Our brains are pretty good at dealing with short bursts of stress, but not so good at dealing with continual low-grade pressure. Several months into the global COVID pandemic, employees and business owners alike are grappling with increased anxiety levels and lower productivity rates as a result.
In fact, the World Health Organisation has recently updated its definition of burnout from a stress syndrome to “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by three symptoms:1
feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
increased mental distance from one’s job or negative feelings toward one’s career;
and reduced professional efficacy.
According to neuroscience expert, Dr Patrick Porter, mental clarity is crucial for productivity. Increased levels of stress, anxiety and fear elevate cortisol levels in the brain which interferes with memory, making it near impossible to concentrate and focus on your work. It has become crucial, therefore, to find positive strategies to combat distraction, reduce stress and increase mental clarity.2
Here are some useful strategies that you can experiment with to help you in achieving more equilibrium in your daily work and life.3
Exercise: It’s no surprise that exercise helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Physical activity helps your brain to produce endorphins (the feel-good neurotransmitter) and can facilitate better sleep.
Get more sleep: Yes, sleep is crucial! Deep sleep is restorative; researchers believe that during sleep, cerebrospinal fluid flushes out toxic wastes, thus “cleaning” the brain. The National Foundation for Sleep in the USA recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.4
Cut yourself some slack: This historic global pandemic is probably not going to be noted as the most productive period of your life – and that’s ok. You’re dealing with a lot, so don’t expect yourself to reach those high expectations. Do the best you can and that’s just perfect.
Set goals: Setting specific goals can be very helpful for productivity. Two hours of focused time can lead to the same productive output as four hours of scattered attention. Aim to write those 1000 words today, or complete that report in the next 3 hours. This will help you to be targeted in your focus as well as reach mini milestones and achievements which will increase feelings of positivity and success.
Do one thing at a time: Trying to multi-task while your attention is already scattered is not conducive to productivity. Select one thing to focus on, get it done and then move on. Splitting your attention between the news, social media and work tasks also adds to higher anxiety levels, so try designating specific time in the day to check in with news reports or social media.
Take breaks: Scheduling short as well as longer breaks within your daily routine gives the mind and body a chance to take a breather and shift focus. This can recharge you enough to bring back more mental clarity and motivation. If you can take a break outdoors in nature or green areas, this is ideal.
Unplug: Ensure that you have device-free time every day – particularly at night. It is advised that you put down any electronics at least 30 minutes before sleeping.
Give back /volunteer: If you’re finding it difficult to recognise the rewards or value in the work that you do, consider how and where you can give back to your community, to friends or family. Volunteering your time, services or skills can be a rich and rewarding experience that can help to carry you through the things in life that are a little harder to do.
Find moments of joy: Practice gratitude. Take a moment each day to reflect on a moment of joy that you experienced, or on something that you are grateful for. This practice helps to bring you to more presence in the moment and can help to foster feelings of calmness.