The workers are worn out. Only 32% of workers worldwide claim to be flourishing. It’s hardly surprising that many workers feel like they are on the verge of burnout given that 43 percent of respondents said they experience high levels of everyday stress. Some statistics show that as many as 61 percent of U.S. professionals may experience this feeling at any time. People who experience tension at work are more than three times more likely to look for other employment.
So workers are requesting mental health benefits from their employers more frequently. In response, many businesses are providing perks like virtual mental health support, impromptu days or even weeks off, meeting-free days, and flexible work scheduling. Despite these efforts and the growing number of workers who see the value of mental health, if you don’t genuinely recover, the effort is wasted. What are strategies for dealing with stress at work if you feel like you’re burning out?
Awareness of stress recovery
Recovery is the process of returning stress-related symptoms, such as anxiety, tiredness, and high cortisol levels, to their pre-stressor levels. Because it takes knowledge of what works for you and practice to know how and when to recover from stress, professionals refer to recovery as a talent.
The ability to recover is recognized in professions that demand excellence under stress or need extended periods of intense focus when mistakes can be expensive or even fatal. Think about a pilot on a life-or-death mission or an athlete whose entire career depends on one performance. These individuals pick up on the necessity of both physical and mental recovery for obtaining and maintaining high performance under stress rapidly. To maintain safety standards, pilots are even formally compelled to rest for predetermined amounts of time both during and after duty, and an oversupply of studies examine how athletes can rest most effectively.
Importantly, healing in these industries is an integral element of the training and performance approach and does not only occur when people feel exhausted or burned out. It is vital for feelings, moods, energy, learning integration and growth, and eventually performance, mental and physical health, and relationships, to recover well from stressful or difficult performance or concentration times.
The recovery paradox
There is a contradiction introduced by the healing process. According to research, we’re least inclined — and able — to take action when our bodies and minds need to recoup and reset the most (i.e., when we’re most exhausted). For instance, we easily enter a negative cycle of working longer hours and taking fewer breaks when our work is challenging and we feel overwhelmed. Even while proper diet and water are crucial for recharging energy levels, we also tend to eat less healthily during those stressful situations. As we become even more worn out, we lack the energy and desire to take a break and relax or work out, which results in poor recovery and further fatigue the following day. Because there is an underlying belief that you can (and should) push through pain, organizational cultures promoting working on little sleep or in a perpetual sense of urgency can make it worse.
You need to figure out what works best for you and create a restoration strategy to offset this contradiction. It’s vital to remember that what relieves stress is not always as clear as you would believe. Based on observations from the business world and academic research, here are five strategies for making recovery work for you.
1. Mentally distance yourself from your job.
It seems silly, but after a long, stressful surgery, physicians unwind by playing some video games to disconnect before going home. No matter what restoration activity you favor (reading, running, playing video games, cooking, etc.), it’s crucial that you mentally “turn off” or disengage from thoughts of work (or the particular stressor at hand). Stress from the workday builds up throughout the day, causing us to think about work far into the evening. Even when you’re physically in an exercise class, your thoughts are still going over the details of a recent client meeting. According to research, just thinking about work makes it harder for you to recover from it.
Recovery can only happen after our minds are functioning at pre-stressor levels, therefore we must help the process along by mentally removing work-related ideas, or giving our minds a rest. Better rehabilitation and even gains in outcomes relating to the workplace, such as performance and engagement, are brought about by detachment. The idea that spending more time working will improve performance defies logic in this case.
To make use of this idea, set aside a specific amount of time each day so that you may focus entirely on an activity unrelated to work. Even a little time will have positive effects on healing. It helps to practice mindfulness as an additional activity because, over time, you’re teaching your brain to concentrate on the present instead of ruminating on the past. Learn what factors make it difficult for you to mentally distance yourself from your job. Turn off alerts on your phone if it causes you to check business emails during breaks or after-hours.
2. Make use of microbreaks throughout the working day.
During the work week, set your phone alarm to ring once every two hours as a reminder to get away from your computer, stretch, walk around, and sip water. Research demonstrates that microbreaks or brief breaks of about ten minutes are surprisingly effective for recovering from daily work stress and many job demands.
Techniques that can enhance motivation and concentration, mold your mood, and sustain your energy throughout the day include:
- short bursts of meditation or relaxation,
- setting aside time to eat a healthy snack,
- engaging in enjoyable social interactions, or
- engaging in activities that call for some degree of cognitive attention (like reading).
Additionally, taking longer breaks in addition to more frequent short breaks might boost energy, motivation, and focus more so than taking fewer but longer pauses. It’s interesting to note that taking microbreaks early in the workday promotes faster healing.
Avoid the temptation to push through the day under the impression that recovering would be simpler later or to “store up” your healing for the weekend or even that holiday that is still months away. To speed up your recovery, create a plan that you can follow daily and include microbreaks into your hectic schedule using specialized smartphone applications.
3. Take into account your preferred healing activity.
You may choose to spend your leisure time participating in your partner’s hobbies so that you could have quality time together. But then you may discover how much you dislike taking guitar lessons. So pursue your own hobbies: garden while they practice the guitar, and schedule time for you to spend together afterward.
Although having control over your recuperation activities may seem obvious, it can be complicated to put this idea into practice. Maybe you’ve been compelled to attend a group exercise class, or perhaps your employer scheduled a group health activity over the weekend when all you wanted to do was spend time with your family at home.
Sometimes not having a say in your restoration might be more detrimental than helpful. For instance, the research found that when employees desired to interact with coworkers over lunch, it helped them recover from stress. On the other hand, employees who were less eager to socialize at lunch but did so (perhaps owing to peer pressure or standards set by the specific workplace culture) reported their energy levels to be drained by the end of the day. For working lunches, a similar trend of depletion was found. Most individuals find it exhausting to work through lunch. However, there may be recovery advantages if you decide to continue working throughout lunch (and gain energy by finishing crucial chores). Just remember that even if it’s not your favored lunchtime activity, resting is an essential recovery exercise that offers advantages.
In conclusion, pay attention to how you spend your lunchtime. Talk to your boss about how you may get more control over how you plan and utilize your break if you feel under pressure to socialize or keep working. Then, use those free times to engage in your preferred forms of healing.
4. Give high-effort recovery activities a top priority.
There is rarely a gym session that I’ve regretted later. I may not be all rah-rah about it beforehand, though. Although it may appear that unwinding, watching TV, or other “passive” or “low-effort” activities are better for healing, research indicates that more vigorous activities may be even more beneficial. Find an activity that you love doing for fitness if you don’t like going to the gym or playing team sports, such as a brisk stroll, a hike, or swimming.
Beyond exercise, engaging in demanding tasks, or “mastery experiences,” is another activity that promotes healing. High levels of commitment, attention, and time are needed for mastery experiences—resources that typically drain your energy during the workweek. While it may seem counterintuitive to continue using these resources while not working, mastery activities like taking up a hobby (such as learning a new language, playing the violin, volunteering, etc.) can help you develop new skills and restock depleted resources that can be used back at work, allowing you to approach recovery from a different, fruitful perspective.
It might be time to expand your recovery arsenal beyond the “traditional” healing practices like exercise, yoga, and meditation. Why not enroll in the kickboxing course? Another option is to dust out your old guitar.
5. Modify your surroundings for the best restoration.
Your immediate environment is an essential but underappreciated component of healing. Some businesses have realized this and are incorporating both direct and indirect exposure to the outdoors into the workplace. Direct contact with nature, such as taking a park stroll during your lunch break, improves stress relief in as little as 10 minutes. Being among nature at work has long-term benefits in addition to its immediate ones, such as improving wellbeing and reducing the risk of burnout. Your sleep quality, sense of stress, and general health have been found to improve when you are exposed to daylight, have a window view, or are surrounded by indoor plants at work. Surprisingly, indirect exposure to nature—like viewing images of nature on a screen—can also help with healing. Simply said, bringing some of the outdoors into your office will make you happier and more productive.
Booking a vacation to the mountains is not necessary. By using any outdoor spaces your employer offers (like cafeteria terraces or green areas at the building entrances), opening windows frequently to let fresh air in, taking quick strolls in a nearby park during your micro-breaks, and even suggesting outdoor walking meetings when possible, you can try to stay connected to nature while at work. Try to gain some exposure through wildlife photographs or films if all else fails.
The advantages of creating and putting into practice an intentional recovery plan are obvious: recovery may maintain your energy, well-being, good moods, and motivation and increase cognitive and physical performance as well as your general level of life satisfaction. But you’re least likely to actively participate in rehabilitation activities when you most need them. You may better develop and carry out an intentional recovery strategy to support your energy and performance over time by using these recovery tactics.