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ATD Blog

Detach and Recover: Self-Care Strategies to Minimize Burnout

Tuesday, July 12, 2022
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Since 2019, job burnout has been officially recognized as an “occupational phenomenon.” This condition results from chronic stress at work that hasn’t been adequately addressed according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Disease Classification (ICD-11)—the official compendium of diseases. It is important to note that the current WHO definition of job burnout does not classify it as a medical condition but as an occupational condition that includes at least one or more of these experiences:

  • Feelings of exhaustion and tiredness
  • Negativity, disengagement, and cynicism related to one’s role, job, and work activities
  • A reduced sense of professional efficacy

Many researchers including one of the foremost experts on the topic, Dr. Christina Maslach (professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley), believe that the best way to address job burnout is to target organizational causes. However, employees still need ways to effectively develop coping techniques. While they might not be able to address the leading contributors of work stress—work overload, technology that renders employees “always on 24/7,” lack of decisional control, and toxic bosses—they can take steps to modify the debilitating effects of prolonged and exaggerated responses to work stress. The 14 detachment and recovery suggestions below can help to recharge employees’ emotional, physical, and cognitive batteries to minimize job burnout.

Detach and Recover During Work

1. Schedule formal breaks (3–5) during the workday. According to two separate studies by Raquel Benbunan-Fich (a professor of information systems at Baruch College), adding short, voluntary, and impromptu structured breaks in the workday significantly increases energy levels and job performance. These structured “microbreaks” are even more powerful on days when you have multiple back-to-back meetings scheduled.

2. Create time for a nap/coffee break. Consider taking a brief restorative nap (10–20 minutes) to detach and recover while at work (or working at home). Combining a drink containing caffeine (binds to the adenosine receptors in the brain that regulate sleepiness) and then napping (in that order) maximizes alertness and performance according to several new studies.

3. Take a mindfulness meditation break. Just a single session of deep breathing, reflection, or visualization can significantly decrease stress levels and increase overall productivity. Schedule several brief breathing breaks throughout the day to maintain a lower level of stress.

4. Get outside. Exposure to nature (in person or via video) is associated with increased happiness, positive affect, and sense of purpose and decreased mental distress. Just two hours per week (either at one time or spread out over) is associated with significantly greater physical health and well-being.

Detach and Recover After Work

5. Shut down your devices. Physically separating yourself from the constant work-related messages that stream on your smart devices can help you recover from a stressful workday (and might also facilitate more sound sleep at night by not interfering with your melatonin production).

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6. Shut down your work mind. Before you leave work for the day, reflect on what progress you have made during the day and complete a daily to-do list for the following day. A study by professor Teresa Amabile from Harvard University discovered that on days when employees felt that they made progress on the job they also reported the highest level of well-being and satisfaction.

7. Practice a nightly leisure activity. Read a book, listen to a podcast, engage in physical exercise, or select any number of relaxation strategies to help you unwind, relax, and recharge your emotional batteries while lowering your level of work stress.

Detach and Recover During the Workweek

8. Plan a “little Saturday.” Use the Scandinavian concept of “ little Saturday” ( lille lørdag) in which Wednesdays are treated as opportunities for a weekend type of mini celebration instead of our “hump day” that depicts Wednesday as one of the worst days of our week with the weekend still out of reach.

9. Establish a weekly ritual. Create little celebrations with just yourself or others to break up your weekly routine and detach and recover during the week (for example, take an online class, schedule time for a hobby you enjoy, or master a new skill).

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Detach and Recover During the Weekend

10. Deploy your social support system. We are biologically wired to be social creatures—cultivate the people in your life who are supportive, caring, empathetic, and resourceful to gain the mental relief that community offers. In a large longitudinal study, those with strong social relationships were 50 percent less likely to die than those with weak social ties.

11. Identify and deploy your “signature strengths.” Weekends are perfect for recovery activities. In a randomly controlled research study by Martin Seligman and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, individuals who acted on their passions and strengths each day for one week demonstrated significantly higher levels of happiness (and less depression up to six months).

12. Pay it forward and volunteer. One way to disconnect from work and recharge is to pay it forward and get involved in groups, organizations, and community activities that are cause-based to provide personal meaning, purpose, and well-being.

Detach and Recover During Holidays and Vacations

13. Take your holidays and vacations. Long stretches of time off are necessary to recoup. Researcher Karen Matthews from the University of Pittsburgh studied 12,338 men for nine years as part of a large coronary heart disease study (known as MRFIT). She found that those taking annual vacations had a significant reduction in overall cardiovascular events.

14. Detach while on your holidays and vacations. Vacations are not vacations if you are working. Jana Kühnel and her colleagues from the Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, found that work engagement significantly increased and participants’ job burnout significantly decreased when employees could completely detach from work while away (these beneficial effects faded out within one month unless leisure-time relaxation experiences were maintained after the vacation).

So, consider adding one or more of these detach and recover self-care strategies to your stress-coping toolkit. Deploying some of these during the workday and beyond will help minimize overall job burnout.

About the Author

Kenneth M. Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and Co-founder of Envisia Learning, Inc. (www.envisialearning.com). Ken received his doctorate degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and has published extensively in the areas of 360-degree feedback, assessment, health psychology, and behavioral medicine. Ken serves on Daniel Goleman’s Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations and serves as Editor-in-Chief for the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice & Research and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (Division 13; Society of Consulting Psychology).

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