Mindlessly Vegging Out Is Good for You, But Only If You Don’t Guilt Yourself for It

Relaxing only works if you let yourself do it

Kate Kunz/Corbis

You've spent all week at work, putting in long hours to meet a big deadline. You roll in to your home totally brain dead—you've no energy left to muster. You still have some work to do, some emails to send, and your house is a disaster. You really should get some stuff done, but without thinking you're on the couch. Five hours later you've accidentally watched the first half of Firefly, and you're still just as stressed as before—but now you're kicking yourself for wasting so much time.

Now, consider a slightly different version of this same story.

You're overworked and tired, but you decide you're going to give yourself a breather. You have some work to do, but you can handle it tomorrow. Right now, you need some “me time.” You kick back, relax and watch a few episodes of your favorite show, cheering on as the Browncoats subvert the Alliance at every turn. You go to bed rejuvenated, ready for another day.

The actions are identical, but the outcome is totally different. Actually relaxing, says the British Psychological Society, is all a matter of perspective.

In a new study, researchers found that whether people feel better after a break all comes down to whether they feel guilty about their downtime or not. The unfortunate twist, according to the new research, is that the more wiped out you are the more likely you will be to see your break as a waste of time.

“The key finding,” says the BPS's Research Digest, “is that the more depleted people felt after work (agreeing with statements like "I felt like my willpower was gone"), the more they tended to view their TV or gaming as procrastination, the more guilt they felt, and the less likely they were to say they felt restored afterwards.”

So the next time you're totally overloaded and find yourself mindlessly watching TV or clicking away at a video game, just remember: you're already doing it, so you may as well enjoy it.

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