How To Manage Life When You Have Poor Executive Function

Even if you’ve never heard the term “executive function,” you may be painfully aware of how important it is for everyday life. Executive functioning is often described as the management system of the brain: This is the portion responsible for planning, prioritizing and executing tasks.

“Executive function is the CEO of the brain,” said Jessica McCabe, host of the YouTube channel How To ADHD. “Executive function is a set of cognitive processes that help us self-regulate so that we can effectively plan, prioritize, and sustain effort for our long-term goals.”

What does executive functioning control?

Carrying out tasks to completion requires a significant number of mental skills, including the ability to accurately predict what is needed, the ability to problem-solve when issues arise, and the emotional self-control to follow through, even if the task turns out to be harder than anticipated. It is the bedrock of many different skills, including the ability to focus, make and execute plans, identify priorities, follow tasks to completion, understand multiple points of view, regulate emotions, and keep track of what you are doing.

“We’re talking about converting intentions into action,” said Ari Tuckman, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating ADHD. Going from intending to do something to actually finishing it requires a combination of working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control.

In real life, issues with executive function can look like losing your keys on a daily basis, missing appointments because you keep forgetting about them, struggling to finish projects at work, getting slammed with late fees because you forgot to pay your credit card bill on time, or being unable to stay organized. “That affects every aspect of our lives,” McCabe said.

Executive functioning can be impacted by depression, anxiety, and disorders like ADHD. Stress and sleep deprivation can also lead to short-term impairments.

Strategies for dealing with executive function issues

The biggest challenge when it comes to dealing with executive functioning issues is that all of the solutions also require executive function to carry out. “As lovely as it is to suggest making lists to someone with ADHD, they’ve probably made lists. They’ve lost them. Or they weren’t sure how to prioritize them,” said McCabe, who was diagnosed with ADHD when she was younger.

It’s for this reason that dealing with executive function issues is so challenging—it’s needed for pretty much everything you do, and impacts just about every facet of your life. For conditions like ADHD, the most effective way to improve executive functioning is to seek treatment—the main strategy is often medication. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition, which is thought to be due to a shortage in the neurotransmitter dopamine. However, as McCabe points out, although medication can help improve the underlying cause, “pills don’t teach skills.”

Medication can help address the underlying neurobiological cause, but it won’t teach you the life skills needed to reach your goals. For that reason, the most effective course of treatment is generally medication combined with therapy, which can help develop the necessary skills.

Limit (further) impairments to executive function

If you have executive function issues, it helps to support it in any way you can, which includes lifestyle. Stress and sleep deprivation can lead to short-term impairments of your executive function, while diet and exercise can help it perform at its best.

“It doesn’t make you Superman, it doesn’t make you better than you are, but it at least enables you to bring the best of what you got,” Tuckman said. Of course, as with so many of these strategies, the double whammy is that when you are overwhelmed, prioritizing sleep, diet, and exercise requires significant executive function. “This kind of makes a bad situation worse,” Tuckman said.

Introduce strategies one at a time

There are going to be a hundred different strategies and tricks that can potentially help with your executive function issues. However, as McCabe notes, “a lot of the support we need is in implementing these strategies. Every time we add something new to our plate, to support our executive function, that throws things off for us.”

Instead, McCabe suggests being selective about introducing new strategies, and allow a period of time to get used to it. She also strongly recommends thinking about what has worked in the past and using that as a guide for what can help now. “Don’t start from scratch,” she said. “That’s hard on executive function.”

One of the most important things you can do to support your executive function is to make sure that you are spending your time on what matters, rather than trying to do everything. “Staying on top of everything isn’t realistic for most people, let alone those with executive function challenges,” McCabe said.

Potential strategies can include minimalism, automating things, or picking your battles wisely. “If you want to do more, do less, because the more we’re trying to do, the more we have to keep track of, the harder it is for executive function to stay on top of all that,” McCabe said.

Understand this is a work in progress

Improving and supporting your executive function is a lifelong process. What helps today may not work a year from now when circumstances may have changed—and there are going to be good days and bad days.

“Focus on the long game,” Tuckman said. “Focus on finding better systems and strategies, and then just keep showing up and applying them. If today was a bad day, show up again tomorrow and start over.”

By: Rachel Fairbank

Source: How to Manage Life When You Have Poor Executive Function

Critics by : Marisa Sanfilippo Business News Daily Contributing Writer

What is work-life balance, and why is it important?

In short, work-life balance is the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life. Some of the common reasons that lead to a poor work-life balance include:

  • Increased responsibilities at work
  • Working longer hours
  • Increased responsibilities at home
  • Having children

A good work-life balance, said Chris Chancey, career expert and CEO of Amplio Recruiting, has numerous positive effects, including less stress, a lower risk of burnout and a greater sense of well-being. This not only benefits employees but employers, too. 

“Employers who are committed to providing environments that support work-life balance for their employees can save on costs, experience fewer cases of absenteeism, and enjoy a more loyal and productive workforce,” said Chancey. Employers that offer options as telecommuting or flexible work schedules can help employees have a better work-life balance.

When creating a schedule that works for you, think about the best way to achieve balance at work and in your personal life. Chancey said that work-life balance is less about dividing the hours in your day evenly between work and personal life and, instead, is more about having the flexibility to get things done in your professional life while still having time and energy to enjoy your personal life. There may be some days where you work longer hours so you have time later in the week to enjoy other activities. 

Here are eight ways to create a better work-life balance, as well as how to be a supportive manager.

1. Accept that there is no ‘perfect’ work-life balance.

When you hear “work-life balance,” you probably imagine having an extremely productive day at work, and leaving early to spend the other half of the day with friends and family. While this may seem ideal, it is not always possible. 

Don’t strive for the perfect schedule; strive for a realistic one. Some days, you might focus more on work, while other days you might have more time and energy to pursue your hobbies or spend time with your loved ones. Balance is achieved over time, not each day. 

“It is important to remain fluid and constantly assess where you are [versus] your goals and priorities,” said Heather Monahan, founder of the career mentoring group, #BossinHeels. “At times, your children may need you, and other times, you may need to travel for work, but allowing yourself to remain open to redirecting and assessing your needs on any day is key in finding balance.” 

2. Find a job that you love.

Although work is an expected societal norm, your career shouldn’t be restraining. If you hate what you do, you aren’t going to be happy, plain and simple. You don’t need to love every aspect of your job, but it needs to be exciting enough that you don’t dread getting out of bed every morning. 

Monahan recommended finding a job that you are so passionate about you would do it for free. “If your job is draining you, and you are finding it difficult to do the things you love outside of work, something is wrong,” said Monahan. “You may be working in a toxic environment, for a toxic person, or doing a job that you truly don’t love. If this is the case, it is time to find a new job.”

3. Prioritize your health.

Your overall physical, emotional and mental health should be your main concern. If you struggle with anxiety or depression and think therapy would benefit you, fit those sessions into your schedule, even if you have to leave work early or ditch your evening spin class. If you are battling a chronic illness, don’t be afraid to call in sick on rough days. Overworking yourself prevents you from getting better, possibly causing you to take more days off in the future. 

“Prioritizing your health first and foremost will make you a better employee and person,” said Monahan. “You will miss less work, and when you are there, you will be happier and more productive.” 

Prioritizing your health doesn’t have to consist of radical or extreme activities. It can be as simple as daily meditation or exercise. 

4. Don’t be afraid to unplug.

Cutting ties with the outside world from time to time allows us to recover from weekly stress and gives us space for other thoughts and ideas to emerge. Unplugging can mean something simple like practicing transit meditation on your daily commute, instead of checking work emails. 

Monahan said when she used to travel with her boss for work, she’d look over to find him reading a novel while she would be doing something work-related. 

“I didn’t understand at the time that he was giving himself a break and decompressing while I was leading myself to a potential burnout,” said Monahan. 

Now, Monahan practices the same tactics. She reiterated that taking that time to unwind is critical to success and will help you feel more energized when you’re on the clock.

5. Take a vacation.

Sometimes, truly unplugging means taking vacation time and shutting work completely off for a while. Whether your vacation consists of a one-day staycation or a two-week trip to Bali, it’s important to take time off to physically and mentally recharge. 

According to the State of American Vacation 2018 study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, 52% of employees reported having unused vacation days left over at the end of the year. Employees are often worried that taking time off will disrupt the workflow, and they will be met with a backlog of work when they return. This fear should not restrict you from taking a much-needed break. 

“The truth is, there is no nobility in not taking well-deserved time away from work; the benefits of taking a day off far outweigh the downsides,” said Chancey. “With proper planning, you can take time away without worrying about burdening your colleagues or contending with a huge workload when you return.” 

6. Make time for yourself and your loved ones.

While your job is important, it shouldn’t be your entire life. You were an individual before taking this position, and you should prioritize the activities or hobbies that make you happy. Chancey said that achieving work-life balance requires deliberate action. 

“If you do not firmly plan for personal time, you will never have time to do other things outside of work,” said Chancey. “No matter how hectic your schedule might be, you ultimately have control of your time and life.” 

When planning time with your loved ones, create a calendar for romantic and family dates. It may seem weird to plan one-on-one time with someone you live with, but it will ensure that you spend quality time with them without work-life conflict. Just because work keeps you busy doesn’t mean you should neglect personal relationships. 

“Realize that no one at your company is going to love you or appreciate you the way your loved ones do,” said Monahan. “Also [remember] that everyone is replaceable at work, and no matter how important you think your job is, the company will not miss a beat tomorrow if you are gone.”

7. Set boundaries and work hours.

Set boundaries for yourself and your colleagues, to avoid burnout. When you leave the office, avoid thinking about upcoming projects or answering company emails. Consider having a separate computer or phone for work, so you can shut it off when you clock out. If that isn’t possible, use separate browsers, emails or filters for your work and personal platforms.

Additionally, Chancey recommended setting specific work hours. “Whether you work away from home or at home, it is important to determine when you will work and when you will stop working; otherwise, you might find yourself answering work-related emails late at night, during vacations or on weekends off,” said Chancey. 

Chancey advised notifying team members and your manager about boundaries beyond which you cannot be accessible because you are engaged in personal activities. This will help to ensure that they understand and respect your workplace limits and expectations.

8. Set goals and priorities (and stick to them).

Set achievable goals by implementing time-management strategies, analyzing your to-do list, and cutting out tasks that have little to no value. 

Pay attention to when you are most productive at work and block that time off for your most important work-related activities. Avoid checking your emails and phone every few minutes, as those are major time-wasting tasks that derail your attention and productivity. Structuring your day can increase productivity at work, which can result in more free time to relax outside of work.

Related contents:

What’s stopping us from having a better work life balance? Building Design

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How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

If you’ve been stressed out and ignoring it—isn’t everyone stressed right now?— it could be time to do something about it. That’s because even though you may be basically healthy, tension is doing its stealthy damage. The latest evidence? Researchers have linked high levels of the stress hormone cortisol to brain shrinkage and impaired memory in healthy middle-aged adults. And get this: The effect was more pronounced in women than in men.

This research underscores an important point. Though stress affects your whole body, ground zero is your brain. It’s not just the effects of cortisol—it’s that teeth-grinders like traffic jams, personal snubs, and financial worries are perceived and interpreted by your gray matter. Fortunately, research focused on the brain is pointing to new, more effective ways to reduce your tension.

But first, let’s drill down and see how and why your brain’s natural reactions make you more vulnerable to the zings and arrows of tension.

How Stress Affects Your Brain

Aspects of the brain’s design that served us well thousands of years ago now make us susceptible to negative emotions and mental fatigue, both of which ratchet up our stress, says Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and founder of the Mayo Clinic Resilience Program. Although our brains have evolved over time, “the speed of life today is the main stressor—it’s much faster than our brain’s ability to adapt,” he says.

And that means we often end up with too little time and too few resources to address what life throws at us each day, which adds to a diminishing sense of control over our lives. Perceived lack of control has been shown to be a huge source of stress.

In his book Mindfulness Redesigned for the Twenty-First Century, Dr. Sood describes a number of traps that frequently ensnare our brains. Three of the most challenging:

Focus Problems

When giant predators roamed Earth, a scanning, outward-
directed focus served us well—but today that focus is directed inward. Now, 80 percent of the time, our minds are wandering, stuck in an unfocused state even if we’re not aware of it.

Studies have found that this state makes us less happy, and the unhappier we are, the more our attention wanders and our thoughts pile up. It’s like having a huge set of open files on your computer, Dr. Sood says, only they’re in your brain, distracting you and demanding attention. Our tech dependence, a source of constant distraction, adds to our inability to focus.

Fear

Our survival depends on the ability of the brain (mostly the amygdala) to detect physical and emotional threats. Moments or events that elicit fear raise our heart rate, which the brain stores as information that might protect us from future danger. This so-called negativity bias makes us prone to paying more attention to bad news than to good. We readily remember bad things that happen to us because our brains also release hormones that strengthen those specific memories, and this further embeds them in our minds. The result? More stress.

Fatigue

While a number of body organs (e.g., the heart and the kidneys) can keep going like the Energizer bunny, the brain is not one of them. After working hard, it needs rest. The more boring and intense an activity is, the faster your brain will grow tired—and that can happen in as little as four minutes or as much as an hour or two.

You can tell when your brain is fatigued (it has to signal this indirectly, since it has no pain receptors) because your eyes feel tired and stuff happens—you start making errors, become inefficient, lose your willpower, or see a dip in your mood. Brain fatigue leads to stress, and stress leads to fatigue, in a continuous closed loop.

Why Stress Hits Women Harder Than Men

Stress almost seems to have it out for women. In an annual survey by the American Psychological Association, women have repeatedly reported higher levels of tension than men and sometimes even more stress-related physical and emotional symptoms, including headache, upset stomach, fatigue, irritability, and sadness.

What’s more, midlife women have been found to experience more stressful events than both men and women of any other age, reports an ongoing study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute on Aging. Stress overload may even lead to chronic disease: Long-term pressures at home and work plus stress from traumatic events almost doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes in older women, according to a recent study at the University of California, San Francisco. Women are also more prone to stress-induced mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Here’s the why of it: A triple whammy makes women uniquely vulnerable to strain and pressure, says Dr. Sood. First, women’s brains make them more sensitive than men to stressors and a perceived lack of control. The limbic areas of women’s brains, which help control emotions and memories, are highly active, making them remember hurts and slights more readily. Stewing over these and having difficulty letting them go strengthens the brain circuits of those negative emotions—another example of the negativity bias at work—which also increases women’s stress.

In addition, the multiple demands of parenting and being in charge of the well-being of the household mean that women’s focus tends to be more diffuse. And an unfocused brain, as noted earlier, is another source of stress. A mom’s protective radar is always up for her kids too, which makes her sense a threat more quickly, and she’s more likely than her husband to get stuck and dwell on it, says Dr. Sood.

What Men Don’t Always Get

The differences in how men and women experience tension don’t play out in isolation, of course. They affect how husbands and wives, friends, and work colleagues experience and interpret the world—and yes, often the result is conflict. If you’re a woman, think of a time you had an upsetting disagreement with your boss.

When you vented to your husband about it—how your boss looked at you, what she said, how you responded, how you felt, what she said next—maybe you saw his eyes glaze over, and maybe he said, “It’s over now; why don’t you just let it go and talk to her tomorrow?” Which made you feel hurt, angry, and dismissed—and depending on which feeling was uppermost, you either escalated the conversation into an argument or retreated to mull it over.

New studies are looking at how the genders process stress in the moment and coming up with reasons for the disconnect. Recently, using fMRI to measure brain activity, researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine found that while imagining a personalized, highly stressful event, the action- and planning-oriented parts of men’s brains were actively engaged, while women’s brains were busy visualizing and also cognitively and emotionally processing the experience.

In the second part of the study, when men and women were experiencing intense anxiety, brain regions that were active in women were inactive in men. This suggests that women tend to get caught up in processing their stress, turning it over and over in their minds and reimagining it, says Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center.

“Women cope by talking about being anxious and describing their emotions and stressors,” she says. This could put them at risk for ruminating about the issues. Men seem not to access that cognitive-processing part of their brains and “are more likely to quickly think about doing something, taking an action, as opposed to expressing their distress verbally. It’s just the difference in the way we’re wired.”

That might explain why women tend to provide emotional support to someone who is stressed, whereas men might offer advice or something tangible like money or physical help. Ironically, what both genders want is emotional support when they’re tense, says Jennifer Priem, Ph.D., associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University. So men and women who are stressed out prefer to get support from women.

Bridging the Gender Stress Gap

Priem has found that problems arise between couples when each person has a different perception of what’s stressful. The result: When people are really tense, their partners aren’t necessarily motivated to offer support if they think, If I were in this situation, I wouldn’t consider it that big a deal. So how do you get the response you want when you need it?

Ask your partner to just listen

“That’s number one—listening to and validating the other person’s feelings,” says Sinha. “So even just saying ‘You’re really frustrated by this’ in a nonjudgmental way is validating and will ease someone’s anxiety.”

Explain that you feel defensive when he dismisses your experience

“When a partner downplays the significance of something, the person who’s stressed may hold on to it more or feel they have to convince the other person it’s true and that they have a right to feel that way,” says Priem. “You might say, ‘I’m really upset right now, and I feel frustrated when it seems you’re making light of my feelings. It would make me feel better if you’d be more responsive to the fact that I’m upset, even if you don’t understand it.’”

Treat yourself with compassion

“Women tend to be more self-critical about not being able to control their emotions,” says Sinha. So they may see a partner’s comment as judgmental even when he didn’t mean it that way. If that’s the case, forgive yourself and let it go—and hug it out, which can reduce tension and boost positive feelings.

Learning to negotiate conflicts is a big step in easing pressures. Also important: figuring out strategies to deal with the distractions, fears, and fatigue your brain naturally accumulates (see below for four smart ones). These can help you take stress in stride, with a terrific payoff: better health and greater happiness, plus a more resilient brain.

How to Control Stress and Calm Your Brain

To keep stress in check, you should of course be eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep to improve your mood, emotions, and cognition. But those are just the basics—and they’re not always easy to accomplish, especially when life is throwing lots of tension your way. Dr. Sood has advice that can up your stress-reducing game, based on the successful resilience program he runs at the Mayo Clinic. Here, four of his brain-focused, research-based strategies that work in just minutes a day.

Give your brain some RUM

That stands for Rest, Uplifting emotions, and Motivation. You need all three to help energize your brain and head off fatigue. So when you’re engaged in a task, take three to five minutes every couple of hours (or sooner, if you start getting fidgety) and pause for RUM.

How-to: Get up from your computer, or stop what you’re doing, and look at photos of your kids or of your favorite vacation spot, read inspiring quotes, text or call a friend, or watch a happy short video. Choose an activity that makes you feel good and is motivating.

Begin a morning gratitude practice

Take control of your brain before it gets hijacked by the day’s concerns and greet the morning in a happier, more connected frame of mind. (Check out these simple ways to practice gratitude.)

How-to: When you first wake up, before you get out of bed, spend a few minutes thinking of some people who care about you and silently send them your gratitude. Another reason it’s a good idea: A recent study found that anticipating a stressful day when you first wake up affects your working memory later that day—even if nothing stressful actually happens. (Working memory is what helps you learn things and retain them even when you’re distracted.)

Be mindfully present

Meditation is a great stress reliever, but not everyone can sit still, looking inward, for 20-plus minutes. Good news for the fidgety: Research has shown that focusing your attention outward engages the same brain network, so you can get similar stress-easing benefits by consciously giving the world your attention.

How-to: Challenge yourself to be curious and notice details—the color of the barista’s eyes at the coffee shop, the pattern of your boss’s necktie, which flowers are blooming in your neighborhood. Curiosity feeds the brain’s reward network, which makes you feel good; it also augments memory and learning.

Focus on kindness

Even the nicest among us are quick to judge others, especially if they’re different from us (thank the amygdala, a region of the brain that interprets difference as a threat).

How-to: To calm the amygdala, focus on two things when you’re feeling judgy about someone: that every person is special, and that everyone has struggles. Start a practice of sending silent good wishes to people you pass on the street or in the halls at work. The benefits for you: Your oxy­tocin, the hormone of connectedness, rises; your heart rate slows; and you feel more benevolent. All of which makes you healthier and happier.

By: Jenny Cook

Source: How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder—and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

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Want To Raise Successful Kids? Science Says These 5 Habits Matter

There comes a time in some people’s lives when their aspirations for their children begin to rival or even exceed their aspirations for themselves.

It’s happened to me since I’ve become a parent myself. As a result, I’ve been on a years-long mission to collect as much science-based advice as possible regarding how to raise successful kids. Here are five of the most interesting and useful strategies I’ve found and highlighted recently. The science suggests that if you want to do right by your kids, you should probably do these things.

1. Make them do chores.

Researchers at La Trobe University in Australia recently set out to determine whether children who do chores at home would develop better working memory, inhibition, and other success-predicting behaviors.

They broke chores into three categories: self-care, other care, and pet care. Writing in the peer-reviewed Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, they said their studies showed that kids who did self-care and other-care chores were in fact more likely to exhibit better academic performances and problem-solving skills.

But pet-care chores did nothing either way for the kids’ later development. Why not? Maybe it’s because pet care chores aren’t as strenuous as other chores, or maybe because the kids didn’t really view the kinds of things you have to do to take care of a pet dog (walk it, feed it, etc.) to be work. The bottom line, however? Make your kids do chores. They might not love the idea to start with, but you’ve got science on your side.

2. Teach them to be polite.

This one focuses on three specific words: please, thank you, and you’re welcome. Teaching kids to say “please” when they ask for something can reinforce their tendency to be polite, which makes them more persuasive when they’re older. Teaching them to say “thank you” habitually encourages gratitude, which stimulates happiness and makes stress easier to deal with.

And teaching them to say “you’re welcome” reinforces confidence by emphasizing that the things they do for others are worthy of thanks. (This is especially true when you juxtapose “you’re welcome” with other things people say in response to “thank you,” like “no worries!” or “no problem!”)

3. Work on their emotional intelligence.

Children who develop emotional intelligence also develop “a higher chance of graduating, getting a good job, and just being happy,” according to Rachael Katz and Helen Shwe Hadani, authors of The Emotionally Intelligent Child: Effective Strategies for Parenting Self-Aware, Cooperative, and Well-Balanced Kids.

There are many things you can do to develop emotional intelligence (many more listed here), but at the outset, model your good thinking and use of emotions for them, ask them for their ideas, and try not to judge. Oh, and remember that kids are just that: kids. It’s unfair often to expect them to react and respond to things like adults would (or at least, should!).

4. Steer them toward video games.

Wait, what? Tell them to play video games? Yes, indeed. A new study out of Europe that used a “massive” amount of data determined that kids who spend an above-average amount of time playing them wind up with higher IQs than kids who spend their screen time watching videos or scrolling through social media.

Kids today spent a massive amount of time glued to screens, on average. This study of 5,000 children at least suggests that if they’re going to be using screens that much, the higher the percentage of that time they spend on video games, the better.

5. Help them figure out their passion(s).

This study was fascinating. Researchers in Scandinavia wanted to determine whether passion, grit, or mindset was the most important factor in predicting young people’s success, specifically in an athletic context.

In short, passion turned out to be far more predictive of whether kids were successful; while mindset and grit might have predicted that young people would continue attempting to succeed, it was passion that best predicted whether they actually would. “For people who are the best of the best in their field, passion is absolutely the biggest factor. It’s the essential key to success,” one researcher said.

So, when kids are kids, let them explore different things to determine the ones that they’re truly passionate about. That’s where they’re most likely to become the absolute best in their field. Look, no matter what any of us does as entrepreneurs, chances are our kids will be a very big part of our legacies.

That’s why I’m so drawn into these little hacks, and it’s why I’ve compiled an entire free e-book full of similar tips and tricks: How to Raise Successful Kids (7th Edition).  There’s always another study with another interesting bit of information to consider. I read and share as many as I can, so you don’t have to look for them.

Source: Want to Raise Successful Kids? Science Says These 5 Habits Matter, Bigtime | Inc.com

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How To Deal With Work Stress and Actually Recover From Burnout

Mindfulness, detachment, selecting off-time activities with care: Here are evidence-based strategies to achieve healthy work-life balance. There’s job stress, and then there’s the crushing pressure paramedics went through during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The uncertainty, the dread, the constantly changing protocols, the shortages of personal protective equipment, the multiple calls to the same nursing home — it was almost too much for Kate Bergen of Manahawkin, New Jersey.

“It felt like everything was closing in around us,” Bergen says. “At some point I knew that I couldn’t take any more. Was I headed for a meltdown? Was I going to just walk off the job one day? I was getting very close to that point.”

Instead of quitting, Bergen found a calling. One day while waiting for the next emergency call, she took a picture of herself in her full PPE. The image inspired her to paint a self-portrait poster in the style of World War II icon Rosie the Riveter. The message: “We need you to stay home.”

It was the first in a series of “Rosie” posters of women first responders, an ongoing project that has helped Bergen calm her mind during her downtime. Ultimately, she says, the Rosies helped her withstand the stress of her job and allowed her to show up to work each day with new energy and focus. “They made it possible for me to keep going.”

While workers like Bergen are responding to emergency calls and saving lives, many of us are doing things like responding to emails and saving receipts from business trips. But even for people with jobs in offices, restaurants and factories, there’s an art and a science to making the most of downtime, says Sabine Sonnentag, a psychologist at the University of Mannheim in Germany. The right approach to non-work time can help prevent burnout, improve health and generally make life more livable.

“When a job is stressful, recovery is needed,” says Sonnentag, who cowrote an article exploring the psychology of downtime in the 2021 issue of the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior.

Workers everywhere are feeling frazzled, overwhelmed and ready for the weekend. With that backdrop, researchers are doing work of their own to better understand the potential benefits of recovery and the best ways to unwind. “Work recovery has become part of the national conversation on well-being,” says Andrew Bennett, a social scientist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. “There’s a growing awareness that we can’t just keep working ourselves to death.”

At a time when many people are rethinking their jobs (if they haven’t already quit), they should also be thinking about their quality of life away from work, Sonnentag says. “People should ask themselves, how much free time do I have and how much energy do I have for my free time? How do I want to continue my life?”

A weekend paradox

We can all use a chance to unplug and unwind, but here’s the rub: Recovery from work tends to be the most difficult and elusive for those who need it most. “We call it the ‘recovery paradox,’” Sonnentag says. “The odds are high that when a job is stressful, it’s difficult to have an excellent recovery.”

That paradox was underscored in a 2021 analysis that combined results from 198 separate studies of employees at work and at home. Workers with the most mentally and emotionally draining jobs were also the least likely to feel rested and rejuvenated during their off time. Interestingly, people with physically demanding jobs — construction workers, furniture movers and the like — had much less trouble winding down. The surest way to feel lousy after hours, it appears, is to think too hard at work.

Sonnentag authored a 2018 study published in Research in Organization Behavior that helped to explain why the paradox is so hard to escape. People who were more stressed out at work tended to get less exercise and worse sleep, an ideal scenario for feeling less than great. In other words, stressful work can disrupt the very fundamentals of healthy living.

To help workers break out of that destructive loop, researchers are pondering both sides of the work/life cycle. As Sonnentag explains, certain tasks, obligations and workplace cultures make it especially hard to unwind when work is done. Time pressure, the feeling that one is constantly under the gun, is especially disruptive. Jobs in health care, where that time pressure often combines with life-and-death stakes, tend to be especially taxing. Working with customers can be exhausting too, Sonnentag says, partly because it takes a lot of focus and effort to act cheerful and friendly when you don’t always feel that way deep down, a task known as emotional labor.

The demands of work vary widely from one person to the next, and so do approaches to downtime. Recovery is highly individual, and different people will have different strategies. “We don’t have a single prescription,” Bennett says. Researchers have grouped approaches into broad categories, including “relaxation” and “mastery.” Relaxation, a concept that’s easier to grasp than it is to achieve, includes any activity that calms the body and mind, whether it’s walking through a park, reading a good book or watching a zombie hunter movie on Netflix. (Note: The latter may not be an ideal choice if your actual job involves hunting zombies.)

Mastery, meanwhile, can be achieved through any activity that challenges a person to be good (or at least passable) at a new skill. Just as painting helped Bergen cope with stress, workers can find relief in their accomplishments. “Anything associated with learning can be helpful,” Sonnentag says. “It could be some kind of sport or exercise. It can be something like learning a new language or trying new cuisines when cooking.” A 2019 study that followed 183 employees over 10 workdays found that people who achieved some sort of mastery during their off time were more energetic and enthusiastic the next morning.

For people who need a break, the “why” behind a particular activity can be as important as the “what.” A 2013 study that followed 74 workers for five days found that people who spent their off time with activities and tasks that they actually wanted to do — whatever they were — were more lively and energetic the next day than those who felt obligated or forced to do something.

Whether they’re relaxing or creating during their time away from the office, Bennett says stressed-out workers should strive to think about something other than their jobs, a process that psychologists call detachment. (The TV show Severance takes this concept to extremes.) It’s OK to have great ideas in the shower and regale your partner with office anecdotes, but research shows people with stressful jobs tend to be happier and healthier if they can achieve some mental and emotional distance from work.

The benefits of tuning out became clear in a 2018 report involving more than 26,000 employees in various lines of work, including judges, teachers, nurses and office workers. The analysis, coauthored by Bennett, found that detachment was a powerful buffer against work-related fatigue. Workers who said they were able to think about things other than work while at home were less worn out than their colleagues. On the other hand, workers who carried on-the-job thoughts throughout the day were more likely to feel exhausted.

Vacations can also help erase work stress and prevent burnout, to a point. Sonnentag coauthored a 2011 study that used questionnaires to track 131 teachers before and after vacations. The teachers returned to work feeling refreshed and engaged, but those benefits tended to fade after only a month. The post-vacation high was more fleeting for teachers with especially demanding jobs, but it lingered a bit longer for those who managed to fit relaxing leisure activities into their regular routine.

How much vacation is enough? That question is hard to answer, Sonnentag says. While many European workers expect and demand four- or five-week breaks, she says there’s no evidence that such long vacations offer any more chance for recovery than a vacation of one or two weeks. She does feel confident saying that most workers will need at least occasional breaks that are longer than just a weekend, especially if that weekend is largely eaten up by household chores and other non-work obligations.

Perhaps an extra day off each week would make a big difference. That’s the premise driving an ongoing four-day-workweek experiment involving 70 companies in the UK. The businesses, including banks, robotics manufacturers, and a fish and chips restaurant, are all expecting employees to maintain their productivity despite working one day less each week.

The full results won’t be available until 2023, but early data suggest that the four-day workweek has decreased signs of burnout and stress while improving life satisfaction and feelings of work-life balance, reports Wen Fan, a sociologist at Boston College who is helping to conduct the experiment. “The results are very encouraging,” she says.

Fan says it’s too early to know if the employees and companies were able to stay as productive as ever during the experiment, but she notes that most jobs could be done more efficiently with a little extra planning and streamlining. “A lot of time is wasted on distractions and meetings that go on too long,” she says.

No matter how many days a week a person has to work, minibreaks during the day can help, too. A 2020 survey-based study involving 172 workers in the US found that subjects tended to be in better moods and were less emotionally exhausted toward the end of the workday if they had breaks that allowed them to briefly detach from work. The study also tracked mindfulness, the degree to which people are conscious of their present emotions and circumstances.

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They did this by asking the participants how much they agreed with statements such as “Today at work I was aware of different emotions that rose within me.” Employees who were the most mindful were also the most likely to truly check out and relax during their breaks from work.

A 2021 study of college students took a closer look at relaxation and exercise during work breaks. Those who tried progressive muscle relaxation, a low-stress activity that involves tensing and releasing muscles, reported more detachment during the break, while students who got their blood pumping on an exercise bike had more energy for the rest of their day.

Study coauthor Jennifer Ragsdale, now a research psychologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, says that a better appreciation for the nuance of work breaks can help people choose the right approach for a given day. “If you need some sort of pick-me-up, you can walk round the building to get your energy going,” she says. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can relax.”

As many people have discovered during the pandemic years, it can be challenging to fully check out from work when your living room is also your office. Speaking with at-home workers, Bennett has collected tips for separating work life and life life. Something as simple as wearing a collared shirt or other office attire during work hours and changing into casual wear at the end of the day can help establish boundaries, he says. Using a dedicated laptop for work and putting any work-related materials out of sight at the end of the day can also create much-needed distance.

Ragsdale says that technology can be both an escape and a tether. The same devices that help us play games, listen to podcasts or struggle with online word puzzles also make it possible to receive work emails and other reminders of life outside of the home. Ragsdale cowrote a 2021 commentary calling for more research into the impacts of cell phones on work recovery. “When you’re continuing to be exposed to work through your cell phone, it’s harder for that recovery process to unfold,” she says. The very sight of a work email can trigger thoughts that are just as stressful as the actual job, she adds.

Not many people can completely let go of their phones when they’re at home, but they can take steps to protect themselves from intrusive work pings. “You can adjust your settings in a way that make your phone less appealing,” she says, including turning off notifications for things like email and Twitter.

Bergen can’t be away from her phone when she’s on call, but she can still feel like she’s in her own world when she’s working on a new “Rosie” painting. Psychologists may call it mastery, but for her it’s a validation and an escape. She has recently started painting women first responders who were on duty for both 9/11 and Covid. “I started out painting one thing for myself and it blossomed,” she says. “It’s turned into something beautiful.”

Source: How to deal with work stress — and actually recover from burnout

Related contents:

Bad bosses: Dealing with abusive supervisors

What will it take to fix work-life balance?

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MJ Williams on pre-season ‘stress‘ and working towards Bolton’s Ipswich opener The Bolton News

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Multitasking Is a Lie: Women Aren’t Doing More in Less Time, They’re Just Doing More

You’ve definitely seen the high-achieving multitasking heroine. She’s making dinner with one hand, typing with the other, on a call with the third, perhaps holding a baby with the fourth. She’s a multi-armed stock photo, or an octopus lady photoshopped on a magazine cover.

You know her. Maybe you are her. For many ambitious women, the ability to master multitasking was supposedly a path to success. The irony is that it actually made many women feel scattered, overworked, and underappreciated — all while getting passed over for promotions.

Despite growing awareness that the multitasking superwoman is an elaborate fabrication duping women into doing more for less, it’s not easy to escape the pull of shared cultural expectations, explains Dr. Laurie Weingart, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business.

“By default, we turn to women when we need non-promotable tasks done,” Weingart said. “What happens is that on the flipside, we internalize this role, and women are often more likely to volunteer and say ‘yes’ to doing them when asked. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, and then we say ‘yes’ because of the fear of violating the expectation.”

The Myth of Multitasking

The concept of multitasking has been around since the 1960s when IBM first used it to describe computer functionalities. Since then, it’s become part of our workplace lexicon, going from a nifty trick enabled by technology (sending emails and talking on the phone at the same time was once revolutionary) to productivity optimization strategy to a cringey buzzword. And it was women, questionable research suggested, who were simply better at doing lots of things at once.

Then came the plot twist: multitasking actually diminishes productivity. The brain can shift between tasks, but it can’t parallel process. Shocking! The American Psychological Association reported that shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40% in productivity, and other studies suggest that “media multitasking” (listening to music and simultaneously checking email) diminishes the ability to focus attention.

Despite research showing that double X chromosomes do not inherently make women better at performing multiple tasks simultaneously (women and men are equally bad at multitasking), the mighty multitasking woman trope persists.

If women have bought into the belief (consciously or not) that they must do it all at once, they’re often focused on others, not exclusively on their own ambitions. It creates a vicious cycle: women take on more, but fall behind in ways that count, then must keep taking on more to prove themselves, again.

Office housekeeping, organization busywork, or the mental load that’s part of domestic labor or child-rearing are one way women tend to multitask. Another is by getting saddled with non-promotable tasks, which Weingart defines as work that women do that helps their organizations but does nothing to advance their careers.

“These are usually shorter-term assignments that need to be done quickly. Can you help with that, cover for me here — these tasks are the interrupters, as opposed to the work you’re hired to do and is longer term and requires that depth,” said Weingart, who co-wrote The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work. “

These tasks tend to be less tightly tied to the organization’s bottom line, and they tend to be behind the scenes and less visible. When you define it that way, it’s much more than office housework or taking notes or getting the birthday cake.”

“What we often assume is that women are asked to do non-promotable tasks because we’re better at them or we enjoy doing them,” said Weingart. “What our research shows is that it’s not what’s driving this.”

In her research, Weingart found that at one firm, women consultants were working 200 more hours than their male colleagues. For younger women consultants, the tradeoff was between high-value work and other tasks, so when they came up for partner, they had less billable hours despite doing more work. For senior women, the issue was different.

“What’s interesting is that the senior women weren’t making a trade-off; the time was coming out of their personal life. So they were working longer hours, and they were putting in a month of extra work above male colleagues.”

The implications run deep. When multitasking pulls focus, it also erodes the ability to enter the deep thinking state of flow, or the optimal state of mind at which we feel and perform our best. Add in distractions of modernity — from Slack to email to the daycare group chat blowing up about spirit day — and for many women, this state of productive flow is elusive.

“Especially for people who are working longer hours, you see a lot of stress, burnout and negativity in terms of health and wellbeing,” she added.

Monotasking Is the New Multitasking

Now, after years of leaning into multitasking, many women are realizing that doing simultaneous tasks isn’t part of the promotion track. It’s the path to burnout. This awareness is the start of helping “women step back and figure out how to improve,” says Weingart.

Before committing to a task, Weingart suggests determining whether it’s of high value to your organization. If you still feel compelled to do it, try to understand your motivation for saying yes. Sometimes it’s guilt or fear of letting others down.

Then think about your performance: What criteria are you evaluated on? What’s your skill set? What do you bring to the organization that sets you apart? And does this task relate?

Remember that you might be better at non-promotable tasks because you do them over and over, not because you were born that way. It’s a feature, not a bug, of a patriarchal system, and it’s always easier to ask the person who will say yes.

The answer is easier said than done. Just say no. After all, monotasking is the new multitasking.

By Alizah Salario

Source: Chief | Multitasking Is a Lie: Women Aren’t Doing More in Less Time, They’re Just Doing More

Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity. Although that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has talked on the phone while checking E-mail or talked on a cell phone while driving, the extent of the problem might come as a shock. Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.

Psychologists tend to liken the job to choreography or air-traffic control, noting that in these operations, as in others, mental overload can result in catastrophe. Multitasking can take place when someone tries to perform two tasks simultaneously, switch . from one task to another, or perform two or more tasks in rapid succession. To determine the costs of this kind of mental “juggling,” psychologists conduct task-switching experiments.

By comparing how long it takes for people to get everything done, the psychologists can measure the cost in time for switching tasks. They also assess how different aspects of the tasks, such as complexity or familiarity, affect any extra time cost of switching. In the mid-1990s, Robert Rogers, PhD, and Stephen Monsell, D.Phil, found that even when people had to switch completely predictably between two tasks every two or four trials, they were still slower on task-switch than on task-repeat trials.

Moreover, increasing the time available between trials for preparation reduced but did not eliminate the cost of switching. There thus appear to be two parts to the switch cost — one attributable to the time taken to adjust the mental control settings (which can be done in advance it there is time), and another part due to competition due to carry-over of the control settings from the previous trial (apparently immune to preparation).

Surprisingly, it can be harder to switch to the more habitual of two tasks afforded by a stimulus. For example, Renata Meuter, PhD, and Alan Allport, PhD, reported in 1999 that if people had to name digits in their first or second language, depending on the color of the background, as one might expect they named digits in their second language slower than in their first when the language repeated. But they were slower in their first language when the language changed.

In experiments published in 2001, Joshua Rubinstein, PhD, Jeffrey Evans, PhD, and David Meyer, PhD, conducted four experiments in which young adults switched between different tasks, such as solving math problems or classifying geometric objects. For all tasks, the participants lost time when they had to switch from one task to another.

As tasks got more complex, participants lost more time. As a result, people took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks. Time costs were also greater when the participants switched to tasks that were relatively unfamiliar. They got up to speed faster when they switched to tasks they knew better….

By: APA.org

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