By Monica Nolasco, Ed.D.
My experience has been in career and life coaching and counseling. And, because much of it has been in higher education, in August, my thoughts always seem to turn to back-to-work mode. The start of the semester can be filled with a mix of anticipation, excitement and stress. Hans Selye describes this as Eustress, or good stress.
In preparing for this article, it occurred to me that many people (even students and those in a corporate environment) can experience this type of stress when coming back to “work” (whatever constitutes work for them) after a long time away for vacation, maternity / paternity leave, sabbatical and the like.
Good stress helps us get the momentum going…and keep it going. The trick is to keep things moving in a forward and upward trajectory.
On the flip side, negative stress is the one to pay special attention to when it shows up. The body tells you when this type of stress is present with physiological responses such as shallow breathing, sweaty palms, inability to concentrate, anxiety, and various physical sensations. Do these sound familiar?
To anyone returning to work after a significant period of time away I offer the same advice: Seek that activity that will bring a sense of relaxation or present-ness to your life at work. Later in this article, I will give you some tips that can help you do just that.
I recently read an article that talked about depression, and it was quite disturbing. The World Health Organization (WHO) (Swami, Devamrita) predicts that depression will soon become the number two disease in the world, right behind heart disease.
In addition, a U.S. government study reports that 45.8 percent of American university students harbor at least one psychological disorder, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anti-social behavior, and paranoia, along with drug and alcohol abuse. (Baker)
This reminded me that students have their “work” to return to as well in the fall. Many of these students are freshmen, for whom the “work” of post-secondary education comes with far more stress than any they experienced in high school. This makes them prime candidates for exhibiting that stress in behavior that is not self-supportive.
For this reason, it is important for anyone returning to full-time work after a long time away to find ways to avoid the depression that can result from experiencing stress over an extended period of time. Avoiding negative stress and the resulting depression comes from maintaining good physical health, mindful awareness of self, and a consistent practice of self-care.
For starters, you might try the following tips during your work week:
BREATHE MINDFULLY. The body breathes on its own, without your guiding it. But you can also bring intentional diaphragmatic breathing to moments of mindfulness. Mindful breathing has been shown to have a positive impact on depressed individuals. In one study conducted by Boston University, researchers found that breathing plus lyengar yoga (a type of Hatha Yoga that focuses on detail, precision and alignment in posture [asana] and breath control [pranayama]) showed significant improvement in depressed individuals after three months practicing the two in combination with each other. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5359682/)
Try it now and see how it feels to you.
My guess is that, when you do return to work, you probably feel rejuvenated and re-energized, looking ahead to the activities before you and getting ready to set goals for the short and long term. When you get back to your office and start your computer to check your email queue, you can be sure there will be messages to read and respond to and projects to pick up on where you left off.
The amazing thing is that the mind is ready to work. It is the natural process of the mind to be active, to think, to plan, to analyze…you get the idea. So, when you set foot in your office, you are in work mode; isn’t that true? Even if you take just 10 minutes to breathe mindfully before you open your email or attend your first meeting, you will be bolstering your mind’s natural tendency to be ready for what’s ahead.
TAKE 10. Before you read the first email message or look at the day’s agenda, take 10 minutes. Bring a sense of the present moment to your awareness. Sit comfortably in your chair, hands resting on your lap, shoulders relaxed, eyes closed, breathing in and then out slowly and deeply. Do this three times. Then, just breathe normally and gain a sense of your body sitting and breathing. After this short breathing practice, enjoy a sense of relaxation at the start of your day.
TAKE A BOOSTER BREAK. During your workday, get some fresh air, stand in the sun, feel the breeze, or take a 15-minute mindful walk. Any of these can help with recharging your battery, reconnecting you to yourself, or clearing any mental debris. Every day, bring with you to work an intention to detach for 15 minutes before moving on to the next project. Find the opportunities at your workplace to experience this physical activity intervention. This is especially if you work in a primarily sedentary job. If your work provides those opportunities, be sure to use the available resources. If your company does not provide such resources, it is up to you find them for yourself.
STRETCH. Help your mind and body by stretching. Stretching the back after you’ve been seated in one position for a couple of hours, releases tension and provides relaxation. According to one study conducted on aging adults, researchers also found that aerobic exercise improved cognitive function. The study tells us that, “…after six months of aerobic and stretching exercises, aging patients with cognitive impairment improved in accuracy in the verbal fluency test and in the number of correct answers in the 120s in the Symbol Digit Modality Test.” (Streeter)
Thorp posits, “There is a growing body of evidence that sedentary behavior may be a distinct risk factor, independent of physical activity, for multiple adverse health outcomes in adults.” So, let’s follow Thorp’s recommendation and stretch for our health.
Remember that all you need to do is choose to take the moments that will help you maintain homeostasis and balance in your day and your life. Doing so will help you help yourself and others as you go about doing what you do each day.
If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness and meditation and how both can help with your personal and professional development, visit the events page on the SAGE Career Coaching site or contact Dr. Nolasco via email.
Baker, L. D., Frank, L. L., Foster-Schubert, K., Green, P. S., Wilkinson, C. W., McTiernan, A., Plymate, S. R., Fishel, M. A., Watson, G. S., Cholerton, B. A., Duncan, G. E., Mehta, P. D., Craft, S. Effects of aerobic exercise on mild cognitive impairment: a controlled trial. Published in the Archives of Neurology on the site of the National Institutes of Health, US National Library of Medicine. Jan. 2010; 67: 71 – 9. DOI: 10. 1001/archnerol.2009.307. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20065132
Selye, Hans. Stress without distress. Psychopathy of Human Adaptation (edited by George Serban, New York University Medical Center). 137 – 146. Springer Science+Business Media, New York, 1976. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4684-2238-2_9.
Streeter, C. C., Gerbarg, P. L., Whitfield, T. H., Owen, L., Johnston, J., Silveri, M. M., Gensler, M., Faulkner, C. L., Mann, C., Wixted, M., Hernon, A. M., Nyer, M. B., Brown, E.R., Jensen, J. E. Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with lyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 23 (3). Mar. 2017; 201 – 207. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2016.0140. Epub 2017, Feb. 16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28296480.
Swami, Devamrita. Hiding In Unnatural Happiness. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc. 2015.
Thorp, A. A., Owen, N., Neuhaus, M., Dunstan, D. W. Sedentary Behaviors and Subsequent Health Outcomes in Adults: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies, 1996–2011. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2011 Aug. 41 (2): 207–215. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2011.05.004. https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(11)00312-6/fulltext.