April is Stress Awareness Month and this has been held every April since 1992. Healthcare professionals across the country join forces to increase public awareness around stress and how it can be managed.
There is certainly a greater recognition than ever before of the need to promote well being in the workplace and employers are being urged to treat mental and physical health with equal importance.
The 21st-century health epidemic
The World Health Organisation has dubbed stress as the modern-day health epidemic. The fallout from workplace stress has a huge impact on global well-being as well as on our overall economy.
For a multitude of reasons the pace of modern life has accelerated. In a rapidly evolving world of too much choice and overwhelm it can be challenging to establish a healthy balance. Everyday pressures can build up and affect our stress levels without us even being aware that it is happening. The creep of burnout can be insidious.
What is ‘burnout’?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when an individual feels overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands.
The American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term ‘burnout’ in the 1970s. He used it to describe the consequences of severe and high ideals in ‘helping’ professions.
Burnout, however, can affect anyone, from stressed-out careerists and celebrities to overworked employees and homemakers.
Whilst elevated stress isn’t a mental health problem in itself, it can often lead to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. It can also lead to physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease and joint and muscle problems.
Personal stress levels
Understanding your own relationship with stress is fundamental in terms of your personal well-being. Take time to ask yourself the following questions:
What are my stress triggers?
Stress management starts with identifying your sources of stress and developing strategies to manage them.
Lack of control, interruptions, frustration with technology, an overwhelming to-do list, changing priorities, information overload and other people’s behaviour are all common triggers. A constructive way to identify your triggers is to make a list of the situations, concerns or challenges that activate your stress response.
Take time to identify and write down some of the top issues you are experiencing in your life right now. You may notice that some of your stressors are events that are actually happening to you while others may even be your mind creating scenarios before they have actually happened.
What happens to me?
Too much stress in the body can trigger a range of physical and psychological responses. Everyone is unique and stress affects people in different ways, from palpitations, headaches, energy dips and mood swings, to highlight just a few examples.
It is important to understand what happens to you so that you can identify the warning signs of burnout and do something about it.
How do I manage my stress?
Everyone has a different way of managing their stress levels. Some of the approaches you choose may not be helpful, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, or reaching out for sugary or fatty foods. Focusing on healthier ways to manage your stress levels will be far more effective in the long term.
The first step to eliminating unhelpful coping mechanisms is to be aware of them and start to replace them with something healthier. It is easy to make excuses and give in to reduced willpower, however this is the time you need to choose healthier coping mechanisms. Exercise; getting some fresh air, drinking water, spending time with friends, hobbies, having pets, mindfulness and music can all be effective and positive alternatives.
Five ways to avoid burnout
1. Set personal boundaries
Personal boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and managing unnecessary stress. Having healthy boundaries is about knowing and understanding what your limits are.
To set healthy boundaries you need to know where you stand by identifying your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. You must consider what you can tolerate and accept and what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed.
Boundaries are a sign of a healthy relationship and also a sign of self-respect. Putting yourself first also gives you the energy, peace of mind and positive outlook to be more present with others and be there for them. It is essential to give yourself the permission to set boundaries and work to preserve them.
2. Be aware of your everyday energy
It is important to bear in mind that personal energy is not just about physical energy. Consider a more holistic approach by looking at these four key areas and ask yourself the following questions:
Physical energy – how healthy are you?
Emotional energy – how happy are you?
Mental energy – how well can you focus on something?
Spiritual energy – are you true to your purpose and personal values?
Being aware of how much energy is in your personal tank and creating moments of sanctuary within your day will help you to replenish your resources and maintain balance. Self-care is essential.
3. Practice mindfulness
The term mindfulness comes from Eastern spiritual and religious traditions. It is a very old concept and is a key part of Buddhism and also appears in Hindu writings.
A great deal of scientific research now shows that the mindful approach to stress, anxiety and mental health is a very helpful and popular way of dealing with and diffusing high levels of stress.
Mindfulness refers to being completely in touch with and aware of the present moment, as well as taking a non-evaluative and non-judgmental approach to your inner experience. It is essentially about being present and noticing what is around you. So often, if you are not careful, you can find yourself racing through life in a mad dash and not taking time to stop and relish the experience! What is the point of that kind of existence?
4. Unplug yourself
It is becoming increasingly obvious that our world is developing an unhealthy attachment to technology and mobile devices.
FOMO has been recognised as a recently emerging psychological disorder brought on by the advance of technology. It is an acronym standing for the expression ‘fear of missing out’. This is used to describe that feeling of anxiety, which many people experience when they discover that other people are having fun together or are being successful at something. Unhealthy and unrealistic comparisons are then made.
FOMO can manifest itself in various ways, from a brief pang of envy through to resentment and a real sense of self-doubt or inadequacy.
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a while, including you!
5. Sleep well
Lack of good quality sleep can affect your memory, judgment and mood. Stress levels can increase when the length and quality of sleep decreases. Sometimes you may find yourself lying in bed worrying and feeling anxious, which can make it almost impossible to relax enough to fall asleep.
The brain chemicals connected with deep sleep tell the body to stop the production of stress hormones. When you don’t sleep well, your body keeps producing those hormones. The next day, you may end up feeling even more stressed and then the following night you find it harder to fall asleep, and so the cycle continues.
Poor quality sleep can take its toll on both your physical and mental health so it is essential to understand how to invest in quality sleep. The complimentary book at the end of this article on avoiding burnout will offer you some useful tips and advice on sleep.
6. Get creative – it’s time for fresh thinking
Neuroscientists have been studying many forms of creativity and discovering that various creative activities can be beneficial to mental health and boost your mood.
When you are being creative, your brain releases dopamine, which is a natural anti-depressant. A recent study in the Journal of Positive Psychology indicated that engaging in a creative activity just once a day can lead to a more positive state of mind.
Additional complimentary resources
If you would like a complimentary copy of Liggy Webb’s bite-sized burnout book, please send her an email!
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