If this blog post title sparks a memory of the 59th Avenue Bridge Song by Simon & Garfunkel then you know what I was thinking of as I wrote it. We spend a lot of time embroiled in the stresses of our lives when we should be “kicking down the cobblestones” instead. It’s time to focus on reducing stress and mental health for professionals.
If you’re feeling worn out, you probably need more than a vacation. You need a new outlook and some tools to help.
Taking Time for You
If you’re in this world for the long term, you need to find a way to avoid burnout and stress. The latter being a major cause of the most common health ailments in the US. Yes, some stressors are unavoidable and some stressful things are temporary times that pay off in the long run. But when you become addicted to the stress and the grind and can’t see your way out of it, you need to make your own mental (and physical) health a priority.
Here are a few quick ideas on how you can do that:
- Set boundaries between work and personal life. Avoid bringing work home. Unless you are a cardio-thoracic surgeon without a hospital on-call backup, turn off work-related notifications after dinner. No one needs you at 10:00 PM. Take a vacation that really is a vacation.
- Prioritize tasks. Identify the most important tasks and focus on completing them first. Break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Then celebrate them (mentally) when you achieve each. This will help you experience the pleasure of momentum.
- Use time management techniques. The Pomodoro Technique and other time management tools can help you work in focused bursts with breaks in between, maximizing productivity and giving you insights into how long everything is taking you. When you work in timed sprints, you have more insights into just how long it’s taking you to complete each task. During these sprints, turn off all notifications. This is uninterrupted work.
- Learn to say no. At first glance, it feels good to help. But when you take on more than you can handle, you don’t end up doing any of it well. With each new task or offer, ask if it is in line with your goals. If not, decline it.
- Take breaks. If you work at a desk, get up and stretch. Use your lunch break to do something you’re passionate about–write, read, talk to a friend. It may feel like you’re losing an hour but the mind space you clear during that hour will make you more productive on the other side than if you had just slogged through.
- Move. Incorporate regular exercise into your day. It’s good for your physical health and helps reduce stress and improve your mood. But don’t exercise just for exercise’s sake. Find activities you enjoy such as walking, jogging, yoga, swimming, dancing in your kitchen, etc. It doesn’t have to be an Olympic sport. You just need to move and have fun doing it.
- Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques. You don’t have to be a yogi to make this work for you. Just breathe. Taking deep slow breaths can help manage stress. Repeat something easy to remember as you inhale, hold it, and then exhale. Saying the words rest, calm, and release in time to your breath is a great practice.
- Seek social support. Connect with friends, family, or colleagues for support and a fresh perspective. Share your feelings and concerns with someone you trust. Don’t undervalue the power of laughter.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices. Get good sleep each night. A lack of sleep can contribute to stress and poor health. Maintain a balanced diet and stay hydrated.
- Seek professional help. If stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can provide support and coping strategies. So many people have turned to mental health professionals to maintain mental health. You don’t need to feel like there’s a problem to be solved. Consider it part of your annual physical and get a mental health check-up.
The tide of perception on admitting struggles is changing. Many people are becoming more understanding of the importance of well-being. Communicating what others can expect from you is a much better course of action than trying to pile everything on.