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Unwinding and Restoration - How Important is Recovery?

School life is all encompassing, and it can feel like an unnecessary luxury to stop working, at school or home, if there is a spare minute to be had. However, just like the athletes we are 😊 the research is clear we need recovery time and experiences to maintain our performance and wellbeing.


Recovery has been defined in the literature as “unwinding and restoration processes during which a person's strain level that has increased as a reaction to a stressor or any other demand returns to its pre-stressor level” (Sonnentag et al., 2017). In plain English, we can see this as doing things that help us recover from the stress of the day. These activities then give space for our minds and bodies to run the unwinding and restoration processes that are helpful for us to return to balance.


We are looking for five key experiences here, especially for those in demanding roles:


  • the chance to detach psychologically from work

  • relaxation

  • mastery

  • a sense of control

  • enjoyment.


Strategies supported by evidence include physical movement, social activities, time in green spaces (nature) and blue spaces (near natural water), good sleep, and cultural and creative activities (Heslin, 2021). Passive activities (television, social media) don’t quite give us the same bang for buck, so striving for balance here is important too. What works is personal for each of us and can take some (fun!) experimentation over time.



What about recovery while we are still at school?

It can happen! Microbreaks have a growing body of research behind them, especially those that offer us the five experiences described above. Physical and social activities and getting outside can be good for some, and for others a sense of control and autonomy (where we eat our lunch, and who we eat it with some days of the week), or having the chance to relax mindfully are helpful for restoring and managing fatigue and concentration for the remainder of the day (Sonnentag et al., 2022).


The invitation (and research) is clear – we have the opportunity to try new ways to untangle and restore through the day, after the school day and on weekends.  While it can take effort to get started, the benefits in claiming back some intentional time for recovery may mean this effort is well worth it.



References

Heslin, P. A. (2021). Exhausted by 2020? Here are 5 ways to recover and feel more rested throughout 2021. https://www.unsw.edu.au/newsroom


Sonnentag, S., Venz, L., & Casper, A. (2017). Advances in recovery research: What have we learned? What should be done next? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(3), 365–380


Sonnentag, S., Cheng, B. H., & Parker, S. L. (2022). Recovery from work: Advancing the field toward the future. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 9, 33-60.

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