26 Oct 2017
98. MAINTAINING GOOD HEALTH IN A NEW JOB
Faced with a heavy workload and intense pressure, your physical and mental wellbeing can suffer. However, looking after yourself is also essential for success.
Words: Dr Dorian Dugmore
In your first days and weeks in a new role it can be hard to find the time to look after yourself. When everyone wants a piece of you and each day is busier and more fraught than the next even the basics of wellbeing – eating healthily, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep – can go out of the window.
However, we know from a plethora of international research that taking insufficient time to recuperate mentally and physically can have a negative effect on the memory, on concentration, judgements and decision making. It can also impact on your sleep, mood and relationships and even have long-term effects. In short, neglecting to take care of yourself can lead to poor performance as well as ill health.
Thankfully, there are some simple things you can do to keep yourself in shape, mentally and physically, and these should be built into your routine right from the start.
However busy your schedule, it’s important to stay energised and hydrated, as these are fundamental to mental and physical performance. Keep a bottle of water close at hand and keep an eye on your caffeine intake, as although caffeinated drinks can help to give you a temporary boost, too much may leave you dehydrated and jittery. If you’re drinking many more cups than usual, try swapping some of them for decaf or, better still, glasses of still water.
Watch what you are eating too, as when people feel stressed and, in particular, tired they tend to reach for high-fat, high-sugar foods. Keep snacks such as crisps, biscuits and chocolate out of reach and instead opt for nuts, fresh fruit or cereal bars, which will keep you energised for longer without the post-sugar slump.
Sleep can be another thing that suffers early on in a new role, because when the brain is on high alert throughout the day it is more difficult to switch off. Practices such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation and mindfulness, even if only practised for 10 minutes before bedtime, can help to counter the body’s stress response, release tension and take your mind off the problems of the day.
Meanwhile, if you find that you are lying in bed mulling over the next day’s challenges, it can help to keep a notepad and pen by your bedside. Clearing your thoughts out of your head and putting them onto paper may help you to nod off feeling unburdened. If you must have your phone in the bedroom, turn it off or onto silent mode and disable all notifications; they can wait until morning.
With so much information to take in and such high demands on your time and performance, the job can feel all-consuming in the early days. If you are to stay in control and make calm, rational decisions you’ll need to maintain some perspective and balance, prioritising what is urgent and what can wait, what you need to handle directly and what can be delegated. Try also to set working habits and expectations from the start that both you and your staff can stick to in the long run. For example, build in time to exercise, get a healthy meal and take regular mind breaks. A break every 60-90 minutes away from the task in hand can really help to keep the brain energised and maintain some balance throughout the day.
Take some time also to engage in interests outside of your sphere of work, whether that be meeting with friends, playing with your kids or watching a film, and encourage your staff to do the same. What is important is that it is something you enjoy and that you can totally lose yourself in, as this gives the brain a much-needed break from the day’s activities.
Moderate regular exercise, ideally out in the open air, is a great way to dissipate the negative effects of stress and lift the mood. Try walking or cycling to or from work, at least part of the way, spending half an hour in the gym or just walking the dog; anything that gets the Adrenalin flowing and provides a change of scene can help to distract the brain, enabling you to return more refreshed the next day.
Reconnecting with friends, family and peers is also important, because precious few people ever succeed without the help of those around them. There is no weakness in sharing what you are going through and indeed it can be a useful way to get reassurance and support when you need it most.
This article was originally published in the LMA's personal development guide The First 60 Days.