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As a smart, talented, glass-ceiling-busting, emotionally-intelligent, compassionate woman leader, you know what it’s like to feel stress at work.
An assignment from a senior leader arrives without warning. Three emails pile up for every one you address. Your team members seek you out for problems they could solve themselves. Your cell phone rings, your calendar is filling up with meetings, and you still have to address a performance issue with a direct report.
You come home from a long week feeling tired – emotionally and physically. Your fight-or-flight response is in overdrive, and over time, this constant navigation of stressful scenarios could lead to burnout.
Burnout is on the rise, and constant stress at work can lead to weight gain, stomach issues, sleep disruption, premature aging, and difficulty concentrating. You want to bring your best self to work every day, and to do that, you need to protect your energy.
The key to protecting your energy after a stressful week is to know yourself and what you need to recover. Knowing what drains you is the first step toward building resiliency and emotional stamina, and learning strategies for recharging your energy will help you navigate stress at work.
Here are 6 ways to protect your energy after a stressful week:
If you’re feeling physically and emotionally exhausted after a long week of solving problems or having emotionally-charged conversations with your team members, your body may be craving rest.
Sleep is one of the best ways we can take care of our bodies and our minds. During sleep, we actually repair our muscles, tissues, and skin, and energy is restored to our brains and body. Sleep affects how we look, feel, and perform on a daily basis, and a night of uninterrupted sleep can leave us feeling rejuvenated the next day.
Give yourself permission to sleep in a little later than usual or take a mid-afternoon nap. You can also rest by spending time reading or binge-watching a new series on Netflix. In a society where being busy is equated to success, we need those lazy weekend days to refuel our energy reserves.
Self-care is also an important tool in building resilience after a long work week, and it can take many forms. Yes, self-care involves the “fluffy” things like taking a bath, getting a massage or facial, lighting our favorite candles, and curling up in a cozy blanket with a good book (aka heaven).
But an often-overlooked part of self-care includes taking care of our mental health with things like therapy. Therapy is especially important for verbal processors (like me) who need to talk through problems and feelings before we can process their meanings. Instead of allowing these thoughts to run in constant cycles in your mind, it’s important to let them out by processing them with a trusted partner. Your therapist can also recommend ways to reflect on your feelings, help you work through difficult work scenarios, and provide you with the tools you need to manage stress.
I know after a long and stressful day at work, the last thing you feel like doing is changing into workout clothes and heading back out to the gym. But I know that exercise is the one thing missing from my stress management routine.
If exercise isn’t your thing, try simple things like taking your dog for a longer walk, or calling a girlfriend while taking a walk in nature. You can also spend time stretching or dancing around your living room while listening to Bruno Mars (just me?). There are a lot of great apps or YouTube videos that teach you exercises you can do in your own home, many with no equipment involved. As my doctor put it bluntly, “exercise is not optional; it’s a necessity." This is so true, especially when it comes to managing stress and beating burnout.
If you’d rather process your thoughts and emotions yourself, then meditation may be the right tool for you. Meditation involves sitting (or lying down) quietly, allowing your thoughts to come and go naturally. It’s not about trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings; it’s learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.
Meditation helps train your awareness and build a healthy sense of perspective. Learning to meditate is like any other skill; it takes time and patience to get comfortable with it and see results. It’s one of those things where the journey is more important than the destination. Sometimes, your focus will wander to one of the thoughts floating through your mind, and that’s okay. Listening to a guided meditation on apps like Calm or Headspace or in our Self Worth Society can help you bring your focus back to a single point, like your breath.
If you’ve been having trouble meditating, or you know it’s just not for you (and that’s okay too!), sitting in silence is another great option. Instead of focusing on your breath, you could spend time paying attention to a single thought that’s bothering you. You could pray or ask the Universe for guidance. You could just sit and stare off into space. Find something that works for you to quiet the stressful thoughts and allow yourself time and space for peace.
A form of meditation that I practice is called Qigong (pronounced “chee-gong”). Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise and healing technique that involves meditation, controlled breathing and movement exercises. Loosely translated, it means “mastery of your energy.”
My partner, Shaun, has been practicing qigong for over 4 years and has spent most of that time learning its benefits.
There are also specific exercises you can do to protect your energy. Wei qi (pronounced “way chee”) is also known as guardian qi, or guardian energy. It helps regulate your body temperature and protect against external pathogens, similar to how our immune system works. Wei qi can become depleted from stress, lack of sleep, and even negative energy. To build your guardian energy back up, watch this video of a simple qigong exercise called Tiger Plays with Ball.
Stressful energy can also feel like nervous energy after a long week. It can leave you feeling restless, uninspired, or like you just need to do something. If you’ve been spending your week heads-down on a tedious or repetitive task, your brain might be crying out for creativity.
Even if you’re “not a creative person,” think about how you played as a child. According to LifeLabs, for children, being creative provides opportunities for trying out new ideas, and new ways of thinking and problem-solving. Creative activities help acknowledge and celebrate children's uniqueness and diversity. It encourages them to express themselves openly and without judgment.
If you feel like your ideas are not valued at work, or you’re not appreciated for what you bring to the table, or you’re stuck on a problem and need a new way of solving it, then a creative activity is perfect for you!
Start by thinking about the things you loved to do as a child – writing stories, coloring, playing with dolls, building things with Legos, dreaming up fantasy lands, creating new games with friends. Then, think about how you might incorporate these things into your daily life. If you loved writing as a kid, try a morning journaling ritual. If you loved coloring, try taking a painting class or paint-and-sip night with your girlfriends.
The thing about creativity is, you don’t have to be “good” at it. Creativity is for everyone, even if you don’t feel like a creative person. Being creative helps open your mind to new ways of thinking, increases positive thoughts and feelings, and can help you own your unique and powerful YOU.
Knowing what drains you and what recharges you is key to learning how to protect your energy after a stressful week. Listening to what your body or mind needs is the first step toward building your energy reserves and developing resiliency.
What you need may change, depending on the situation, so determining what caused the stress can help you choose something from this list to counteract it. If it’s performance evaluation season and you’ve had to have several emotional conversations with your team members, then exercise or qigong may be the best way for you to clear out that energy. On the other hand, if you’ve been doing nothing but grinding all week, preparing a deliverable for a client or leader, taking the time to do something creative or something you enjoy may be a great option to build up your energy reserves.
Take action now: Grab your journal and spend some time writing about your energy. What typically drains your energy? What causes you to feel exhausted after a stressful work week? What about your work is stressful?
Now, think about the strategies you can use to protect your energy. What will build your resiliency? What activities will restore your precious energy? What activities fill you with joy? Create an action plan for your next stressful week. What one action will you take to protect your energy? Share with me over on Instagram @suzzihartery - simply send me a DM.