Have you ever left work so mentally drained that you couldn’t fully process another thought, yet so stressed about all the things you needed to do that you couldn’t relax?
I’m fortunate beyond what I deserve. I enjoy my work, and it pays pretty well. But I’m not immune to having one of those days – like today.
By the end of it, I couldn’t focus on anything. All I wanted to do was walk out the front door and breathe in freedom.
But life doesn’t work that way.
Even with a great work-life balance – whatever that’s supposed to mean – a job isn’t Vegas. Whatever happens at work stays with you.
My job is part of my identity. When someone asks me What do you do, I don’t say Well, I love to read books, and sometimes I go on long nature walks with my wife.
I say I’m in marketing or I’m a marketer for a tech company. It’s a part of who I am, and that doesn’t change at 5 o’clock. So work comes home with me, even when I wish it wouldn’t. Instead of breathing in freedom, I think about everything back on my desk.
We’ve all been there – and we’ll be there again sooner than we’d like. The question is what do we do about it?
How do we bounce back from tough days at work so we can enjoy our time away from the office, and be able to contribute our best the next day?
If I had the perfect answer, I wouldn’t be writing for this little blog. I’d be enjoying a lengthy book tour, or lounging in a hammock by the beach after selling the solution.
But I think sharing some of my experiences and looking at a bit of research will help.
When I’m mentally spent, the best thing I can do is isolate myself and find something to passively engage in – to do some activity while letting my mind wander.
Sometimes that means grocery shopping. I can walk the aisles, check items off the list, and let my mind roam free until it finds resolution. Sometimes 45 minutes alone in the grocery store is all it takes for me to bounce back from a tough day at work.
Those are good days.
Other times I have to pick up a new book, a new story, something to distract from the overwhelming stress. I’m like an addict going through withdrawals.
I know the right kind of story will give me the emotional fix that takes my stress away, and I’ve got to have it. I might not even pay attention to the details, but skimming those words empties my mind and refills it with good things.
A third activity that does wonders when I’m in a particularly bad place is handwriting my thoughts and feelings. There’s a lot of research to support this, and it’s why I wrote this post.
I start without any idea of where I’ll end up, which is the opposite of what a good writer should do. But that process of discovery is cathartic.
In my mind, I can’t process what I’m thinking and feeling. Yet I can see it on paper, bled out in ink on the page.
What’s really interesting, though, is how well my experiences align with research.
My dad gave me this book – Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. In it, Pang covers the psychoneurology of resting so that we can perform better at work, think more creatively, and generally live our best lives.
He also shares how active rest has played a vital role in some of Western history’s greatest achievers and all they’ve accomplished. That’s the theme of the book – doing something that activates one part of your brain while the others can take a break.
It’s a wonderful and easy-to-read book that I’d require my students to read, if I had any.
At work, you likely spend most of your time on one task or project or process. By the end of the day or week, you feel burned out.
But you can avoid this – and work better – by taking time to do something else that still stimulates your brain or body. Like taking a walk if you’ve been sitting at a desk, or brainstorming with a colleague if you’ve been crunching numbers.
Kids get recess to break up the work day with physical activity, because it’s vital to their health and performance in school. You need your own recess. And since the standard 9-5 doesn’t allow for it, you need to take matters into your own hands.
Find time to read. Go for a walk or exercise whenever you’ve got 20 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t just lie on the couch or try to nap. That’s how you get sluggish. You need to stimulate your brain with something completely different than what you’re burned out on to rejuvenate yourself. (And you might need to do it a lot.)
Sometimes work – or any part of life – can be too much. Find time for your own recess. You deserve the break. You might even find a hobby you enjoy! And your mental health will thank you.