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Seven tips to tackle stress in your first week back at work

It's good to be back

Think early January; think heavy workloads, flagging motivation, and post-holiday blues. “The frustration and sadness we experience when we return to work is often the result of a realisation that we are back in the version of our life that we are not very motivated by,” says Justin Spray, business psychologist and director of Mendas, a London-based consultancy.

But your first week in the office need not be this bad. Here are some tips to help ease you into January:

1) Make a return-to-work plan

To avoid letting negative feelings ambush you at work, devote a small part of your holiday – perhaps as little as 30 minutes – to reflect on what you want from your career. “Rather than ignore those feelings, take note of them and create a concrete action plan,” says Spray. “Write it down. By setting time aside, you can avoid ruminating about work in a way that intrudes into the whole holiday.”

2) But forget impulsive resolutions

Your plan should not include unrealistic, spur-of-the-moment New Year’s resolutions. “These are made in a 'false' environment where you may be promising yourself and others things on which you later cannot deliver,” advises Dr Peter Morgan, a UK occupational psychologist. “The New Year is not the time for making such decisions. The better time, particularly in the financial world, is February/March when new budgets/headcounts are being considered and when the business as a whole is considering change.”

3) Avoid email overload

Don't become snowed under by emails: glance through them and only deal with the big stuff. “Don't get caught in extended reply-all circulars,” says occupational psychologist Patrick Gibbons, director of “Challenge those who waste time in this way. Look at your email only twice per day – reclaim your attention span and focus: you will get a lot more done if you manage your personal effectiveness and time carefully.”

4) Focus on outcomes

Work smarter, not harder, says Gibbons. “No one is productive over a 14-hour day. People can get caught up in ‘being busy’. Focus on outcomes and results, not effort, and what you can do to influence them. This could improve your working life forever, not just after the holidays.”

5) Prioritise

If a task doesn’t bring important benefits, the first week back is not the time to tackle it. “Be realistic: look at what you can do with two hands, one head, and X hours in the office,” says Paul Heng, founder of NeXT Corporate Coaching Services in Singapore. “Prioritising works wonders here. You cannot be a super being, so don't try to be. Tell yourself it is just a job and you will handle your responsibilities as best as you can.”

6) Do interesting stuff

To counter first-week malaise, concentrate on interesting, fun tasks that will motivate you to get back into work mode. “Look at what you have and show gratitude for it – you still have a job that lets you enjoy your lifestyle,” says Daniel Koh, psychologist, Insights Mind Centre, Singapore. “Be patient as things will change, be happy, work with sincerity, love your job and yourself, and recognise your own strengths and achievements, no matter how small.”

7) Compartmentalise your problems

Heavy workloads, office politics, bothersome boss, gossiping colleagues – there’s no magic wand to make them disappear during your first week back. So set aside specific times to think about them one by one. In other words, compartmentalise. “This allows you to break down the mountains into mole hills, and it is always easier to manage challenges in bite-size chunks,” says Heng from NeXT Corporate Coaching.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager
  • Ho
    How to handle stress at work |
    3 January 2013

    [...] Seven tips to tackle stress in your first week back at work [...]

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