- Working during the summer — a season typically known for leisure — is a drag in the best of times.
- This year, a shaky economy and the never-ending pandemic have increased worker stress, surveys find.
- Experts say there are many simple, science-backed strategies that can help people cope.
Working during the summer — a season typically known for its leisure and languor — is a drag in the best of times. But this year, amid a shaky economy, political tumult, and a seemingly never-ending pandemic, the summer slog feels harder than ever.
Many expected this summer to be different. Last year’s “hot vax summer” turned out to be a bust, and this year, many Americans expected things to be better by now. (Just look at “revenge-travel” bookings from spring for proof .) We deserved it, after all.
“Everybody has this powerful but unnamed feeling that, ‘The past two years have done me wrong, and the world owes me for what has happened,'” Daisy Dowling, an executive coach and consultant, said. People seem to be looking for an “emotional make-whole payment,” she added, referring to a financial penalty companies pay to bondholders for redeeming debt before maturity.
Unfortunately, it’s not been easy to collect on the debt. Inflation is skyrocketing, layoffs are sweeping the US, the country and the planet are on fire — both figuratively and literally — and just about everyone you know and work with has COVID-19, which has complicated all that revenge travel. As a result, surveys indicate workers are collectively feeling more stressed and burned out.
So what can you do to feel better at work if you’re in a summer slump? Insider spoke with five career coaches, mental-health specialists, and management experts to get their ideas on how to cope with and combat negative feelings. August might just be salvageable.
Consider your options — because you have them
One of the reasons you may be out of sorts this summer (or, let’s face it, this pandemic) is that you feel a loss of control. The challenges seem monumental and unrelenting, and you have zero power to do anything about them. The antidote? “Find ways in which you do have control over your world,” Ryan Vogel, an associate professor of human-resources management at Temple’s Fox School of Business, said.
Even if your sense of control is illusory, it still makes you feel better, he said. So concentrate on areas where you have some ability to manage your energy and focus. Maybe you have a flexible schedule or choices over where and when you work. Perhaps you’re able to pick and choose your tasks and assignments. Or maybe you have control over your life during after-work hours.
Remember, too, you’re not trapped. Vogel’s research found that when employees felt frustrated at work and stuck in their jobs, that could manifest as aggression against their employers, which is counterproductive. His advice is to remind yourself that you have other options .
After all, while layoffs are more common nowadays, a lot of companies are still hiring.
“Ask yourself: If I wasn’t doing this, what else could I be doing?” he said. “Just thinking about your options is freeing.”
Notice the good stuff
Freaking out is a natural reaction to challenging circumstances. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, according to Susan Peppercorn, an executive coach and career strategist.
Instead of drowning in doom and gloom, you should consciously look for silver linings, she said. Research has found that writing down three things each day that excite you or go well for you, and providing a brief explanation for why, can alleviate burnout and improve well-being.
“These things can be as big, as small, or as big as you like,” Peppercorn said. For instance, it can be a fun lunch with a colleague, a project done well, a compliment from your boss, or even an after -work walk with a friend or your partner.
Creating a physical list of these positive things, rather than doing the exercise in your head, is key to boosting your mood, studies have found.
“The practice helps you pay attention and realize the world is not just horrible,” she said. “There are good things you can notice.”
Giving back and helping others are other ways that can make you feel more productive and improve your happiness and health, according to Peppercorn.
Research suggests there is such a thing as a “helper’s high” and that having a sense of purpose and supporting other people benefit your well-being. So be generous with time, and offer your assistance to those you work with wherever you can. Mentor someone in your organization — if you’re relatively new on the job yourself, take a student intern under your wing. Take the time to listen to others. And express gratitude when someone helps you.
Here, it’s important to bear in mind the magic 5-to-1 ratio for healthy relationships, Margaret H. Greenberg, an executive coach whose practice centers on applying positive psychology to the workplace, said. For every one negative feeling or interaction, there must be five positive feelings or interactions. This goes for stable and happy couples, but it’s also true for coworkers, friends, and family members, Greenberg said.
Emotional contagion is real, she added.
“You shouldn’t fake a good mood, but every once in a while, it’s worth checking your energy around people: Are you spreading fear or cheer? Do you lift them up or pull people down?” she said. “We catch both good and bad emotions from others, and it only takes one person to shift the mood.”
Give yourself a break
Feeling stressed and burned out is understandable — especially now — so try to go easy on yourself.
“We’ve been operating at a heightened sense with so much uncertainty for years, and people are worn out and are crashing,” Mellissa Withers, an associate professor at Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, said. “As humans , we can’t sustain that level of stress and adrenaline.”
It’s summer: Give yourself a break. Recognize when you need a little space to decompress. And be sure to take time off work.
“Maybe your productivity is slightly less than it was two or three years ago, but that’s OK,” Withers said. “You have to prioritize your mental health and well-being.”