What do we know about rest and recovery?

March 14, 2018
Jacynth Bennett

Jacynth Bennett

Associate Dean, Custom Solutions

As part of our Teacher Wellbeing programme we’ve been exploring the psychology behind the effective use of rest and recovery time.

Wellbeing blog

We all know it’s important, but it’s challenging for teachers to use rest and recovery time well alongside the demands of their day job. We were keen to develop our understanding of the research so we could, in turn, help teachers to be more strategic when it comes to planning what they do during their down time.

What is recovery time? Why do we need it?

In our day-to-day work life we use lots of resources – both psychological and physical. This is particularly true of teachers, who experience significant demands on both. Emotional and cognitive resources are needed throughout the day, as well as the physical resources needed to maintain the energy to be on their feet all day long in the classroom and around school. Psychology shows us we need to give ourselves plenty of opportunities to replenish these stores. And the best way to do that? By NOT using them at all!

Even better, deploying completely different resources helps with complete restoration. Managing our stores well is shown to support our ability to engage with our work and protect us from burning out.

When should we take recovery time?

Recovery time can be anything from a long summer holiday to tiny micro breaks during a school day. Research shows, however, that good strategies for regular daily recovery protect people against burnout in a way that waiting for weekends and holidays just doesn’t. 

It’s vital for our wellbeing that we think about the rituals we perform on a daily basis, whether they’re moments in the working day or things we do before or after school.

What makes for good recovery time?

The characteristics of the activities we do in our recovery time are important. Research shows there are 4 key attributes that really make a difference. These are psychological detachment; mastery (e.g. of a skill or hobby); relaxation and a sense of control during off job time.

Psychological detachment in a caring profession like teaching can be hard but is important. Switching off emails, trying strategies such as mindfulness or journaling before bed to guide thoughts away from that tricky class, pile of marking or upcoming lesson, can all support psychological detachment.

Getting a sense of mastery in our free time is a powerful tool. Hobbies that enable us to learn new things can have a real impact here. So many leisure activities give us relaxation and this is shown to really help. 

Lastly, thinking about how to strategically plan breaks and slots of time before or after school can give us a helpful sense of control over our down time.

"Research shows that good strategies for regular daily recovery protect people against burnout in a way that waiting for weekends and holidays just doesn’t."

Which activities best support recovery?

  • Getting your trainers on – Research shows that sport is a great way of supporting the recovery of the resources we use at work – no surprises there.
  • Focusing your thoughts – Activities that promote relaxation such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation are shown to be powerful in replenishing our psychological reserves.
  • Getting out and about – According to recent research from Finland, engaging in physical activity in natural environments is one of the most effective ways of rebuilding your reserves. A short walk at lunchtime or in the evening not only restores the resources you have been using up at work, but helps you to enjoy your work even more.

There are other things to think about, including social activities. For some, an evening with friends supports this all-important recovery. For others, it depends on what they talk about, who they’re with or how energising or draining they find social interaction.

We might think that passive activities such as watching TV in the evening would help. In fact, in the field of recovery time, they are shown to be much less effective than more engaging activities like meditation, doing something creative or listening to music.

So what are we doing with this knowledge?

Through our Wellbeing programme, we’re encouraging teachers to think hard about how they use their recovery time, whilst supporting them to figure out how and when they can engage with these activities. 

We want to delve more deeply into ways of overcoming the barriers to psychological detachment in off work time, and think about how habit forming psychology can help teachers embed these recovery habits into their free time.

Read more… To find out more about some of our favourite wellbeing research, check out this article on the benefits of ‘forest bathing’ and how it’s been adopted as part of a national health programme in Japan!

This article originally appeared on the website of the Institute for Teaching. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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