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How to Best Fight Work Stress and Burnout, According to 5 Therapists

Work stress happens. It's how you deal with it that matters for both yourself and your family.

According to the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s “Stress … At Work” report, between 29 and 40 percent of adults say they are “extremely stressed at work.” It’s easy to understand why. Wages aren’t great. Hustle culture makes it seem like the only way to work is all the time. Plus, technology blurs the line between work and personal life, making it easy to continue emailing, Slacking, scheduling, and planning, all of which bring work stress home and lead to burnout. We all need to be mindful of how to draw boundaries and fight the stress. But, often, work stress is unavoidable and when it does crop up, it can infect your family. When this happens, what are the best ways to cope without it affecting your family? We spoke to five therapists who offered actionable ways to fight work stress and keep a healthy balance.

Carve Out Small Moments for Yourself

“When men are stressed at work, they should take a short break. Go for a walk. Sit in the car and play some music. They should sit at their desk and slow down their breathing, inhaling through the diaphragm [stomach area] and exhaling through the lips. There’s also a reason everyone should take lunch breaks, and it has nothing to do with eating. If your job is really stressing you out and you haven’t taken a vacation in quite some time, schedule a week or two off. If that’s not possible, at least take a mental health day to rest, recharge and relax.

In general, even if men aren’t feeling particularly stressed out, they still need time to themselves, a short break or time for fun. For many men, being both a dad and a full-time employee, even if they love spending time with their family and enjoy the work they do, can be stressful. Everyone needs a change in routine and time away. They need to do something that they thoroughly enjoy, whatever that is. When they can occupy their mind with something truly pleasurable that gets them away from the daily routine of life, they’re going to feel a lot better.” — Dr. Vinay Saranga, psychiatrist, founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry 

Take a Walk. And Set Boundaries.

“It’s not uncommon to become stressed at work. Having a few tips and tricks so you’re prepared can make a huge difference in your mood, pain, discomfort, and happiness. Sometimes it can help to change your environment and force your brain to focus on something completely different. If you can take a break and go up and down the stairs a few times, the exercise can help release endorphins and regulate your breathing. When you return to your desk, you may be tired, but your head should be clearer and your muscles less tight. Another thing you can do right at your desk is breathing exercises. It can be hard when you are just getting started. I suggest looking on YouTube for instructional videos on square breathing. 

Dads should also know it’s important to set boundaries. It’s okay to take a few minutes in the car before you head home and practice some mindfulness. It’s better to be a present and engaged dad that’s late, than a stressed on time dad.” — Vicky Woodruff, MSW, LMSW

Set a Specific “Worry Time”

“Some of the things that men can do when they are feeling stressed at work are deep breathing exercises, or finding a positive in the negative stressors. They can pop in some headphones and do a quick, five minute, guided meditation body scan meditation. 

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They can also write down on a notepad what is stressing them out — almost like a to-do list. So, every time they have a stressful thought, they mark it on the notepad and put it away. They then can dedicate time later that day or night to worry about stressors and think of solutions for the issues on the notepad. I call this ‘worry time.’ It’s important to cap it at no more than 10 or 20 minutes because you don’t want to ruminate the rest of the day and evening about the stressors. This could help because it gives the stressful thoughts somewhere to go. You aren’t just avoiding the stress; you’re just making a dedicated time for it so it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of your day.” Ashley Chambrello, LMFT

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Examine the expectations you have for yourself and see if they are reasonable. Are you hard on yourself? Often, people get burned out because they are trying to do things ‘perfectly’ all the time. Experiment with doing a ‘good enough’ job and evaluate how it turns out — does anyone (except you) seem to notice? 

Another thing is to look at your to-do list and sort each item by 1) urgency and 2) importance. Focus on the items that are both urgent and important. Delegate or postpone deadlines on the others.

And finally, offer yourself some compassion. Working is hard. Raising children is hard. It’s only natural to feel stressed at times. This is not a flaw — you are just experiencing a human moment. Offer yourself some support in the form of self-compassionate self-talk, such as ‘This is really hard right now. It’s human to feel this way sometimes and other people feel this way too. Let me be kind to myself right now.’” Azra Alic, LCSW 

Reach Out to Loved Ones

“Men are generally not socialized to believe that talking about their emotions and reaching out for support are OK. Reaching out for support early on is one of the most beneficial things you can do. It can help you to challenge your beliefs about opening up, more likely than not, your loved ones will feel appreciative of your honesty, and the vulnerability will bring you closer rather than create a rift. 

An important step in managing overall stress is to normalize your own emotions and validate the stress you are experiencing. Life can get really hard sometimes, and burnout can pile up and create a snowball effect. Once you allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling, try to identify your triggers and your red flags. Your triggers are the things that can cause or contribute to feelings of stress, and your red flags are the signs indicative of something off-balance. Examples of triggers include not enough breaks during the day, hunger, lack of boundaries at work, and frequent urgent deadlines. Examples of red flags include irritability, withdrawal from your partner/friends, increased drinking or substance use, and health problems like hypertension and frequent headaches. 

It is also important to note that stress, in and of itself, is not the problem; it’s how we deal with it that counts. Finding regular ways to check in with yourself, even if that means setting a reminder on your phone midday to meditate or simply step outside for a few moments, is important. Scheduling things that make you feel like yourself, whether that is running, cooking, reading, or trying a new restaurant, is another way to deal with stress in a healthy manner. Spending time connecting with others is another wonderful antidote to experiences of stress and burnout. Try yoga, walking outside, and improving your sleep hygiene for even more benefits.” — Dr. Rosette Elghossain, clinical psychologist