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Key Elements of a Post-Work Downshifting Routine


Most people can’t go from work mode to relaxed mode instantly.

Maybe at the end of your workday you are feeling only 4/10 calm-content-happy and 9/10 stressed-tired-moody.

Just because you cease working doesn’t mean that your mood is suddenly 100% sparkles and joy.

It’s easy to default to decompression activities that are mindless – scrolling on your phone, taking the edge off with alcohol or recreationals, or plopping down on the couch in front of the television.

No judgement. Sometimes that’s really all you’ve got the energy for.

That being said, there is a more effective way to transition than checking out and letting the decompression happen on its own timeline.

You can construct a daily downshifting routine.

The goal of a downshifting routine is to gradually ramp you down from the hours of focus, meetings, emails, and conflicts that over-stimulated your nervous system.

Key Elements of a Post-Work Downshifting Routine

Note: At first establishing a downshifting routine feels like adding more work for yourself. But fairly quickly it becomes an automatic habit that isn’t effortful and feels pretty good.

After the first element, the others can be done in any order that works for you.

Your ritual can even extend to the manner in which you leave your office and what you do on your commute. Or if you work from home could include a walk around the block.

Intentionally Stop Working

The purpose is to clearly signal to your brain that you are finished working and to put some closure on your workday.

Things to try

As you close down your software programs, say goodbye to each one Goodnight Moon style.

  • Goodbye, community engagement report.
  • Goodbye, chat.
  • Goodbye, email.
  • Goodbye, spreadsheet.
  • Goodbye, network.


If something is stressing you out, and you are likely to stew on it throughout the evening, try writing it down on a piece of paper and say goodbye to it, too.

  • “Goodbye, tense situation with accounting. I’ll leave you here for the evening. Just chill for a bit and I’ll see you tomorrow with fresh perspective.”


As the last thing you do in your office (even if you work from home at your table), take a moment to declare that you are done working. Maybe silently, maybe out loud.

  • I am finished working.

Even if you plan to do some work later in the evening, ritualize disconnecting from work at the normal end of your workday.

Move Your Body & Take Some Deep Breaths

Physical movement helps with resynching your mind and body. Since it is easy to ignore the body during the workday, it is important to bring it back online.

Movement also helps to turn off the fight/flight/freeze/appease response that occurs when you are stressed.

  • When your nervous system is poised for action, but then you don’t need to physically fight or run to escape the danger, the stress hormones build up as your body waits for movement.
  • When you are operating in a freeze/appease state, you’ll often feel tension building as the day goes on.

Intentionally breathing deeply and slowly is one of the quickest ways to signal to your body that it is safe and time to dial down the stress response.

Things to try

Note: This isn’t about doing a full workout. It is about doing a few movements consistently at the end of each workday, regardless of other activities you may do, including a workout.

Take 3 to 5 breaths “box style”: inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for 4, exhale for 4, hold no breath for 4, repeat. You can start with a 4 count and add a second each round if you like.


Complete the fight/flight response with some movements that uses your major muscle groups. Here are some ideas:

  • Do 30 seconds of air punches.
  • Jump up and down 5 times.
  • Stand with your feed wide, arms extended overhead. Inhale deeply. On a forceful exhale, bend at the waist and knees and swing your arms down and behind you. Inhale as you stand back up. Repeat a few times.


Literally shake off the freeze/appease response. You’ve seen a dog get tense and bristle and then when the situation is resolved, it does a full body shake? Try a full-body wiggle and shake for 30 seconds. Do it vigorously!


Put together a very brief stretching/release routine that targets your neck, upper back and shoulders, and hips. For example:

  • 3 neck rolls in each direction
  • 3 shoulder rolls forward and backwards
  • standing figure-4 on each leg (or you can do it seated in a chair)
  • standing forward fold (or you can do it seated in a chair)

Lighten Your Mood and Laugh

Incorporate a bit of levity into your downshifting routine. See if you can literally laugh out loud once. This is one thing social media is great for. There is no shortage of funny things online that you can access on demand.

Things to try

Watch a stand-up comedy clip.

Watch part of a TV show or movie that you know makes you laugh.

Read a passage in a humorous book.

Watch a video of animals doing funny things.

Be Grateful

Putting yourself in a grateful state of mind helps you to keep some perspective and not be so fixated on whatever may have happened at work.

Things to try

Write down or make a silent list of everything, small and big, that happened during your workday that felt good or that you can feel some appreciation about.

If you’re really feeling down, just repeat the following silently.

  • I’m grateful for the opportunity to work.
  • I’m grateful for the lessons I learn (even if they suck in the moment).
  • I’m grateful for my perseverance and grit.

Once you’ve picked an item from each category, you can experiment with the order that works best for you and how much time you allocate.

It’s great if you can take a full 5 minutes to put things to rest but even 30 seconds can be helpful.

Try to end your ritual in the same way each time.

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