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Relaxation Remorse: How to Stop Feeling Bad About Not Working

By June 8, 2022September 5th, 2023Workplace Well-being

Relaxation Remorse - Feeling pressure to work late at night to remain productiveDo you ever sit down to watch a show but then feel guilty knowing you still have dishes to wash? Or perhaps your long-awaited vacation happens to fall during crunch time for a big project at work, and you spend your time at the beach working instead of being with your family? Working from home has blurred the lines for many when it comes to separating workspaces and personal spaces. It’s why many people are experiencing what is called relaxation remorse. 

Defining Relaxation Remorse

What is relaxation remorse?

Relaxation remorse is the feeling of guilt when taking breaks from work.

If you’re experiencing relaxation remorse, you may feel a need to be constantly active. Despite knowing you need (and deserve) to rest, doing so brings a wave of guilt. This goes for breaks both during and outside of work.

The idea of relaxation remorse is similar to the concept of workaholism. However, instead of being an addiction, relaxation remorse is a perception of unproductivity. 

Do You Have Relaxation Remorse?

If you identify with the following statements, you may be at risk for relaxation remorse:

  1. Relaxing often makes me feel bad because I feel I am wasting time when I should be doing something productive for work.
  2. When I try to relax, I feel like I should be doing work instead.
  3. Relaxing makes me feel guilty because there is always something else I could be doing for work.
  4. Relaxing is difficult for me because there are always more important things I need to do.
  5. Relaxing when I have other things to do for work makes me feel guilty. 

Statements are from the relaxation remorse scale developed by Kristen Jennings.

4 Tips for Feelings Less Remorseful

Before diving into how to stop feeling bad for not working, we want to acknowledge that doing so takes time and conscious effort. We know this isn’t just a switch you can turn off. So, it may be helpful to share your remorseful feelings and whatever tactics you choose to try with friends, coworkers, your boss, or anyone you live with. Building this support system can help hold you accountable and meet relaxation goals (and needs)!

Set boundaries by closing the laptop when work hours end1. Set boundaries and plan a response for violations

In our blog about how to achieve work-nonwork balance, we shared ways you can set and maintain clear work and personal life boundaries.

If you work from home, it can be hard not to do work if your work laptop is staring at you from across the room while you’re trying to relax and watch your favorite show. It’s also easy to validate staying active later if you don’t have to account for a commute. Resist the urge, and don’t let that guilt take over! Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable at first but is ultimately an incredibly valuable habit to set. This is when having an accountability partner can be really beneficial.

2. Identify activities that genuinely relax you

Relaxation is not one size fits all. For some, scrolling through TikTok may be relaxing, but for others, it may be stressful. The key is to find the things that relax you

Sure, you can take inspiration from friends, coworkers, or people you follow online but after trying a few different activities, reflect on them. Ask yourself, “How do I feel after this? Do I feel relaxed? Do I feel at ease?”

Try asking these questions after your current “go-to” relaxation activities too. You may find the activities you engage in the most are actually not relaxing at all. 

To Reduce Relaxation Remorse change your mindset - a new mindset means new results3. Reframe your mindset

Rest is necessary, not a luxury. You do not need to earn your rest.

Many of us share this idea that rest is something we earn after completing a to-do list or your priority of the day. While this mindset may help to motivate you, it can also lead to stronger feelings of relaxation remorse. For example, resting without checking off a to-do list item may lead to feelings of unproductivity, guilt, and unworthiness. 

4. Continue to acknowledge the power of rest 

The truth is, we are better workers, more productive, happier, and more satisfied when we are well-rested.

Remember that to-do list item that was really daunting, or we just felt too tired to complete? Instead of feeling guilty about taking a break, remember that by doing so, you’re giving your brain a chance to clear. Stepping away can help you get inspired and bring new ideas to the table. Or that taking a 15-minute break outdoors to recharge is more valuable and beneficial for you than spending 45 minutes staring at your screen, struggling to think. 

“Sometimes the more productive thing you can do is relax” – Mark Black

More on Workplace Well-being

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