It happens to all of us. We take a couple of weeks off for Christmas and New Year, unwind, recharge and feel great. But two weeks’ break equates to two weeks where your eye is off the ball. No sooner are you back in the office than it’s all back: insane deadlines, tasks piling up and office drama. It’s as if you never took a holiday at all.
No wonder the weeks after New Year are such a shambles. Quite simply, we’re overwhelmed.
But while the temptation is to race around putting out spot fires, it is possible to move calmly amidst the chaos. Try these ten mental-health hacks and you’ll soon have a better handle on it all.
Eat the elephant
Sometimes the sheer volume of problems you have to deal with can be so intimidating, you want to slip under the desk, hug your knees and whimper gently. What you have there is a problem of perspective, and it can be solved simply enough by prioritising. Take a step back. Work out what needs doing and in what order to tackle things most effectively; sometimes knocking over one task can make it easier to knock over the next. Gradually you’ll whittle down the mountain of issues to something more manageable. As the old saying goes, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Offload worthless worrying
A little worry can be a good thing. Remember when you were at school and you’d get stressed about exams? Perhaps that worry prompted you to do more revision, and as a consequence you scored better results. But it’s important to learn when worry is helpful and when it is wasted. Stressing about your marks after you’ve taken the exam is futile; by then it’s all out of your hands and your anxiety won’t affect things one bit. It’s the same in a work environment. Rehashing mistakes in your head over and over won’t help you. Focus on what will. Learning to tell the difference between constructive worry and mental pollution will ease your stress levels enormously.
Silence your inner critic
It’s hard enough to get things done without that little voice in your head telling you you’re making a mess of it. Often we are our own worst critics, and we waste an enormous amount of time and effort second-guessing ourselves. Focus on the positive rather than giving in to self-doubt; self-doubt leads to procrastination leads to increased pressure. Every time you stand your inner critic up and prove it wrong makes it easier for you to ignore the whiny little toad next time.
You’re not a clown, so stop juggling
We’ve grown so used to being told that the ability to multitask is a bonus in life that we’ve stopped questioning it. The more you can do at once, the more effective you are, right? Well, science disagrees. A Stanford study from 2009 suggests that exposing ourselves to multiple streams of electronic information has a detrimental effect on concentration and efficiency. So make a choice between answering the phone, reading emails or trawling websites. Don’t do them all at once.
Make a write turn
If you’re already feeling like you barely have time to eat and sleep, this may seem counterintuitive but start keeping a journal. Yes, it’s an additional investment of effort but the benefits become clear when you take a long view. Putting your thoughts down on paper makes it easier to organise them – all the time they’re rattling around in your brain, you risk something important slipping away and going unaddressed. And journal doesn’t have to be high literature; simply listing what’s on your mind is often enough to structure your thoughts. Plus there’s no need to invest in pen-and-paper options if that’s not your thing; the memo function on your phone or tablet will do just as well.
Tidy desk, tidy mind
Yes, we’ve all heard the saying that a messy workspace is a sign of a creative mind, and yes, we’ve all taken some measure of comfort (or even pride) in thinking that. But the fact is if you’re spending twenty minutes looking for that vital print-out, you’re getting more stressed. The ability to lay hands on what you want when you want it is only part of the benefit. Creating an organised environment encourages a corresponding feeling that you have things under control – and self-belief is the cure for self-doubt (see above).
The sheer volume of input from the internet and media in general can make it impossible to focus. If you’re looking at your phone every couple of minutes as this Facebook notification is posted or that Twitter feed is updated, you’re never going to make any headway. Simple solution? Switch your phone to Airplane Mode or disable notifications while you’re at work.
…but don’t work in a vacuum
Another of those old sayings tells us that a problem shared is a problem halved. It’s all too easy to internalise our problems, perhaps believing that talking about them is a sign of an inability to cope. But everyone is in the same boat here – chances are your co-workers have things they’d like to discuss too. A change of perspective can often result in a solution to an issue that you hadn’t considered yourself.
Pressing pause and engaging in deep-breathing exercises manages stress, and also has a number of other positive mental and physiological effects, from increasing your focus to improving your digestion. Again, it’s one of those simple things that’s easy to fit into your day but that affords enormous benefits.
Take the time
Ultimately, you’re only human, and as a human you need certain essential elements to survive. Take regular breaks and make time to eat (and eat well). Stay hydrated and put a limit on caffeine, alcohol and any of those substances you may think enhance your productivity but really have the opposite effect. Ensure you get enough sleep and take advantage of the mental and physical benefits of exercise. In a nutshell? Step back regularly and ensure you’re looking after yourself. You wouldn’t expect a car to run perfectly without regular oil changes or services – why should you operate without similar levels of care?