By Kat Boogaard
You’re burnt out. Every day you sit down at your desk with an overwhelming sense of dread and exhaustion. You’re barely treading water, and you just can’t shake the feeling that the monotony and stress is about to swallow you whole.
“You need a vacation!” people tell you, as if you didn’t already know that a week spent napping in a hammock or hiking in the woods would lift your spirits.
But, here’s the problem: It’s not that simple. You can’t just pack up and go. Maybe your vacation days are already dwindling. Or, perhaps you have way too much on your plate to suddenly shut down your computer and unplug for a while.
So, now what? Do you just need to keep trudging through that wet cement of your daily life and do the best you can despite your increasing stress?
Not exactly. Fortunately, there are a few other things you can do to press your reset button that don’t involve hopping on a plane or sipping Mai Tais (we wish, right?).
1. Change Your Scenery
GIF courtesy of Giphy.
No, maybe you don’t have the luxury of gazing out at the ocean or some other exotic landscape anytime soon, but changing your surroundings in more minor ways can still have some positive effects on your attitude and work ethic.
Why? Well, various psychological experiments and studies have pointed out that—as humans—we’re incredibly context-dependent. Put simply, our environments cue us in on the various habits and behaviors we associate with those surroundings.
So, if you’ve grown accustomed to feeling miserable and disheartened when staring at your same cluttered desktop or drab cubicle walls, it’s going to be that much harder to shake that emotion—unless you switch things up a little bit.
This can be as simple as swapping out your computer background and adding a plant, a photo, or a new desk toy. Or, you can go all-in and totally rearrange the setup of your workspace. If you have a ton of flexibility in your office, you can try working from a different area—such as a shared lounge or even a picnic table outside.
Rest assured, you don’t need to jet set to get a renewed perspective. Even these smaller changes can make a big difference in your overall outlook.
2. Switch Up Your Routine
GIF courtesy of Giphy.
It’s human nature to stick with what we know—it’s called the “status quo bias.” We find a sense of comfort in the safe and predictable.
But, every now and then, that can backfire: We white-knuckle our precious routines, even when they aren’t working for us anymore. With that in mind, being willing to make some tweaks to your daily habits and schedules can also have some positive effects.
For one, you’ll find a renewed sense of focus. Neuroscientists have proventhat our brains are always seeking novelty—we’re always keeping one eye open for that next bright and shiny thing. By making some changes (even small ones!) to your routine, you give your brain that sense of newness that it’s looking for—meaning you’ll enjoy increased focus on whatever it is you’re working on.
Secondly, you’ll also improve your creative thinking. Straying away from your predictable systems and workflows increases your brain’s neuroplasticity—that is, it’s ability to form new connections between different thoughts. Put simply, having some flexibility in your routine also makes your brain more flexible.
So, go ahead and move your afternoon workout to the morning before you head into the office. Or, make it a goal to eat lunch away from your desk, rather than working right through. You might be surprised by the results!
3. Unplug When You Can
GIF courtesy of Giphy.
I know that you’re sick of people telling you to just unplug and disconnect when you’re feeling overworked. Tuning out your inbox and shutting off your phone isn’t always realistic—you have work to do, after all.
However, don’t think of this as an instruction to totally disengage from your work. Instead, it’s an encouragement to identify those pockets of time when you could possibly put down your phone or step away from email to give yourself a much-needed break.
Does your phone need to be the first thing you look at before you go to sleep and when you wake up? Do you need to be obsessively scrolling through your texts when you’re unwinding in front of the TV or enjoying dinner with a friend? No.
You can’t disconnect completely, and I get that (trust me, I do!). However, give yourself permission to take a step back and unplug a little bit—at least when you’re not actively working. You might not be able to take a full-blown vacation. But, even a little bit of time off from the constant pressure of your work life is sure to have a positive impact on your attitude and stress levels.
Feeling like you’re on a hamster wheel of never-ending tasks and to-dos isn’t fun. And, it becomes especially difficult when you don’t have the light at the end of the tunnel—in the form of an upcoming vacation—to inspire you to keep pushing.
If things are really bad and you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed and overworked, that situation very well might warrant a conversation with your boss about how you can unload some of your duties and achieve a more manageable workload. (And here a few tips for having that conversation.)
However, if you feel like you just need some smaller changes to hit the reset button and renew your focus and outlook, these three adjustments can really make a big difference—no PTO or plane tickets required.
This piece was originally published by The Muse.