to take a day off to recharge.
Congratulations! Taking care of yourself is the best way to plan for your long-term career success. But there’s a big difference between taking care of yourself and just vegging out in front of Netflix. Your time off should not just relax you in the moment; it should restore your energy for the future.
Those of us in the nonprofit sector are notoriously overworked and overwhelmed. Our never-ending list of tasks is exacerbated by the emotional work that we do for our clients and our donors. Many of us work on intractable problems related to racism, poverty, and disease—and as our hard work becomes more essential, the more exhausted we become.
Getting out of the grind is hard, and we often push ourselves too hard on our days off, too. We want to finish all our chores, spend time with the kids, catch a movie, and do the grocery shopping. And if we can’t do it all, we feel bad and beat ourselves up about it.
If you’ve noticed that your self-care days leave you just as exhausted as a regular workday, it’s time to revamp your approach to relaxation. Here are a few tips.
1. Take Care of Your Errands Right Away
When you’re busy at work, everyday tasks tend to fall off your radar. Although your day off is the perfect time to catch up on these errands, make sure that they don’t take over your whole day.
Avoid the busy times at the grocery store, the laundromat, and the pharmacy, so you can take care of everything quickly and efficiently. Prioritize the most pressing tasks and get those things done—but don’t push yourself to do everything in one day.
2. Shhh! Be Quiet
Office life is loud. Even if you have a private office with a door or your headphones are usually glued in your ears, work life is full of distractions. You get used to it. In fact, I often find myself turning on the radio just to have the background noise. But even though I’m used to it, that background noise is preventing me from really concentrating.
That’s why it’s so important to have some peace and quiet on your day off. I’m not the meditating type, but I try to make sure that I leave myself a few hours to garden or read quietly, giving myself the chance to tune into one thing at a time. I have a friend who borrows her daughter’s coloring books to have a solid 15 minutes of quiet time with her crayons. A former co-worker of mine is a runner who takes a 30-minute jog as a peaceful time to reconnect with her body and nature.
3. Move Your Body
When I take a day off, it could very easily become 24 hours of sitting in front of the TV—but since my typical workday is sitting in front of a computer screen, there’s nothing restorative about that.
So, get up! You don’t have to run to the gym, but try going for a walk or pumping some Beyonce and dancing around your apartment.
We all know that exercise boosts your happy endorphins and reduces stress. If you can’t work exercise into your regular schedule, don’t let the opportunity to do something on your day off pass you by. Even a 20-minute walk can have a positive effect on your stress level for the next few days.
4. Delay Your Vices
What do you typically do to relax when you get home from work or after you put the kids to bed? Crack open a bottle of wine? Turn on the TV?
Whatever your post-work ritual is, you may be tempted to engage in it earlier than normal on your day off (it’s 5:00 somewhere, right?). However, I encourage you not to do that—it will simply delay all the positive things you can do during your day off (not to mention increase the chances of you rolling into the office with a crushing hangover the next day).
5. Do Something That Connects You to the Bigger Picture
It’s counterintuitive to focus on doing things for others on our day off, but if you work in nonprofits, you know that doing good can be as rewarding as it is exhausting (and if you don’t work in nonprofits, just trust me on this!). So consider taking a few hours of your day to help out in a food kitchen, watch your neighbor’s kids, or do some more research on an emerging issue that relates to your job.
For example, I work for a community garden organization that aims to provide nutrition education—yet, on my days off, nothing soothes me more than working in my garden and cooking a big meal. It allows me to think about how important these things are to my life and how everyone should have access to green space and healthy food. It makes the mission of my full-time job personal to me in a way that I may forget when I’m just grinding out grant proposals.
I see this as an act of self-compassion. You are reminding yourself why you push yourself so hard to do your work in the first place.
Finding the time to take a day off can be difficult, and not everyone can do it regularly. So when when you do have an extra day, make sure that it truly restores you. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” So put on your armor and fight for your right to relax.