Taking a mental health day from work is no longer thought of as taboo. More companies accept when employees need a day to focus on their emotional and psychological well-being — and to avoid burnout.
The same concept can help you avoid burnout from your fitness routine. And these days should already be built into your program. Take advantage of rest days to mentally recover from your workouts and you can come back to the gym (or trail or road or whatever your preferred sweat location is) stronger.
“There’s lot written about the impact exercise has on mental health. We know being physically active can lead to mental benefits,” says Brandonn Harris, PhD, a certified mental performance consultant. “But when you’re not physically active, does that impact your mood? It most certainly can.”
Giving your mind a chance to recover may not seem as important as allowing your muscles to recover, but it will help you stick to your workout routine. “That’s the motivation piece, the enjoyment and fun piece that will sustain us so we continue to engage in that type of activity,” says Harris, program director and professor of sport and exercise psychology at Georgia Southern University.
The key to avoiding workout burnout and mentally resetting on rest days is what you do with your time, he adds. Try these tips to use off days to your advantage physically and mentally.
SPEND TIME WITH FRIENDS
Meeting a friend for a workout is great, but it is also mentally replenishing to catch up over coffee or see a movie together. Doing something social with family or friends, “fills the tank so you have more to give when you are active,” Harris says.
Take a look at your workout logs and see what you have done, suggests sport and exercise psychologist Christina Heilman, PhD, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. “It’s so easy to be critical and we can easily forget our progress, but rest time is time to celebrate — ‘Look what I’ve done!’” she says. Even if things didn’t go exactly as planned (because what does?), you will see progress. And maybe you realize you want to tweak your program to better fit your goals.
ASK YOURSELF WHY
Take time to consider what you are getting out of working out, beyond the health benefits. “What is the ‘why’ behind it? Are you doing it because you feel like you have to, or because you want to?” Harris says. “If the activity is unpleasant, it’s not a bad idea to give thought to other things you enjoy that provide the same benefit.” Because if you don’t enjoy it and don’t want to do it, chances are high that you will fall off the workout bandwagon.
Research shows spending time in nature may reduce stress and anxiety, increase positive feelings, help you stop ruminating and boost creativity, concentration and memory. All of those benefits add up to feeling refreshed and being able to focus during your next workout.
IT’S OK TO DO NOTHING
Ask yourself: If you took away all your obligations today, what would you do? Then listen to what comes up, Heilman says. If that’s being a lazy slug on the couch because you never do that, then do it! “We glorify pushing to extremes and feel guilty sitting on the couch, but that might be what you need,” she says. Harris agrees, adding, “Sometimes doing nothing and giving your body and mind a chance to rest is important.” You may even find yourself coming up with creative ideas or solutions to problems you’ve had (related to exercise or not) because you’re letting your brain rest, rather than trying to force it to figure the issue out.
PLAY A GAME WITH YOURSELF
If you struggle to rest, fearing you’re not good enough or will get fat if you don’t do something, make a game out of light activity, perhaps focusing on your breath going in and out of your nostrils as you walk or jog, Heilman suggests. “This way you feel like you are achieving something,” she says.