If you’ve lost your creative magic, try carving out some time for yourself.
It can be a bear to establish a line between working and relaxing. With smartphones, laptops and always-on communication methods, it is simple to get caught in a never ending work cycle. Our occupation becomes a treadmill, and we can easily end up just going through the motions.
I’ve been in meetings outside Phoenix the past 5 days. I’ve thought of nothing but baseball. My last email goes out as I lie in bed, just before falling asleep. A few hours later, I’m reaching for my phone before I’ve even opened my eyes. I haven’t stopped to fully appreciate the beauty of the desert surrounding me.
Now, in this particular case, my focus is a necessary behavior. This is information acquisition time for me, and I needed to buckle down and push myself. However, in doing so, I’m not optimizing for health and well-being. I have a strong awareness of that fact, and I plan times to reconnect with myself.
When managed correctly, these times of complete dedication to work won’t hurt you. Unfortunately, it’s easy to find yourself in a never-ending cycle like this. There is always another project or another crisis, and we don’t do a good job of pressing pause. We know the risks of stress. From the Mayo Clinic:
The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
This continual loop is likely to result in burnout. From the American Psychological Association:
In fact, recent research has found that burnout–and the related concept of “vital exhaustion”–increases the risk for cardiovascular disease as much as such well-known risk factors as body mass index, smoking and lipid levels. Specifically, burnout increases people’s likelihood of developing myocardial infarction, ischemic heart disease, stroke and sudden cardiac death. Studies also point to an increased likelihood of type II diabetes, male infertility, sleep disorders and musculoskeletal disorders among those with the extreme physical, mental and emotional fatigue.
So why do we find ourselves in this position? Often, it’s because we lack confidence and security. We constantly check our phones and send off work emails to prove that we are more dedicated and more responsive than the co-worker competing for our job. We work harder, though not smarter, in an effort to prove our worth to our employer. We ignore one of the easiest strategies to combat stress and burnout – taking a vacation. From CNN:
One, workers are afraid to take their vacations in the layoff era,” Robinson said. “It might mark them as less ‘committed’ than coworkers. It’s called defensive overworking. They work long hours and skip vacations to insulate themselves from cutbacks.”
According to Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, 28% of workers surveyed said they’ve declined to take earned days off in order to illustrate their dedication to the job.
“They say, ‘I don’t want to be seen as a slacker,’ ” Dow said. ” ‘I want to be seen as someone who is really dedicated.’ But it does them no good whatsoever. People who take more time off tend to get more raises and promotions.”
These vacations are more than just about getting away. From CNN:
Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, sees these benefits of vacationing as part of being mindful. Mindfulness is a concept derived from Buddhism that’s central to meditation in that tradition, and involves being present and observant in a nonjugmental way. Langer and other groups have found tremendous benefits in health and wellbeing from being mindful generally.
A trip to a new environment may be the key to recharging your mental batteries. Breaking away from the monotony of work and life puts us in the position to be both healthier and more valuable to our teams.
Part of the essence of being mindful is noticing new things, Langer said. Often people get into a mindless routine at work and home, which is broken only when they travel.
There is a healthy balance between relax and grind, grind and relax to be struck. We are far less valuable to our teammates if we are stressed and sapped of our energy. Even if you can’t travel, the most important variable in the health + work equation is commitment. Emphasize halting your routine and smelling the roses. Genuinely appreciate the tangible and intangible beauty all around us as part of our processes.
Being mindful of stepping back to care for ourselves benefits our well-being and gives us a competitive edge on the rest of the workforce.