November 05, 2020

Surviving a high-stress news cycle with your work life intact: Tips from our Pros

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on November 5, 2020 as “Surviving Election 2020 with your work life intact: Tips from our Pros.It has since been edited to apply to news events more generally.

More and more each day, bad news seems hard to avoid. Crises are unfolding on a global scale all around us. In a lot of ways, this is nothing new. Still, our unlimited access to a constant stream of information and opinions on these events is a very new phenomenon.

The stress of following these events doesn’t respect work-life boundaries. It seeps into our professional lives, affecting our mood, productivity, relationships, and more. What’s more, protracted stressful situations can lead to burnout and other health issues. There’s plenty that can be done to make stressful news cycles more manageable and keep your work life under control.

Start with what you can control.

More often than not, the event in question is mostly outside of your control, so focus on what you can control. (And if there are ways you can contribute positively to a related issue, taking some small amount of time to do so can leave you with a more positive or hopeful outlook.) It can be hard to set aside your social media or newsfeed, but your ability to focus your energy productively is more important than knowing every real-time update. There’s a reason doomscrolling has a name now: it’s an increasingly easy habit to fall into.

Additionally, understanding and communicating your own needs is essential. Without thoughtful self-awareness, you’ll be unable to support yourself, much less expect proper support from others. After all, even the best manager is not a mind reader. 

A few simple tips can help you take stock of your situation and create strategies to manage and communicate stress:

  • Check for signs of burnout
  • Set boundaries
  • Reconnect to mission and purpose

Check for signs of burnout.

It’s easy to say you’ll check in with yourself regularly, but much harder to do so when consumed with anxiety. We all experience pressure to be strong and resilient. How do you know where healthy resilience ends and unhealthy stress suppression begins? 

Rather than asking yourself general questions, such as, “How am I feeling? How am I dealing with the current situation?” make a checklist of specific red flags to keep in mind. At regular intervals, consider your list and take the appropriate action if you start seeing those red flags arise.

Many of the items on your list will be symptoms of burnout, which is a higher risk when stressors are occurring both at work and outside of work. Psychology Today lists the following burnout symptoms:

  1. Physical and emotional exhaustion
  2. Cynicism and detachment
  3. Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

In addition to those symptoms, ask yourself about your productivity. How does it compare to normal weeks? If it’s significantly lower, are your blockers external, or are they related to burnout? If you find yourself identifying with any of these symptoms, and especially if they’re affecting your health or productivity, it’s time to take action.

Set boundaries.

Even if you’re not experiencing burnout, it’s important to protect yourself by setting appropriate boundaries. If you’re already finding yourself feeling burnt out, boundaries are doubly important.

Healthy boundaries help you keep your workload manageable during a stressful time and make expectations explicit for you and your boss. This prevents you from winding up in a situation where you appear to be underperforming.

Start by committing to a workload that leaves room for your own well-being. Communicate these commitments to your boss, along with the reason for this exercise. If you need help, or if you need to delegate tasks, don’t be afraid to ask. Finally, prepare for some pushback on your plan. Negotiating your workload doesn’t have to mean overcommitting. As long as you wind up with a manageable plan that meets your boss’s priorities, you’ll both walk away happy.

Reconnect to mission and purpose.

Recognizing burnout and setting boundaries will help you avoid negative repercussions when it comes to your health and workplace performance. At the same time, a stressful moment is a perfect opportunity to reaffirm the aspects of your job that provide energy and positivity. 

What moments have made you proud and excited to be at your current company in your current role? How can you align your projects with the goal of re-capturing that feeling? Doing so will not only help avoid burnout on the job but can enhance your overall mental well-being, a vital benefit during a stressful period.

Each day, before beginning your work, take stock of your tasks, carefully re-aligning them to create a feeling of mission and purpose.

Final thoughts

World events can have an emotional impact ranging from temporary distraction to lasting trauma. In these times of shared distress, we encourage you to take care of yourself, and look out for each other.

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