Work is stressful.
No two ways around it.
The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey shows that 64% of adults — over 6 in 10 — say that work is a significant source of stress in their lives.
And a lot of that work stress is unavoidable or out of your control:
But the good news is that you DO have some control…over how you recharge so you can better respond to inevitable stressful situations.
And don’t worry, I won’t suggest you take a lavender-infused bubble bath or any hippie-dippie woo-woo stuff. We’re pragmatists here at OE.
The methods we’re sharing in this post are scientifically PROVEN to work.
Here are 5 research-backed approaches to recharge your mental and emotional batteries:
If you only make one change in your life after reading this article, please start exercising!
At OE, we’re passionate about exercise. As a company, we’ve competed in tough mudders, walked the Three Peaks Challenge, and cycled between our offices in the UK and Germany. One reason we encourage exercise is that we know its benefit on emotional well-being.
First, exercise makes you happier. Individuals who exercise have 43.2% fewer days of poor mental health than individuals who don’t exercise. Researchers actually found that physically active people feel just as happy as those who don’t exercise but earn about $25,000 more a year! (Source) So money can’t buy happiness…but apparently exercise can.
Exercise also helps new brain cells to form — something that’s important because brain plasticity is negatively affected by stress. Harvard Medical School found that exercise triggers a hormone called irisin that produces BDNF, a substance that tells new neurons to develop.
Exercise → new neurons forming = your brain staying sharper and more resilient to stress!
In research studying burnout among surgeons (a notoriously stressful job,) doctors who engaged in regular aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening activities were found to have “superior” scores in their overall quality of life.
In his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang says:
“Studies now show that for people of any age, gender, or athletic ability, exercise can increase brain power, boost intelligence, and provide the stamina and psychological resilience necessary to do creative work.”
According to sleep expert Matthew Walker, sleep can be overnight therapy. Rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep is the only time when our brains are completely devoid of noradrenaline, the hormone that triggers anxiety. So our brains can process stressful or painful memories in a safe, calm environment…leading to better emotional resolution when we wake up.
And you don’t need eight full hours to recharge your batteries…
Medical writer Jane Langille says, “Sleep experts have found that daytime naps can improve many things: increase alertness, boost creativity, reduce stress, improve perception, stamina, motor skills and accuracy, brighten your mood and boost memory.”
A Harvard study found that subjects who took naps showed significant improvement in cognitive tests. NASA agrees: Their study on military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%. (Source)
Napping affects your intellectual stamina, too. A University of Michigan study found that subjects who napped for 60 minutes were less likely to give up, were less impulsive, and were better able to handle frustration to persevere on stressful tasks.
With benefits like that, it’s worth catching some ZZZs during your next lunch break. Research shows that even a six-minute nap can produce positive results.
Research in International Journal of Health & Addiction says our increased use of technology is one of the big threats to mental health. That’s why taking a break from devices is a great way to recharge.
A study in Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that when people unplugged from work-related tasks (like checking work email after hours) they felt fresher and more recharged at work the following day.
This “tech effect” may be compounded by the fact that blue light emitted by devices stops the release of sleep hormones, making it harder to fall asleep. (Not to mention that having a phone buzzing throughout the night can prevent you from entering that restorative REM sleep.)
High social media activity has also been associated with elevated symptoms of both depression and anxiety. (Source)
“Technology has become so embedded in daily life. But…when we [we establish boundaries], it benefits our mental and physical health in so many ways,” says Dr. Shilagh Mirgain.
According to Mirgain, a few of the benefits of taking a break from our devices are:
Going tech-free for a day or two is fantastic but even a short tech break helps. Try avoiding devices in the last hour or two before bed for more restful, restorative sleep.
Daniel Goleman, the author of Focus: The Hidden Power of Excellence, says that spending time in nature helps relax our minds and reset our attention span.
A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the brain becomes calmer and less aroused when subjects moved from a busy urban area into a park. Brain scans showed evidence of lower frustration and arousal when they moved from an urban street to a green space zone. Nature has a calming and mood-enhancing effect…naturally!
According to the University of Exeter, “Measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating suggest that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance.”
The University of Sussex found that people were “substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.”
So the next time you’re feeling drained, consider spending some time outdoors. Even if you’re in a city, seek out patches of green where you can and soak up this natural de-stressor.
Meditation has been linked to increased theta and alpha brain wave activity in EEG studies, which is associated with wakeful and relaxed attention.
And just 20 minutes of meditation is enough to reduce stress, according to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Those who took a 20-minute afternoon meditation break noticed less stress when they went back to work, compared to those who used their break to chat with coworkers.
It also makes you happier. Meditation has been linked to larger amounts of gray matter in certain parts of the brain that lead to more positive emotions, emotional stability, and better focus. And speaking of focus…
A 2010 study found that participants who meditated had an easier time keeping their attention during difficult cognitive tests. Which makes sense…when you train your brain to concentrate during meditation, you can use that same “focus” muscle in other areas.
If you’ve never meditated, it’s easy to get started with the Headspace app and Calm app — both of which offer free seven-day trials. We have friends who particularly like the guided meditations on The Mindful Movement Youtube channel:
We may not always be able to control what happens to us at work but we CAN control how we replenish our energy.
Take one or more of these science-backed strategies for a spin this week. Or get ultra-efficient and combine them, like going for a brisk walk in nature or meditating while taking a tech break. (If only we could figure out how to go for a walk in nature while also napping…pretty sure that would tick all the recharging boxes!)
What activities and practices refuel you the most? Let us know in the comments so we can all learn from one another!