Surviving Another Stressful Year

Because COVID is not over yet it’s probably worth our thinking again about how we can optimise the benefits of our downtime, as well as manage the stressors at work.

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Did you have a good summer break? I hope so because it looks like there are more stressful times to come.  

2020 caught us all out. Most of us have lived all our lives in a “purple patch” of history. Sure, there have been wars and famines in various parts of the globe, the odd natural disaster and man-made horror, but overall, most of us remained personally untouched by widespread tragedy and adversity. Last year changed all that for almost everyone.

The upshot was that we all had to learn new ways of coping. We also had to work hard at getting better from the stress we were experiencing. That summer break was perhaps not quite what we had planned, but it was welcome nonetheless.

Because COVID is not over yet it’s probably worth our thinking again about how we can optimise the benefits of our downtime, as well as manage the stressors at work.

What’s the best way to recover from stressful times?

In his recent article in The Conversation Dr Peter A Heslin from UNSW Business School writes about  the 5 types of recovery experiences:

  • Psychological detachment: fully disconnecting during non-work time from work-related tasks or even thinking about work issues. The research seems to suggest that this is the most important one of all. If you are interested check out this meta-analysis form 2017 
  • Relaxation: the conscious use of relaxation strategies such as progressive muscle relaxation as well as things that make you physically relaxed like soaking in a warm bath and spending time doing things you love in an unpressured way.
  • Mastery: this means challenging ourselves with tasks that provide a sense of achievement (It may mean learning a physical skill or a new area of intellectual interest that is totally unrelated to work. Tango anyone?)
  • Control: deciding for yourself about what to do and when and how to do it
  • Enjoyment: in case you’ve forgotten that’s doing things for the sheer fun of it rather than to meet any externally or internally set goals.

So, what can we do for ourselves?

While we’re away from work we can:

  • Sleep well and do regular physical activity - sorry, this is a no-brainer but is so important it must appear at the top of any list about managing and recovering from stress.
  • Turn off all the channels on your computer and phone that connect to work.
  • Remember that, while passive relaxation activities (eg reading, watching TV, internet surfing) can be fun, they are probably less helpful than active relaxation activities (sport, exercise, learning). Even social (friends and family) and cultural activities (concerts, watching sporting events etc) are more likely to be helpful than a passive activity.
  • Spending time in nature is increasingly acknowledged as important for our wellbeing. Aren’t we lucky to have so much nature to spend time in! It doesn’t have to be rock climbing or canyoning, a camping trip or a bushwalk (although those are all good). Your local park or your own back yard may provide you with just the nature experience you need. (It’s such a wonderful thing to see something you have nurtured grow to maturity. Have I told you about my tomatoes?)
  • Explore the aspects of your identity that have nothing to do with work. Try not to let yourself be defined by what you do for a living. Do you have any hobbies? Do you knit, sew, paint, draw, write, make things, play an instrument or have you forgotten about all those things? What has happened to the creative parts of who you are? I know you probably think you don’t have time for that stuff anymore but nurturing your creativity is very important for personal wellbeing. It might be time to make time.

Once we are back at work we can:

  • Try not to accept responsibility for things outside our job description.
  • Try not to accept tasks for which we simply do not have capacity.

(These two happen to be my New Year’s resolutions for 2021. So far, so good!)

  • Manage our availability (both in person and via tech pathways such as phone or email). If possible, make part of each day tech free so we can have some uninterrupted work time. If possible, try to use separate accounts or, better still, separate devices for work and personal activity. (This applies to social media as well as email)
  • Approach each task mindfully. (We may need to practice mindfulness techniques to make this possible).
  • Develop a small ritual to divide work from the rest of life. (Walk around the garden, change clothes, take a shower, sing loudly, talk to the kids about their day, put a piece in the family jigsaw, read the newspaper or a chapter of your novel, do some yoga poses, practice the piano – the possibilities are endless )
  • Find a mentor at work who can remind you about all this and help you keep the plan in place if necessary.
  • Celebrate and cherish the good moments.

I wish you well in 2021. Look after yourself!

 

 

 

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Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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