Going back to work after the holidays can ramp up stress. The change from a relaxed, festive period to a structured work environment requires a thoughtful approach. Based on the Stress-Proof System, here are practical, actionable strategies to ease this transition and mitigate post-holiday stress.
Essential Strategies for a Smooth Reentry:
- Curtail Inbox Overwhelm
- Focus on Daily Habits, Not Resolutions or Grand Goals
- Look for the Positive
- Pay Attention To Your Baseline Stress Level
Strategy #1: Curtailing Inbox Overwhelm
The overwhelm of hundreds of emails sitting in your inbox triggers stress without your permission. The weight of those emails and the stress chemical, cortisol, flowing through your veins impedes your ability to think critically and creatively. Maura Nevel Thomas and her book Happy Inbox: How To Have a Stress-Freee Relationship with Your Email and Overcome Your Communication Clutter changed my relationship with my inbox! I’ve implemented several strategies that have lowered my email-generated stress and increased my productivity. Maura’s strategies are achievable and empowering. Here is what I’ve learned:
- Stop trying to hold your ToDo list in your head and inbox: Your working memory can only have so much, and your inbox is an ineffective tool for managing your workflow! I used to mark emails that needed my attention later as unread and left them in my inbox. Of course, the number of unread emails climbed daily and was completely overwhelming. Now, I use a tool called ToDoist to track what to do and have folders to store important emails until it is time to take action.
- Adopt Ruthless Completion, Deletion, and Curation: Do it, trash it, or move it! Leave your inbox open for incoming emails. Once you open an email, take one of three actions: Delete, Complete, or Curate. To that end, do 3 things:
- Delete without guilt: Nobody really cares if you delete marketing emails, newsletters, or other “list” emails. You are not obligated even to open them. DELETE! If you can find the information some other way, DELETE! That’s it.
- Complete it quickly: If you can take care of the email in 5 minutes or less, do it immediately! Clearing out calendar invitations, quick responses, reminders, etc., reduces feeling overwhelmed. Once you complete the task, delete the email or move it to the appropriate folder. This makes a huge difference.
- Curate with ease: Create a “search and find” folder for important emails you aren’t sure if you need to keep. This reduces the clutter of non-urgent emails and the stress of deletion regret! This is Maura Thomas’s most significant gift to me! I had THOUSANDS of emails in my inbox when we started the process. I moved most of them to the “search and find” folder (it is really called search and find) and let go of the guilt and stress of what to do with them. We also created folders for work, home, and volunteer tasks. When an email needs more than 5 minutes of attention, I make a task in ToDoist and move the email to the appropriate folder. It really works!
- Aim for an Empty Inbox Daily: Clear your inbox at the beginning and end of each day. This organizing, delegating, or scheduling email responses provides a sense of control and achievement.
- Set Specific Email Times: Allocate specific times during your day for checking and responding to emails. This prevents constant interruptions and allows for more focused, productive work periods.
Strategy #2: Focusing on Daily Habits
It is no secret I don’t believe in making New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve spent decades helping people to make changes to support their health, productivity, and quality of life, and I know those changes happen because of daily choices, not grand goals. Replacing ambitious resolutions with smaller, more manageable daily habits reduces the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed and increases. The true magic is connecting the daily habit with a moment or experience you don’t want to miss. For example, you may commit to walking for 30 minutes every day BECAUSE you want to be able to go on sightseeing tours on your next vacation without feeling winded and tired. The BECAUSE is powerful.
Changing our habits is like trying to turn a cruise ship around – it takes effort and a lot of steering! If you’re on that grind, trying to switch things up in your life, whether grabbing a new habit or kicking an old one to the curb, I’ve got a little toolkit of questions that can help. These aren’t your everyday questions; they’re like secret weapons for anyone serious about shaking things up for the better. Suppose you’ve committed to walking for 30 minutes daily, but you’re tempted to skip it today. Ask yourself 3 Questions:
Question #1: “Am I choosing to skip walking?”
We can all get stuck on autopilot. You know, doing the same old thing without even thinking about it? Well, here’s where you hit the brakes and ask, “Am I choosing to do this?” This question is a game-changer. It makes you stop and realize, “Hey, I’m actually in control here.” It’s about waking up to the fact that you’ve got the power to decide what you do instead of just rolling with the usual.
Question #2: “How do I feel right now, and what are my intentions behind skipping?”
Next, when feeling wishy-washy about making a decision, pause and ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now, and what are my intentions?” We’ve all been there, making choices based on a mood or a whim, but this question gets you to dig deeper. Is it cold outside, and you are feeling cozy inside? Are you tired or too focused on a project to take the time? It’s about understanding what’s driving your choices – are you just following old habits, or are you trying to make a move that will help you?
Question #3: “Will skipping this walk align with supporting my ability to go sightseeing on our next vacation?”
Now, for the big one: “Does this choice align with my goals and what I promised myself?” We all have those big dreams and personal pep talks, right? This question ties your right-now choice to those big-picture goals. It’s like having a mini-me on your shoulder, reminding you of what you’re working towards. Whether it’s getting fit, nailing your to-do list, or just living better, this question keeps you on track.
By running through these questions, you get to the heart of what you want and make choices that stick to your plan. They’re like your personal cheerleaders, pushing you to break free from the same old routine and make choices about you and your growth.
When you’re aiming to switch up your game, it’s all about being mindful of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and where you want it to take you. Keep these three questions in your back pocket, and you’ll find yourself making moves about moving forward. Let these questions be your guide, whether you’re lacing up those sneakers, spending time on a stress-reducing activity rather than crossing one more task off your list, or whatever else you’re working on.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you decide to skip a day. It might not work today if you are sick or on a long car trip. That’s ok, start again tomorrow. My constant mantra is,
“Life is not about perfection. It’s about moving in the right direction!”
Strategy #3: Looking for the Positive
Our brains naturally scan the environment for problems to solve and threats to avoid. This negative focus is necessary; it gives us the zing of energy to get things done — the zing results from the hormone cortisol flooding the system when the body detects danger or stress. Cortisol quickens reactions, increases pulse and blood pressure, and even thickens the blood (to prevent bleeding to death in case of injury). However, this negative focus can turn the zing into a constant thrum, continually triggering the cortisol response rather than allowing it to ebb and flow as we need it. Actively seeking out and acknowledging the positive aspects of each day turns off the cortisol pump and will enable us to recover.
The “Woo Hoo” Strategy is one of my favorite ways to seek out the positive. I believe in celebrating all victories – even if they are small. Did you get the kids to school on time today? WOO HOO!! Whether you share your victory with someone in person, by text, on the phone, or in an email – your Woo Hoo invites others to look for and share their small victories. Many groups I work with make #WooHooWednesday a habit with their teams. It is an opportunity to communicate and celebrate together.
Strategy #4: Pay Attention To Your Baseline Stress Level
If you are experiencing a persistent sense of unease, that low-grade melancholy perhaps accompanied by a vague sense of doom, you aren’t alone as you approach reentry to work. It’s easy for our baseline stress levels to inch upward unnoticed and subtly chip away at our well-being, leaving us feeling jittery and unsettled without a clear understanding of why.
The trouble with baseline stress is that it operates under the radar. It’s the kind of stress that doesn’t knock you over all at once; instead, it builds slowly, quietly compromising your ability to think clearly and creatively. It can show up physically, too, in ways we might not immediately attribute to stress, like disrupted sleep or a nagging headache.
Here are three ways to deal with a high baseline level of stress:
- Take Notice: Recognizing and naming the feeling for what it is is crucial. I developed the Baseline Stress Level Quiz to be a helpful tool to gauge where you stand. It can tell you if your stress is just a whisper or if it’s shouting for attention.
- Stop The Reaction: Consider your daily intake of stressors. What are you allowing into your mental space? Is the non-stop news cycle or social media frenzy contributing to your feelings? It might be time to curtail the constant connection and permit yourself to step back.
- Actively Reduce Your Baseline: Take proactive steps towards stress reduction. This could be as simple as incorporating a daily walk, staying hydrated, or prioritizing good sleep habits. These actions can lower the physical effects of stress, clearing the way for a healthier mindset.
With the right tools and techniques, you can feel more like yourself again, pushing through the fog of stress to have a better quality of life and get more important things done. Take the Baseline Stress Level Quiz and get access to resources to lower your baseline!”
I wish you low stress and great success as you reenter work this New Year!
These strategies are part of Eliz Greene’s Stress-Proof System, a no-nonsense stress relief approach perfect for fast-paced lives. It is a practical, data-driven, and decidedly un- “Woo Woo” solution to managing stress effectively.