Help me get my groove back
November 24, 2008 9:00 PM   Subscribe

I’ve not been dealing well with stress at work recently, and I am now taking some time off to try and recover. What sort of things can I do to get my groove back?

Background: I work in a high-pressure, deadline driven environment. After a number of recent deadlines weren’t met, my stress level went through the roof and I decided to take some time out. My manger agreed, so I have some time out of the office to try and lower my stress levels. I’m looking for some suggestions on for things I can do to try and recover my normally calm and in control self. All options are open here; should I go to a Buddhist retreat for a week, or go into intense therapy? What have my fellow MeFites done in this sort of situation?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Is a week all you have, or is that just an example? Cause you can duck out and do some mind-changing stuff, but chances are, when you go back to work you'll be back in that groove. Buddhist retreats are awesome (imho) but the trick is keeping the mindset the rest of that time.

With that in mind, you could, during your week:

- take an awesome trip somewhere (not necessarily lying on a beach if that would bore you, which could stress you itself; if adventure is your thing, do that)
- see old friends. It helps ground you.
- dig out old tunes. Again, with the grounding. (more than anything, for me)
- veg for day -- but not for multiple days as they will fly by.
- wander and philosophize about the life apart from your job. Grab a coffee and hit a newsstand. Browse second-hand bookstores. Strike up conversations with interesting strangers.

But if you really want to lower that stress, maybe try some new routine that you might stick with when you return to work:

- exercise!! This is a biggie. Find something you like, whether that's the gym, a sport, lone activity or pair, group, or class. Immense stress relief. You'll feel better all the time.
- a club or hobby with regular meetings
- a discipline you find enjoyable -- always wanted to learn how to paint? Play keyboards? Sculpt? Nothing is too odd and you don't need any talent
- meditation, if that could be your thing
- volunteer work -- this can be immensely satisfying

Of course, therapy could work, too. You could learn relaxation techniques. You could also consider a new line of work. But before I go looking to change things about my life when I feel unhappy, I first ensure that I'm not feeling out of whack because my body is off -- if I'm getting enough sleep, decent meals, and exercise, and I still feel off, then ok that's something. But if I'm not, then I need to attend to those first or I'll never be able to determine if there's anything more that's wrong. (my solution, incidentally, was doing nearly all of the above, including a new line of work)

Best of luck, dude!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:26 PM on November 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Get out in the sun someplace for starters but I think it would help you long-term find some kind of therapist who will go through the issues you are facing at work, examine them with you and help you work out concrete methods of dealing with them. The therapist has to commit from the outset to helping you deal with your immediate anxiety issues. It really worked for me. Don't jump at the first therapist you happen upon either.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:35 PM on November 24, 2008

Have you considered the possibility that working in a "high-pressure, deadline driven environment" is not conducive to your overall health and well-being? If you're working (in the States at least) I think there's the false impression propagated you can somehow treat your life like a one-hour Dr. Phil episode. Life generally isn't like that. While some R&R might clear your mind you'll still return to the same deadlines. So how would time off improve your day-to-day work life if you don't have a Plan when you get back?

That said: Give yourself a Project. Extract yourself from your familiar environment. Go on a vacation. Catch up with friends and family. Reacquaint yourself with the flaming ball of hydrogen called the sun. Keep a diary. Figure out what your priorities are going to be. Give yourself permission to be happy and stress-free.

I suggest not frittering the time away sleeping in and watching soap operas. This will not energize you.

And don't dismiss the possibility that while your employer may be ostensibly supportive of your break, they may have been fueling your exhaustion by intentionally assigning you a pace of work that is unsustainable. As an employee they are trying to maximize anything they can get out of you. This isn't me being cynical. This is reality.
posted by quadog at 9:38 PM on November 24, 2008

This is a really good article article that might be helpful, and the suggestions are simple and relaxing
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:23 PM on November 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I know someone who took about three weeks off for the same reason. He did actually make major changes, one of which was learning not to give a fuck, on occasion, and that perfection wasn't always required.

From what I know about his time off, it involved Cognitive Behavioural Therapy*, yoga (which he practised previously), going out to calm, green places, and time spent with good friends. It's been pretty great to see how he is since then, although I have the same perfectionism and totally cringe - instinctively - when I see him ignoring it.

With respect to quadog (who makes a very good point about employer kindness vs causality), I would steer well clear of some of the following, if you're feeling stretched to capacity:

Give yourself a Project. Extract yourself from your familiar environment. Go on a vacation. Catch up with friends and family. Reacquaint yourself with the flaming ball of hydrogen called the sun. Keep a diary. Figure out what your priorities are going to be. Give yourself permission to be happy and stress-free.

Long-term, the diary and the figuring are a good idea, but just rest and suit yourself if you're at the limit. Ditto the project and the catch-up and (if you find travelling stressful) the vacation. There's no sense in making your recuperating goal-oriented if that causes you stress - if you can get multiple weeks off, then by all means zone out (or meditate or walk in the country or whatever does it for you) for the first week and have some changes set in motion by the last week.

Good luck!

* MeFi has proven I'm not the only one who giggles at the multiple meanings of 'CBT'... Thanks, MeFi!
posted by carbide at 2:52 AM on November 25, 2008

Any chance you live near a beach community? Once when in a similar situation I rented a beach house for a week in the off-season. I jogged on the beach every day. It was lovely and quiet. Brief travel can really help. Takes you out of your norm and reminds you that things are different in a million ways - there's no reason your situation can't be different as well.

Do something where you take care of yourself like you would a close friend going through something similar. Cook yourself healthy, good meals. Buy yourself little presents just for the hell of it. Get a good haircut. Exercise. Do things that you find fun, that make you laugh. Laughing can help release a lot of stress, like the exercise.

Good decision to give yourself some time. Good luck to you and this period of renewal.
posted by dog food sugar at 6:15 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

It may not be everyone's thing, but there's this wellness coach at my work (which can be sad and stressful at times) that has been encouraging laughter yoga for us and the patients. And it's ridiculously fun and pretty immediate. Maybe try it out for something different and good giggly fun.
posted by dog food sugar at 6:22 AM on November 25, 2008

Um, is there anyway that you can use this week to get ahead, learn how to prep better? I don't mean to be accusatory, because I don't know what kind of employee you are or what contributed to deadlines not being met. I also work in a high-pressur, deadline-driven environment, and I know how sometimes EVERYTHING can go wrong.

That being said, at the end of the day, it's still your job. My goal for the week would be to focus on how I can strategically avoid any of the things that lead to several (your words, not mine) deadlines not being met, using reflection and my newly acquired 20-20 hindsight.

Are any of the tasks predictable and repetitive? Maybe you can figure out a way to streamline them so that when emergencies do come up, they are not interfering with the day-to-day, because you've already got it taken care of, and can dedicate more time to handling emergencies.

I've got a lot of other suggestions, but I don't know if this a scenario you can relate to, and I don't want to burden you with something that you're not looking for. But sometimes, a little reflection on yourself and what you can do goes a LONG way, although I agree with everyone else (and you) that a week away could be helpful. But only if you're not walking back into the same pitfalls.
posted by alice ayres at 8:33 AM on November 25, 2008

Here is a thought experiment:

Imagine, just for a moment, you are sitting at your desk and the deadlines are back. Where would you most like to be? What would you be doing there? Go do that.
posted by Brodiggitty at 10:09 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would use the week to discover ways to reduce stress while you're in the middle of situations like that. This way your week away would yield results when you come back to work.

Deep breathing, meditating, exercising during your lunch hour are all good stress reducers. But the most important thing is how to incorporate them into your life for the long term. So then the next step would be to ask yourself: who would know how to help me with this?

Best of luck. We've all been there in one way or another. I'd love to hear what you choose to do and how it all worked out.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:23 AM on November 25, 2008

The last thing you need to do when you take a break is sit there and ruminate on everything you did wrong. Sometimes, deadlines aren't met because the deadlines were stupid to begin with, but the business insisted that they be set that way before the project was even defined. Or people involved in the project didn't meet their interim commitments and lied to you the entire time about the status of their deliverable. Personally, I'll bet you probably missed the deadlines because you had too much stress put on your head.

unfortunately, humans are doing this work.

You need to GET AWAY and not think about work. At all. You need to go somewhere and do something you enjoy. Yes, you need better stress reduction techniques, so does everyone. You can research them and have al ist, but do not waste a precious week of the two weeks of vacation you likely have as an American (if you are) EXAMINING YOUR LIFE. It's just going to make you more stressed out and it's going to waste your precious vacation time.

My suggestion would be to go somewhere with weather you can stand, whether that means "an island" or "Austin". Make sure it's a place you're interested in, with specific things you'd like to do ( museums... see bands... shop... take photographs - it doesn't matter. Just have something you want to do). Bring some books (but not too many, shopping for books in other cities is a great, fun thing to do.

If you honestly cant get out of town, then make a list of everything in the place where you live that you've wanted to do but have never done. Make a rough schedule for each day. Make sure there is time for daydreaming and reflection. Go pet a puppy. Go for a walk in your own neighborhood. But yes, have a schedule. Figure out what time you'll get up and what time you'll go to the gym (if that's what you do) and on Thursday you'll go here and on Friday you'll do that. That way you don't spend the entire week watching Oprah. And if you nap more than you planned or don't make it to the museum because you were having fun sitting in the coffee shop down the street from your house that you never spend any time in, sitting and chatting and people watching, so be it.

The idea is to let your brain rest. Let you find your center again.

And, yeah. Figure out if you like yoga or insight meditation or kickboxing, or if it's teaching kids to read or helping with homework. Get some schedules, put them on your calendar, and ask your manager for support in allowing you to keep an appointment once or twice a week to get to the sessions on time, explaining that it will help you manage stress and be more productive.

hang in there. and please, don't beat yourself up.
posted by micawber at 2:03 PM on November 25, 2008

the other thing I wanted to ask, was - are you getting enough sleep? No really. Are you?

Sleep deprivation is a bigger deal than you think. I know, you're all kamikaze getting it on with 5 hours of sleep. That'll work for a while, but you have to get sleep, and GOOD sleep, if you're under continual stress.
posted by micawber at 5:06 PM on November 25, 2008

Maybe you didn't offer the Buddhist retreat as a serious example, but meditation has really helped me. It's not something I do every day, or even every month, but I pick it back up whenever stress get really bad. It works.

And, as others have mentioned, don't underestimate the importance of eight (or more) hours of sleeps every night and regular, intense exercise.
posted by paulg at 8:49 PM on November 25, 2008

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