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DLSPH Open: Practical Advice on Disconnecting From Work

July 8/2022

Dear DLSPH Community,

As we move into another hectic pandemic summer, I hope we can all take time to rest, recharge and rejuvenate. But this is not easy, and I know that sometimes such exhortations only add to the feeling of stress when we’re already feeling overwhelmed.

With that in mind, I asked several DLSPH colleagues to share their best practical advice on disconnecting from work.

Photo of Adalsteinn Brown with his arms crossed

Adalsteinn Brown
Professor and Dean

Prof. Carol Strike has booked a vacation with spotty Internet access for a week this summer. To manage the stress of feeling out of touch, she told her staff and students about her trip – and lack of email access — and will remind them again before she leaves. And to keep herself from worrying about work, she’ll make it clear in her out-of-office email that she won’t be answering emails while away.

“I’m going to aspire to ‘email minimalism’. It will be tough not to peek – and I’m usually not good at that – but that’s my plan for this year,” says Carol, who also serves as Associate Dean of Public Health Sciences. “And the goal is to stick to it.”

Prof. Dionne Gesink believes everyone needs at least ten days off, in a row, in order to fully restore. She admits that’s a tough goal for many, including herself, and feels it could be helpful to grieve this inability to fully take care of ourselves. When she can’t get away physically, Dionne, who is also our Associate Dean, Academic Affairs, draws from mindfulness practices to create a healthier day-to-day reality for herself. Her tactics:

  • Trust the universe (mantra: the universe is conspiring to support me).
  • Be present – very, very present – and move through what is happening.
  • Self-regulation and practicing the seven sacred teachings.
  • Boundaries. Including respecting one’s own boundaries.
  • Recognize what is in one’s control and what is not in one’s control: Tending to what is in my control; Let go of what is not in my control.
  • Radical acceptance.
  • Nature bath (i.e. immerse in green (parks) and blue (water) spaces).
  • Meditate every day – whether a still meditation, or a moving meditation – even if it’s just for one breath.
  • Try not to over program one’s life.
  • Be part of something bigger than oneself.
  • Find joy in simple things (laughter, flowers, sunshine, not wearing a winter coat and boots).
  • Disconnect from technology and noise – e.g. no email evenings and weekends; no social media; no news
  • Practice good sleeping and eating habits.
  • Move one’s body.
  • Socialize with people who help one’s spirit dance.
  • Practice appreciation.
  • Remember we are human beings, not human doings. It’s ok to just be sometimes.

Prof. Whitney Berta has also been trying to disengage fully when taking a break from work. A few things she finds helpful:

  • (Do your best to) leave your work at work… this is exceedingly difficult to do when some of our work is so very portable… consider intentionally leaving your laptop behind at home if you travel.
  • Practicing mindfulness can be a deceptively simply recommendation and has a great deal to do with self-awareness (which can be learned); U of T offers excellent and increasingly comprehensive wellness resources for students and for staff & faculty .
  • Engage with nature; this is key for people like me who grew up in rural areas; it is vital for me to reconnect with nature: it orients me, soothes me, and reminds me of my place in the world.
  • Read outside of your usual repertoire and take your mind to places that it would not generally go; consider Brown’s Atlas of the Heat, van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score…, Suzanne Simard’s work on forest ecology (or listen to her Ted Talk), Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, or Kadish’s The Weight of Ink.

I also asked U of T’s Integrated Wellness Consultant, Richa Chodha, to share some best practices to avoid burnout during times of prolonged stress.

“Overall, what I’m finding that is making a difference is using break times or vacation days to actively engage in something fun, creative and socializing with friends and family along with being out in nature,” she says. “Completely disconnect from work and remind ourselves there are other parts of our lives that are equally as valuable as work and need to be appreciated and not overlooked. To help combat burnout at work, use the time to build up those other aspects of our lives that are important to us.”

Chodha’s top tips:

  • Be intentional with incorporating fun into your day. Get creative and bring out your inner child to play. Engaging in a game, listening to music or doing arts and crafts is a great way to relax and get into a state of flow.
  • Get lost in a good book or a positive and meaningful conversation within your family or social group. Talking to others about topics that stimulate our minds can help us take a break from thinking or worrying about work.
  • Can you start to create a healthier routine? At least 30 minutes of exercise, nutritious meals and good hydration all help to reduce stress and mitigate high levels of cortisol. Start with one thing – maybe a morning walk around the block? Take note of how you feel afterwards and ask if you can do two blocks tomorrow.
  • Notice yourself scrolling mindlessly on your phone, and without being self-critical, approach with curiosity: why are you doing this? How does it make you feel?
  • To cultivate a deep breathing practice, could you start with just one minute per day?

I hope you find this advice helpful. Perhaps you could challenge yourself to try one suggestion today?

I plan to take some time to fully disconnect from work this summer, and I encourage everyone in our community – faculty, staff, students and alumni – to do the same.   I’m looking forward to reconnecting in the fall, and wish you a happy, restful and joyful summer!


Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown