How to Beat the Sunday Blues

May 2, 2016

Image of a sad-looking puppy with the words "I got the Sunday Night Blues"If you have a Monday through Friday job, then at some point in your career you have probably experienced the “Sunday Blues.” It often starts around Sunday afternoon with a slightly depressed feeling that your weekend is coming to a close. Along with sadness often comes an uptick in your level of anxiety thinking about Monday morning and the week ahead.

Sound familiar?

Many people think they are the only one who suffers from a feeling of depression/anxiety on Sunday, but this happens to a lot of people…even people who report that they generally like their jobs. Sometimes, even school children report this feeling of dread on Sundays.

Therapists and Sunday Blues sufferers have some recommendations on way you can help combat this weekly affliction. Here are some things to try out:

  1. Identify your Sunday Blues pattern.
    Recognizing that this is a common experience for many is one thing, but try assessing your own patterns and how your own anxiety/depression tends to manifests itself. Perhaps you feel lethargic or easily irritated? How have you been coping with these feelings? As with most things, the first step is having enough self-awareness to recognize that this is an issue for you.
  2. Is there an underlying issue?
    Sometimes the Sunday Blues seem like a general malaise about work, but it could also be indicative of something more. Sometimes the Sunday Blues are a natural dip in the weekly rhythm of life; however, you might be more prone to this weekly affliction if you suffer from depression and anxiety in general. The Sunday dreads could also indicate a work dynamic that needs to be addressed, whether that is a conflict with somebody in your office or the realization that you are unsatisfied and need to move on from your current job.
  3. Start preparing on Friday.
    Before you leave work on Friday, make a Monday morning to do list. Knowing that you took some time to get yourself organized for the next week can help you to feel less stressed when you get to work on Monday morning. Similarly, you might want to change your errand schedule. Most people use Sunday to grocery shop, clean, etc. which can contribute to the Sunday blues. Mix up your routine and see what works best for you.
  4. Make a new tradition – Monday Funday!
    Plan something fun for the beginning of the week. Some people like to choose one set Monday night activity, like watching a particular TV show or going to a bar’s trivia night. Or, you could change it up weekly. Whatever you do, find something in the week that you will genuinely enjoy.

What have you done to combat the Sunday Blues? Share advice with a comment below.


FROM THE ARCHIVE: Manage Your Time with a Tomato

April 25, 2016

tomatoHave you ever felt overwhelmed with all of the projects you are juggling at work, and as a result, felt that you weren’t doing any one of them as well as you could?  Perhaps you have felt swamped, juggling so many projects that you are unsure where–or even how–to start.

There is an intriguing time management tool…a tomato. Maybe you have heard of–or used–the Pomodoro Technique™, but its properties are quite simple and can be applied anytime, anywhere.

According to the website, “Creator Francesco Cirillo was a university student in Rome struggling to stay on task. He decided to challenge his powers of concentration using what he had at hand – a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato. That was the first Pomodoro (tomato in Italian). Bright red, iconic, and charmingly low-tech, it’s the perfect invitation for getting things done.”

Essentially, the technique involves writing a to-do list early in the day, setting your timer (kitchen, electronic, web-based, or otherwise) for 25 minutes, and focusing on only one task from your list during that time. When the timer goes off, you have completed one “pomodoro.” You put a check mark next to that task on your list, indicating the completion of one pomodoro, and take a 5-minute break. After that, you set your timer once again and go for another 25 minutes, again focusing on one task alone, though it may or may not be the same task you worked on previously. After completing 4 “pomodoros” in a row, you take a longer break, from 15-30 minutes.

The claims made on the Pomodoro website include:

  • “Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions!”
  • “Boost motivation and keep it constant!”
  • “Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms!”
  • “Improve your work or study process!”

This technique seemed so simple, and its claims so lofty, we had to try it out for ourselves.

Since we don’t have a pomodoro of our own, we opted for a simple online clock. Per the instructions on the PT website: list all of the projects on the “Activity Inventory Sheet,” and from those chose four tasks to list on the “To-Do Today” sheet.  Even thought the site offers worksheets, we used Excel to track projects. With the timer set for 25 minutes, we went to work. When the timer went off, we had a five minute break to grab a drink of water. We then reset the timer, and went back to work for another 25 minutes.

By the end of the day, we felt a great sense of accomplishment, having completed many pomodoros–and many goals for that day.  If you regularly struggle with internal interruptions (“What’s for dinner?” “What do we need at the grocery store?” “What time is that meeting again?” etc.), then this might be a particularly good technique for you.

We found the length of one pomodoro (25 minutes) so short that is was easier to fend off these interruptions. Conversely, the amount of time spent on one pomodoro (25 minutes) was in fact long enough to focus intently and not lose concentration on the task at hand. Further, knowing how many pomodoros a particular task actually took to complete was valuable information I used throughout the day and into the next.

All from one little tomato. Check it out and see if this time management tool works for you. If so, let us know with a comment below.


Slowing it Down: 4 Simple Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Day

April 6, 2016

Find yourself stressed out from work?Silhouette of a person sitting crosslegged looking toward sunset

Between the office/lab environment, mentor and mentee relationships, outside training and education, and life demands, it is all too common for stress to hijack your wellbeing. One quick effective way in dealing with life stress is to use techniques in mindfulness meditation.

A recent review of mindfulness interventions at the University of Cincinnati shows mindfulness techniques to be effective at creating positive change in stress and stress-related psychology and physiology, especially in the workplace. Benefits of these techniques are shown in a range of occupational positions, including healthcare professionals, undergraduate and graduate students, continuing education faculty, and community members.

Length of the surveyed interventions ranged from 8 hours to 32 hours, and outcome measures included: perceived stress, self-compassion, burnout, and positive and negative affect scales. Of the 17 mindfulness studies reviewed, 15 showed positive post-test changes in psychological or physiological measures related to stress. Despite limitations of sample size and variety of outcome measures, mindfulness meditation is shown to be a promising method for stress reduction in the work place

Wondering how you can utilize mindfulness techniques to improve stress?

Here are four simple ideas:

  1. Try spending 5-10 minutes a day generating focused and non-judgmental awareness of your breath. Common techniques include counting the lengths of your in- and out- breaths and aiming to increase this count, putting your hand on your chest to feel the flow of air through your lungs, and listening to the sound of your breath.
  1. Generate non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, or “purposefully paying attention to the present moment, with a non-judging, non-striving attitude of acceptance” (Sharma & Rush, 2014). Techniques include letting your mind go blank, and observing what thoughts arrive, and acknowledging thoughts that arise without judgment.
  1. Spend some time focusing on an object around you (for example a piece of food, a sentimental object, or an object in nature). Notice the detail in the object, how it feels, looks, sounds, and even smells. If you are in your office or the lab, there are websites and apps that allow you to choose a scene and set a meditation timer for as little as three minutes to take a quick mindfulness break. Check out calm.com for a preview!
  1. Spend 10-15 minutes each day stretching, while paying attention to how this stretching affects the way your body feels, and the way your mind feels. Some useful examples of gentle stretches: clockwise and counter-clockwise head-rolls, forward and backward shoulder rolls, mouth/cheek/eye stretches making “big” and “little” faces, and touching your toes!

If you are at the NIH, the OITE Mindfulness Meditation Group meets weekly every Thursday at 5:00 pm (except holidays) in the Graduate Lounge in Building 10 (Rm. 1N263).  This group is designed to be a time for you to slow down and connect with yourself and learn the benefits of meditation.  It’s a drop-in group, so it’s fine to come any Thursday that you can.

As we progress in our jobs and in our lives, stress will always be a factor, and so finding novel ways to respond to stress can be an exciting way to improve your day!


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Get More Done: Take A Break

March 11, 2016

Image of four blue folder with one red folder slightly ajar from bookcaseFind yourself swamped with work but unable to focus?  Ever wonder how to quit procrastinating?  At OITE, we often get asked about strategies and tips on how to improve one’s time management and productivity. This From the Archive post offers unlikely advice on how to handle these work challenges.


The title seems a little contradictory.  How is it that you can get more work done, but spend less time working?  According to a New York Times article about a study from the University of Toronto Scarborough, it is because small breaks make you more efficient.  The study authors suggests that the brain “becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.”

So here are a few of the tips from the article:

  • Symptoms of needing to take a break are drifting or day dreaming.
  • If you are in “the zone,” keep working.  It isn’t working hard that drains your brain, it’s when you are forcing yourself to go on when you really need a break.
  • Taking too many breaks leads to procrastination.  So, be smart about it.  Everything in moderation

Here are a few ideas for break:

  • Go for a walk – Even just doing laps on your floor gets you moving and gives you a break from your work.  If you are at the NIH and don’t want to melt in this heat wave, consider walking the track in the basement of building 10.
  • Go get a coffee (or something else) with a co-worker – After all, you have to walk to where the coffee is and having someone with you makes it less likely you will just sit and start thinking about work.  According scientists who have spent time in England, many labs there still take a break in the afternoon for tea (or other beverage) for about 30 minutes.  In fact, there is often a break in the morning as well for around the same amount of time.
  • Stand at your computer while you read the OITE Careers Blog – The article mentions that standing while doing your work can help relieve some of the brain drain.
  • Take a nap – We are aware this is not a culturally acceptable practice here in the USA, even if it is supported by science.  However, in other cultures a break in the afternoon to rest is quite common.  The Spanish Siesta is famous, and so I asked a visiting fellow and friend from Spain about how the “Siesta” works in the research community.  She pointed out the siesta is as much about food as it is about sleep.  The main goal is to sit down together around the table and have a meal as a family or group of friends.  If you can grab a siesta in that time, that’s even better.

Working hard is a hallmark of the research profession.  Most scientists I know take a lot of pride in putting in long hours.  We are certainly not suggesting that any of us not work hard.  However, research suggests that taking breaks can help us work smarter as we work hard.  And isn’t that what we all want to do?


Job Search Paralysis

January 29, 2015

Image of a stick figure with a blank thought bubble over head. Image courtesy of Microsoft Images.Last week, we wrote about Transforming Your Inner Critic and ways to deal with that voice in your head which can often turn negative and critical.

If you are job searching, your inner critic can keep showing up in a variety of ways. Maybe it is criticizing you for not having the right experience, the right degree or the perfect publication record? This voice can also become a refrain reminding you how many qualified candidates are on the job market, so “what chances do you have of actually getting that job anyway?”

Early and Weiss are two psychologists who identified seven types of inner critics. They created a questionnaire for you to see which inner critic might be problematic for you. The seven critics are: The Perfectionist, The Inner Controller, The Taskmaster, The Underminer, The Destoryer, The Guilt Tripper, The Molder.

We will look at a few of these inner critics in more depth. Maybe you will recognize which particular type applies to you and could possibly be impacting your job search psyche.

The Perfectionist
Perfectionists set extremely high standards for themselves all the time. In a job search, the perfectionist will wait for the “perfect” opportunity to come along and they won’t apply unless they see themselves at the perfect fit and meet 100% of the qualifications listed. Well, this rarely happens so the perfectionist will find themselves waiting for a while. Perfectionism can also keep individuals from actually finishing their resume or making a LinkedIn profile, thus stalling their job search even more.

The Underminer
This type fears rejection so much that this voice will continually warn you against taking a risk. It undermines your ambitions and motivations for moving on to bigger and better professional goals. This can keep you from considering any new change and can keep you stuck in the same job for too long.

The Guilt Tripper
By continually reminding yourself of mistakes, you can dramatically impact your self-confidence during a job search. “Remember that horrible interview answer you gave?” This voice wants you to believe that it wasn’t just one bad answer, but that you are a terrible interviewer and should just give up. The Guilt Tripper not only reminds you of actions you took but also actions you didn’t take. “You didn’t call your contact for an informational interview and you didn’t finish your project – you aren’t doing anything right.” This type turns your incomplete to do list into a personal attack.

The Molder
Encourages you to conform to a certain ideal or a preconceived idea. Molds come in many forms. Perhaps you believe you should follow in your parents’ footsteps and become a doctor? Maybe you feel you need to pursue a particular career path because of a degree you obtained? Individuals can even feel pressure from well-meaning career mentors who encourage them to pursue a path similar to theirs.

Maybe you recognize yourself in some of these descriptions? These inner critics can spur a background diatribe which enables individuals to come up with reason after reason to stay stuck in a job search that isn’t working. These voices often justify one’s procrastination and passive approach to the job search. How then can you overcome you inner critic and the job search paralysis it evokes?

Well, remember that the first step is to recognize your specific inner critic and then take steps to overcome it by remembering your achievements through positive self-affirmations and working to reframe self-doubt statements when they arise.


“There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day” – Time Management Tips

November 25, 2014

Everybody seems busy today. In fact, according to an op-ed in the New York Times, many Americans are addicted to this ‘busy trap.’ Guilt and anxiety seem to arise if you aren’t managing multiple projects at once. Because of this daily grind – self-imposed or not – many aren’t able to find time to plan and strategize their career development. Most job seekers lament that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

How then can you take back control and find the time that is needed in order to effectively accomplish your goals?

Keep a Time Journal
If you wonder at the end of your day why your ‘To Do’ list is not complete, then you should analyze your day. There are bound to be projects that take longer than expected and you will undoubtedly have demands placed upon you from others during your workday; however, these factors shouldn’t impact your ability to find time for your truly important tasks.   Being cognizant of how your time is spent is the first step in identifying potential areas for improvement.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Research from the University of California, Irvine showed that professional are interrupted every 11 minutes and on average it takes them 23 minutes to get back on task. One of, if not the biggest, interrupters at work is email. So, unless you want to spend your workday reacting to other people’s priorities, it will be important to implement some new time-saving strategies, including:

  • Start your day offline.
    For many, this will be a tough habit to break. Checking work email is often one of the first tasks in any given day; however, take ten minutes at the start of your day to check your daily goals and tasks in order to maximize your workday.
  • Check your email on a schedule.
    One email can pull you in; later, you find yourself two hours behind. Eliminate the distraction by shutting down your inbox entirely. It could help to silence the pings from your smartphone as well. The goal here is not an entire day of email radio silence, but a more systematic approach to the way you check email. Perhaps you only need to check it on the hour and allot yourself fifteen minutes to do so. Hopefully, implementing your own structure will help you feel more in control of your inbox and your time.

Take Time Off
It might seem counterintuitive, but taking time off to relax and recharge will actually help you to be more focused and productive when you are at work. The problem is that many employees don’t take advantage of paid time off. More than 40% of Americans who receive paid time off didn’t take advantage of their full benefits. Add this to the fact that about 1 in 4 Americans doesn’t have a job where they get paid time off. Whether self-imposed or employer-imposed, not taking enough time off has a direct impact on your time management and overall work performance. Bear this fact in mind as we approach the holiday season.

Effective time management is all about planning for the future, setting goals, prioritizing tasks and actually monitoring all of these factors. Time management skills need to be continually practiced so don’t waste any more time and start implementing some of your own strategies today. What has worked for you? Comment below with other tried and true time management tips.


Positivity in a Job Search

February 18, 2014

Image of a chalk board with different colored post-it notes spelling out "Positivity"Looking for a job can be an incredibly frustrating task. Today, individuals often find themselves anxiously searching for positions that will be a good fit within a very competitive market.  Inevitably, rejection is an unavoidable aspect of a job search. Negativity can also be compounded by self-doubt. Maybe you worry that you don’t have enough to offer a new employer or maybe you worry that you will be unsuccessful in finding work that is meaningful to you personally.

Negativity can be internalized and then it can seep out during the worst times, like during a big interview. Employers are keen at sniffing out desperation, bad attitudes, and poor self-esteem.  Interview questions are intentionally designed to gauge many of these dimensions.  So, how can you turn around a job search that has gone awry?

If you have been feeling negative about your job search (or anything really), explore one of the better-known books in positive psychology research. One book in particular that is available for check-out from the OITE Library in Building 2 is Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Martin E. P. Seligman, 2006. This book includes self-tests and exercises to assist you with assessing (and hopefully increasing) your happiness at work and in life.

This book goes into detail about how you can begin to train yourself to think more positively. If you are feeling stressed by the thought of adding another book to your reading list, here are some key points for you to utilize in the meantime:

1. Your language matters. Negative self-talk has a direct impact on subsequent thoughts and behaviors. When you find yourself saying things like, “I would love that job, but I am not qualified,” try to force yourself to reframe it in a more positive light, such as: “I would love that job, and I will find a way to gain the necessary skills.” Simple semantics like replacing the “but” with “and” helps put the locus of control back to you.

2.  Re-live past wins. One negative thought can lead you down a spiral of negativity. The same is true for positivity.  Make a list of all your accomplishments, both big and small, so when you start feeling negatively, you can have a visual reminder of all the things you have done well.

3. Reward yourself.  Take your job search seriously and set daily or weekly goals to track your progress.  When you’ve reached a goal, reward yourself. Celebrating small successes along the way can help positively reinforce that behavior and hopefully keep you motivated.

4.  Take responsibility. Others cannot control your happiness. While things can be really tough, only you can make the choice to focus on the positive by using the tips above.