Managing Stress: The Power of Detachment and Recovery from Overload
Have you felt stretched, tired, and exhausted trying to adjust to the changing landscape of work and life since the COVID-19 pandemic began? If so, you might not be alone.
Despite several months of acclimating to a new reality and societal upheaval spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, globally people are struggling to cope with the disruptions it has caused. Nearly 8 in 10 American adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life. And, 2 in 3 adults (67%) say they have experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic.
Stress Management Strategies to Detach and Recover
Whether you work, run a household, or manage a never-ending list of MS-related appointments and activities, those who are busy and stressed for long hours may have a high risk for emotional exhaustion and an inability to rebound in the face of work and life stress. Here are some ways to recharge your emotional, physical, and cognitive batteries while in the face of work and life challenges.
Detach and Recover During the Day
- Schedule Breaks During the Day. Short, voluntary, and impromptu structured breaks in the day significantly increase energy level and performance. Structured “microbreaks” are powerful on days when you are already fatigued, as it gives you dedicated time to rest. Give yourself a mental or a physical break – whichever you need. Sit down and engage with a brief video or listen to your favorite music if you need a physical break. Go outdoors or try an exercise snack if you need a mental break.
- Take a Siesta. If you work, consider taking a brief nap (or two) to detach and recover during the workday. Research suggests that even in well-rested people, naps can improve performance in areas such as reaction time, logical reasoning, enhanced memory, and learning. A 10-to-20-minute nap results in significantly improved alertness and cognitive performance. Taking a power nap in the afternoon is more effective than drinking a cup of coffee (caffeine causes a temporary increase in energy followed by a quick crash).
- Practice Mindfulness Meditation. Unlike many talent development fads, it is well established that practicing mindfulness meditation can have beneficial effects for employee engagement, concentration, performance, physical health, and well-being. Just a single session of an hour of deep breathing, reflection, or visualization can significantly decrease stress levels and increase overall productivity.
- Get Outdoors: Exposure to nature (in person or via video) is associated with increased happiness, positive affect, meaning/purpose and decreases in mental distress. A two-hours a week (either at one time or spread out over the week) is associated with significant greater health and well-being so try to get outside during your workday if possible, to detach from work stress.
- Take Your Lunch Break. Separate work with a lunch break to replenish your personal resources. Use your lunch break to focus on non-work activities to significantly lower stress, physically relax, and enhance psychological well-being in the afternoon.
Detach and Recover After Work and Daily Activities
- Shut Off Your Electronic Devices. Physically separating yourself from the constant work related “always on” that stream on your smart devices can help you recover from a stressful workday (and might also facilitate more sound sleep at night). Schedule and engage in pleasurable leisure experiences after work to create a boundary between work and non-work that don’t involve your phone, tablets, or streaming devices.
- Shut off Your Work Mind. Before you leave work for the day, reflect on what progress you have made during the day and complete a “daily to do” list for the following day.
- Engage in a Nightly Leisure Activity. Read a book, listen to a podcast, engage in physical exercise, or select any number of relaxation strategies that help you unwind, relax, and recharge your emotional batteries while lowering your level of work stress.
Detach and Recover During the Week
- Schedule a “Little Saturday.” Use the Scandinavian concept of “little Saturday’ (lille lørdag) in which Wednesdays are treated as opportunities for a weekend type of mini celebration. Any day of the week can be treated as a “little Saturday” in contrast to our “Hump Day that often depicts Wednesday as one of the worst days of our week with the weekend still a bit of a way off.
- Create a Weekly Ritual. Create little celebrations by yourself or with others that can break your weekly routine and allow you to detach and recover during the week. Such rituals help you to benchmark the week and detach from daily stressors that you face on the job (e.g., take an online class; schedule time for a hobby you enjoy; or master a new skill).
Detach and Recover During the Weekend
- Connect with Others. We are biologically wired to be social creatures. Find and cultivate those in your life that are supportive, caring, empathetic, and resourceful to you. Strong social support networks leads to a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationship (equivalent to quitting smoking and comparable to well-known risk factors such as lack of physical activity and obesity).
- Identify and Deploy Your “Signature Strengths.” Individuals who acted on their passions and strengths each day for one week demonstrated significantly higher levels of happiness (and less depression up to six months.
- Give Back/Volunteer. One way to disconnect from work and recharge is to “pay forward” and get involved in groups, organizations, and community activities that are cause based.
There is no “one size fits all” in these strategies but these antidotes for long hours, heavy workloads, or conflicting demands of life can help to prevent burnout.