Bitchlings, I am exhausted. Yet I’m also kind of… bored? Or not bored, but lacking in enrichment. The zoo enclosure that is my life is simultaneously stressful and dull in a way that I had trouble putting into words until recently.
As alert readers know, I recently read Barbara Sloan‘s excellent book Tipped: The Life Changing Guide to Financial Freedom for Waitresses, Bartenders, Strippers, and All Other Service Industry Professionals. Check out our interview with the author right here!
Reading Tipped gave me an epiphany: my exhaustion, my boredom, and my money stress are all symptomatic of a larger problem. When I’m not working, I’m spending too much time and money recovering from that work and not enough time and money simply in recreation. From Barbara’s book:
“Winding down after a shift, because of the shift, is a work expense.”Barbara Sloan, Tipped
In other words, spending time recovering from your work is a cost of that work. Spending money recovering from your work is a cost of that work. And that’s a problem.
Recovery is a cost of work
In researching for this article, I ran into sources about recovery from substance use disorder. Which in itself is monumentally difficult. But that’s not the kind of recovery we’re talking about here! So let me take a moment to define “recovery” for our purposes.
Psychologist Sabine Sonnentag and her crew of researchers describe recovery 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 prestressor level” (2017). We’ve all done this to one degree or another in reaction to work stress.
Have you ever worked a long shift, then gotten hammered with your coworkers while complaining about said shift? Gone to bed early and slept in late after a particularly hard day of work, instead of going on that run with a friend? Scheduled an emergency appointment with your therapist to work out your negative emotions about your shitty boss?
All of that is recovery from work. The money you spend on drinks, the time you lose by sleeping too late on weekends, the emotional logistics and cost of unexpected therapy… all of that is how you recover from the stress, burden, exhaustion, and burnout of your work.
The problem is not just that those costs go completely uncompensated by most jobs. It’s that those costs dig into your take-home pay… like an insidious form of wage theft.
Yet recovery is also a necessity
When you splurge on drinks with your coworkers, how much of your hard-earned dollars are you wasting to recover from work? When you sleep away the work exhaustion when you could be up and doing something fun, how much of your precious time off are you sacrificing to recovery? Would you even need to spend money and time on a therapist if your work didn’t suck so bad?
You absolutely must spend time and money recovering from stressful, exhausting, difficult work. I’m in no way begrudging you a 1 p.m. wakeup time on a Saturday or them bottomless margaritas with the Tajín on the rim. But wouldn’t it be nice if it all didn’t feel so… necessary?
Sonnentag’s 2018 article in Research in Organizational Behavior reveals that the kind of job stressors that necessitate recovery lead to shittier life experiences overall. If you’re not getting enough recovery (or if you can’t afford to fully recover from job stress), then other aspects of your life suffer: your physical health, your mental well-being, your relationships, your ability to focus on long-term projects or educational goals, your professional performance, and—yes—your recreation.
Life would be objectively better if we could minimize recovery costs and instead devote those resources to recreation.
You should work to recreate, not work to recover
I want to spend my nonworking hours recreating instead of recovering. After all, what’s all this hard work for if it’s not to enhance the time I get to myself?
So here’s another definition: recreation. Recreation is any time or activity you spend doing what you want to do, not what you have to do because of your career. It’s the fun stuff! It’s the part of life we work so hard for! And it is distinctly not recovery from work.
I spent last weekend working in my garden. Over the course of many sunny hours, I planted seeds, tilled garden beds, and put down mulch. It was hard on my back and hips and I got a little sunburned. But I loved every fucking minute of it. Because it had nothing to do with my various money-making jobs! In no way, shape, or form did it enhance my career and work performance. It wasn’t done in reaction to my working hours, but completely separate from them. I’d have been engaging in that recreation no matter how my work week went.
I didn’t begrudge a single dollar I spent on mulch and fertilizer. I worked hard for those dollars, yes. And it felt great to turn them into something I truly enjoyed, something just for me and no one else.
That, my friends, is recreation. Sweet, selfish recreation. It’s the time, money, and activity during which you can completely, unselfconsciously, and without guilt ignore your work and do what you love.
When your need for recovery damages your recreation
Every dollar and minute spent on recovery takes away from your recreation. And I don’t know about you, but I resent the hell out of that disparity.
I once spent a whole weekend camping in the Rocky Mountains on the verge of a panic attack because of work stress. There I was, supposedly enjoying myself with my husband and friends and two whole entire cute dogs and all I could think about was a stupid fucking contract I was supposed to have someone sign before I left cell phone range. What if I got into trouble with my boss for not handling that before the weekend???
Instead of awakening from a deep sleep in an aspen grove to admire the alpenglow on the nearby peaks, I rolled out of my sleeping bag after a restless night to flop sweat and dread. Did I even notice the alpenglow? Did my eyes behold its surreal and ethereal properties as it bathed the nearby peaks in shades of light known only to the great masters of the Rococco? Probably not. I remember nothing from the experience except how stressed I was.
I hadn’t bothered to recover before I went out for recreation. And as a result, my supposed recreation suuuuuuucked. Which tells you a lot about living with generalized anxiety disorder, but also that recreation and recovery are not the same.
Intentionality makes the difference
In Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, authors Sabine Sonnentag, Bonnie Hayden Cheng, and Stacey L. Parker explain that their research shows “recovery processes can be improved by deliberate training programs” (2022). In other words: we have the power to reduce the individual recovery costs of our work! Science says so!
I know you guys come here for pop culture gifs and not summaries of psychological research, so I’ll make it quick. Sonnentag & Co. have been studying “how workers unwind and recuperate from their daily work”—the recovery cost of work we went over above. And they’ve discovered that taking intentional breaks for recovery throughout the work day is one way to reduce the cost of recovery during non-work hours. So actually take your lunch break instead of working at your desk. Actually go for a walk or drink some water or meditate during your legally mandated breaks.
Another method Sonnentag’s article explores is intentional recovery activities. So, instead of calling an audible and saying “Fuck it, I’m tired and deserve a drink” at the end of a hard work day, plan a recovery process ahead of time. Intentionally plan to meditate or perform a round of muscle isolation exercises as soon as your shift ends. Plan a 15-minute walk or a nap. Intentionally disconnect from your work email and text messages from coworkers after work hours.
Don’t fall headlong into lengthy or expensive recovery activities in the moment. Plan reasonable and effective recovery ahead of time to reduce your overall recovery costs. The sooner you get through recovery, the sooner you can move on to recreation.
Compensating myself for recovery costs
Reading Barbara’s chapter on the costs of winding down in Tipped sent me down a rabbit hole of research. Yes, I was trying to find some useful information to share with you guys… but I was also trying to solve my own problem.
I do way too much recovery (and therefore, am working too much) and not enough recreation. It’s hurting my wallet, my free time, my health, and my quality of life. It’s to the point that recreation all too often feels like work to me. I don’t know how to have fun anymore! I have become the worst adult stereotype!
So I’m going to try something entirely new and revolutionary: practicing what I preach. It’s never been done before! At least not in the whole history of Bitch Nation, where emperors traditionally have no clothes, cobblers’ children go perpetually unshod, and “Physician, heal thyself!” is a hilarious joke.
This weekend, I’m going to plan my recovery with intentionality to reduce my recovery costs. That way I can get to my recreation faster and enjoy that recreation more. And I’m going to start by reading a new book, one given to me by my wisest and most insightful friend. For some reason this friend thought I needed a book titled Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily & Amelia Nagoski. Can’t imagine why.
I hope that in addition to training myself to be more efficient with recovery, I can teach you, my beloved bitchlings, to be more cognizant of when you’re recovering vs. when you’re recreating. The goal is to minimize the cost of recovery—both in money and in time—so that you can dedicate those resources instead to recreation. Improve your life with more stress-free fun. You fucking deserve it.
I’ll leave you with a few of our finely crafted articles and podcast episodes about how to recover and recreate:
- Our Master List of 100% Free Mental Health Self-Care Tactics
- Why You Should Take a Break: The Importance of Rest and Relaxation
- How Mental Health Affects Your Finances
- The Frugal Introvert’s Guide to the Weekend
- How to Avoid Lifestyle Inflation … and When to Embrace It
- 7 Totally Reasonable Ways To Save Money on Cheap Entertainment
And if you want to contribute to the Piggy Weekend Recovery Fund so I don’t feel like I have to work so much, consider chipping in to our Patreon: