Making the most of your time off

A busy working life means it’s vital you have interests outside work. Sometimes the best way to relax isn’t to do nothing – it’s to do something else. What are the best ways to switch off when you’re not at school or college?

What do you do when you get home from school or college? Kick off your shoes, sink into the sofa and next thing you know it’s time for bed? Or do you grab a quick bite as you tear through the kitchen and living room, quick wave to the family then straight down to your marking?

You may well scoff at the idea of finding time for a hobby or activity when you’re so busy with work but in fact, the busier you are the more important it is to find something purposeful to do in your time off. We all need down time from work but the best way to really relax refresh and regroup isn’t to do nothing – it’s to do something. Something different which takes your mind off work by absorbing you so much and so completely that you forget entirely about your work problems.

Our brains never switch off – if they did, we’d be dead! Instead human brains engage in a different activity in order to refresh each day. That’s why we dream. We need to mimic the way our brains work and do something that engages and really interests us during that small sliver of time off. It gives us something to look forward to, it helps us become more rounded people and it means we aren’t entirely defined by work.

Tap your troubles away

Spanish teacher Sandra says during a particularly stressful time at school she took up tap lessons. “I’d always wanted to learn to tap dance so when I saw a sign go up advertising for adult beginners I thought why not? I needed something to take my mind off work and just going home and sleeping off the stress wasn’t working.

“What I like about tap is that you have to concentrate so hard on learning the steps and getting your coordination right that you forget about everything else that’s going on in your life. You leave your problems at the door and, okay, so they’ll still be there when you finish but for that hour or so, everything that’s been troubling you takes a step. I highly recommend something like tap because as well as being brilliant exercise it exercises the mind too.”

Darling you were marvellous

For Anne Neville being heavily involved in amateur dramatics meant at a certain point each day she had to leave work – or leave work behind if she was marking at home. “If you’re in an acting company putting on a play or show then others are dependent upon you being there and that forces you to stop work and switch into another identity.

“I love acting and producing shows but I especially love how I’ll get to the end of a rehearsal or performance and suddenly realise I haven’t thought about work for several hours. It’s like that brief time when you wake up in the morning a blank slate, a tabula rasa, before you remember all the things that are troubling you. Doing something else for a few hours is a way of wiping that slate clean for a short time. It’s a way of taking a rest from whatever worries you have – a sort of mind holiday.”

If you don’t fancy acting most amateur dramatic groups have room for someone who wants to do make-up, costume, stage design, props, ticket sales, catering, front of house and publicity.

Apprendre le français

If the thought of tap dancing, acting or anything physical appals you – and you know yourself well enough to know you’ll never maintain anything physical – then why not try something purely for the mind such as taking a course in something? Maybe you want to brush up your Shakespeare, learn a new language or a piece of history that was never covered at school or college? A MOOC (Mass Open Online Course) could be the perfect answer. They’re free and you do them in your own time. There are masses of courses to choose from and you can even get a certificate at the end of it if you want.

Take a running jump

As with drama, if you do something with others it not only ties you to it but it can be more enjoyable and as it adds a layer of a social life should you want one. Sandra adds that one of the reasons she enjoys tap so much is that she’s made more friends as result. “I have what I call my tapping friends and we go to see shows together sometimes or just for a drink or meal after class. None of them are teachers and we don’t discuss work. Teachers have a tendency to socialise with each other partly because it’s easy and also because you have a shorthand for what’s been going on at school and in education in general. I know many professions socialise together too but I think it’s really healthy to have friends away outside your normal circles and colleagues. I didn’t go to tap classes to make friends but it’s a wonderful bonus.”

If you want to do some kind of exercise why not go with a friend? Or have a running buddy? That way if you don’t feel like running or working out you still have to go or you’ll let someone down.

Literary lives

You may want to escape from books but joining a reading group can be sociable, enjoyable and a way to find new authors you might not otherwise have read. It can be good to remember reading for fun instead of helping students get through set texts to pass exams.

Suggestions for making most of your time off

  • Do something that requires you to concentrate
  • Try to factor in something active rather than passive. When watching TV or even reading a book it’s very easy for your mind to drift back to work worries
  • Find a friend to share an activity with - it’s much harder to let a friend down than let yourself down
  • Sign up for a 5 or 10k fundraising race and get sponsors - that obliges you to train
  • Tune out of work by learning a new skill that absorbs your thoughts, such as Cordon Bleu cooking, cake decorating or maybe learn a new language
  • Volunteer as a guide to a local historic house
  • Attend local history lectures or talks

How we can help

  • Help for individuals  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, workload pressures, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for organisations 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.