Vacations have long been lauded as a way to relax and recuperate from the stressors of work and life. 2020 was the year I planned all of my vacations around friends’ weddings. As the wedding postponement announcements began to build, so did my anticipation of when my next getaway would be. I immediately went into self-preservation mode and committed to creating “little vacations” anywhere I could manage to avoid burnout.
In Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski explain that burnout is combated by completing the ‘stress response cycle:’ a phenomenon that happens when you are exposed to stressors in your life. When you feel overwhelmed by stress at work, the following activities will help complete the cycle and release tension.
Physical Activity: The book describes exercise as the “single most efficient strategy for completing the stress cycle.” If you’re not into intense workouts like running or strength training, even a brisk walk in nature can provide the same benefits – just make sure your heart rate is higher than resting. Perhaps you take that conference call as a walking meeting (if you’re not on video, why can’t you be mobile for it?) or go for a quick walk around your neighborhood during your lunch break.
Breathing: Do you ever catch yourself in a moment where you feel like you haven’t taken a deep breath in hours? Try this: inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, exhale through your mouth for 8. Repeat at least 4 rounds, if not more (1).
Positive Social Interaction: Even if working remotely, you can schedule short calls with coworkers to chat. We prioritize 15-minute monthly colleague connections to share what’s going on in our lives and mimic the water-cooler chats we used to share in the office. (We also often make these walking meetings!)
Laughter: Perhaps you combine this activity with the previous one? Maybe you turn on a funny YouTube video as a short work break (I have implemented TikTok breaks into my day). My post-work laughter takes place when I turn on an episode of Brooklyn 99 (who else is a fan?).
Creative Expression: Remember when adult coloring books became popular a few years back? Well, it’s a form of creative expression that relieved stress for many individuals. When in the office, our team used to take afternoon coloring breaks. These days, I use my afternoon breaks to paint, doodle, draw, and take artsy pictures of my dog.
A Hug or a Big Ol’ Cry: If you’re feeling stressed – there are two more options that will help complete the stress cycle. If you’re with a loved one, a 20-second-long hug will help release tension and complete the stress cycle. And as a final option – sometimes it’s cathartic to let it all out with a big ol’ cry!
If you are feeling strained, try one of the above activities. Your body will let you know when your stress cycle is complete: you may experience a shift in mood, mental state, or tension. If you’re curious about more ways you or your colleagues can overcome and avoid burnout, check out Stress Management Hacks to Banish Burnout in our New World of Work series.