While stress management is a term that can mean many things, it is my hope that I can boil it all down and present easy to follow methods that you can try out in your own life.
Within these pages we will look at what stress is and how we can better manage stress to reach goals or just plain relax. You might wonder how stress can be “managed”, don’t we just want to rid ourselves of stress and be done with it? Well the simple answer is…Yes…..and…NO. While stress is often seen as something bad we just want to get rid of, we also need stress in our lives to help motivate us to reach our goals. That’s right stress–in the right amounts– can actually help us! But overdo it and you can be stressed out and your productivity will suffer.
You may have dropped by because you are overwhelmed with stress and wanting to find a way to decrease the stress in your life so you can be more productive and happier. Or you may just have been intreaged by the name. Whatever the reason, WELCOME!
Prepare for a journey that just may change your life for the better.
Why should you listen to me? Good question.
For the past 15 years I have been helping people to look at their lives and make changes that actually improve their lives. As a nurse practitioner in the mental health field I have years of experience in helping people to identify what is stressing them and set goals to address those areas and alleviate the negative impacts of stress while holding on to the beneficial aspects.
Take some time to look around. I’m glad you decided to come by.
I plan to provide new content weekly since I am still working a regular job. I am hoping to tailor material based on feedback so please feel free to leave comments.
About a year ago I wrote a post entitled The Resilience Factor. As we have now moved most of the way through a pandemic I think it’s good to consider revisiting and expanding on this theme. If you haven’t read the previous post you can do so here. Here we will focus on how to build resilience.
So, what is resilience? According to Miriam Webster resilience is: “An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Let’s take a closer look at that. We have all likely recovered from some sort of misfortune or change. If you are reading this you have come through a once in a many lifetime event—a pandemic—and may be looking to improve your life further. What other “misfortune or change” have you been able to navigate well? Take a moment to consider that as we will come back to that momentarily.
I’d like to take issue with the piece of the of the definition that claims it should be done “easily.” In my opinion that is not necessary. What ever effort you put in will be well worth your time. As I recall from an problem I had re-entering a kayak in deep water (but that is a discussion for a different time) suffice it to say if I had waited for it to be “easy” I won’t be writing this today, I’d likely still be swimming to shore.
So we have a new definition which we can paraphrase into:
“An ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change.”
Cultivation of resilience
How do we build resilience? By first looking at where we are strong. Odd I know, but it helps to know where the handholds are when we are working on righting the ship so to speak.
Step one: Recognize that you have had adversity before and that you came through it. Think about what you did well to navigate that problem.
Next recognizing that our brains are an old piece of equipment with very few upgrades in millennia. Our brains are programmed to see adversity and do one of three things—Fight-Flee-Freeze. While it worked well when we lived in caves or in trees, it’s not so great on the freeway.
Taking a few minutes to review a little about our brain. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for regulating body functions. The ANS is comprised of two parts the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic (PNS). The SNS helps mediate the fight-flight-freeze responses while the PNS is the brakes for the system helping you to “rest and digest.” The PNS is our friend in the area of stress reduction as it helps us to calm our responses.
How do we engage the PNS when we are facing stress?
There are a number of ways to access the PNS directly, but one of the fastest methods is through deep breathing. One can also get the benefit of activating the PNS through yoga, tai chi, and qigong. Physical exercise, spending time in nature, and play with others can also help us activate the PNS.
One of the fastest ways to decrease your stress experience and calm your thinking is through deep breathing. There are a number of “methods” but just stepping back and taking 10 deep abdominal breaths can be enough to engage the PNS and slow down the whole system.
Benefits of Engaging the PNS
Slowing down in this way improves our ability to think more clearly. It can also create a better environment for engaging the cognitive processes and considering more effective problem management options. When we are able to more effectively manage problems we are substantively building resilience.
Give it try
First look at the definition. “An ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change.” Consider what misfortune or change you want to recover from.
Second consider what strengths you’ve used in the past to recover from other misfortunes or changes in your life.
Third spend a few seconds or minutes engaging in a deep breathing exercise. Try not to overthink it and just focus on the breathing. I recommend doing this for at least one minute to give your system time to relax a bit.
Last revisit the problem and see if there are any areas you may not have noticed before. Think about how the problem may be addressed on multiple levels.
You may repeat the above steps a number of times. If the problem is a big one it is best to take some time and consider options. By going through this process a number of times you may build your resilience to future adverse events.
Great to have you drop in. My apologies to the regular folks who may have been missing my posts. I am hoping to improve in 2022 ~ Lynda
Reduce stress with attention to self-care. If you’ve ever traveled by air you will be familiar with the recommendation to “put on your own mask before assisting others.” Recognizing stress levels in ourselves is a bit more complex than recognizing that our plane is preparing to crash, but the chances of becoming overwhelmed with stress are much more likely for most of us. My number one recommendation for reducing stress is to take care of yourself. Self-care helps you improve all areas of your life.
What does that mean?
When I meet with people who come for assistance around specific stressors I ask about many areas of their lives. How are you sleeping? What has your dietary intake been like over the last few months? What do you do for fun? How much time have you been spending engaging in leisure activity? What are you doing for exercise?
This can be confusing to people who come to see me for help over a particular stressor in their life. As we work together they begin to see that ignoring balance contributes to becoming overwhelmed with stress.
Taking care of ourselves is not a high priority in a society that often places more emphasis on work and doing for others over attention to self care. However, if we are not taking care of ourselves it will be progressively more difficult to help others.
How do we know that we have lost the balance between self-care and giving? The most basic answer is—when we start to become overwhelmed. How do you know that you are becoming overwhelmed? If you notice being more irritable. Have difficulties focusing. Notice more or new body aches and pains. Others may also give you feedback. The first step to tuning in is to listen to what your body is saying.
The human body is a wealth of information about how well we are doing. When we ignore it we invite it to turn up the volume. Continuing to ignore body cues can lead to a full blown break down.
Take a moment to scan your body from the top of your head to your toes. Mentally move down your body from top to bottom taking note of any pains, aches, tension, numbness, tingling.
What do you notice?
Many people who are stressed notice headaches, pain in the shoulders and neck, tooth grinding, stomach aches, muscle tension throughout the body, and at times numbness/tingling in hands and feet.
Many times our bodies are trying to alert us to increasing stress. If we ignore it we set ourselves up for feeling overwhelmed at some point. “Tuning in” allows us to address those problem areas. Interestingly, often just the act of taking care of the body decreases our stress. Yes— even when the outside stressor doesn’t change!
Start by doing a daily body scan and then considering how to address the sensations that you notice. Eliminating a chronic headache can be as easy as changing your posture. Other efforts such as taking a few moments to engage in a relaxation exercise can also be helpful. It’s up to you to notice and to make somekind of change.
Move your body. Moving the body engages the parasympathetic nervous system to help you feel more relaxed and at ease. It also has a the additional benefit of maintaining basic tone and fitness. Moving our body especially when we are stressed can disrupt things just enough for us to catch our balance and recalibrate.
Some things you can do that don’t take much effort are:
check the mail
take out the trash
take a bath
take a walk
walk the dog
You may be surprised by how much different you feel after just a few minutes of engaging in one of these activities. There are many of these kind of activities that can be inserted into our lives. We just have to keep an eye out for them. One of my nephews does a few pull ups when he is stuck on a problem and it changes the situation just enough that he is then able to move forward,
When we are overwhelmed we tend to add more and more to our days often without much thought. Taking some time to slow down and become more deliberative can be helpful. Focus on doing one thing at a time. I often refer to this as the “Major Charles Winchester III effect.” This fictional surgeon of M*A*S*H said “I do one thing at a time. I do it very well. And then… I move on.” We can all take a hint from Charles.
Slow down, focus on the task at hand, and then move to the next task. In so doing you may actually get more accomplished and as a result will not only feel less stressed, but will also likely decrease the number of things to stress about.
Hope this has been helpful. Please take a moment to comment
Have a great day out in the world being the best you, you can be today! ~Cheers. Lynda
Notice that the title does not say eliminate stress, that would be impossible (and recall that some stress actually helps us by propelling us forward toward our goals.). Instead, we need to look at ways to effectively reduce stress in the short term which then gives us the opportunity to look at longer term solutions. Today we will look at 3 quick steps reduce stress NOW.
Let’s face it, sometimes we just need a “quick fix” and while it’s not a good idea to depend on the quick fix for all of your stress management, in the short term it can be quite effective.
Take a moment to stop and assess what is going on. Change your position if you are able in that moment (e.g. if you are sitting stand up). Just this simple act can start to disrupt the stress you are feeling. Consider what effects of stress you are feeling and take note of it. In other words how did you first become aware that you were feeling stressed? Often when we are feeling overwhelmed with stress we don’t have a clear idea of what is causing the stress. Knowing exactly what may not be as important as just noticing how you as a unique individual feel when you are stressed. Just being able to stop and say “I am stressed out” can begin a process of taking steps to address the stress you are feeling.
Tune in to what your body is saying. Our bodies give us many clues to help use become aware of stress. Tuning helps decrease stress by becoming more aware of the factors that increase our stress. Headaches, shoulder tightness, neck pain, stomach upset, and irritability are stress effects I tend to see in those I work with. Taking steps to connect those effects with what may be causing them can be helpful, but is not imperative in the moment. Keep in mind that if you don’t eventually connect the dots these effects will continue to show up each time those stressful conditions are present. Treating your headache or stretching to relieve tightness can begin to loosen the grip of stress in the moment.
Step Back—Get Distance
Stepping back and taking a few minutes to collect ourselves is an effective tool to helping decrease our stress. The amazing thing about this tool is that it need not be a long period of time. Often just 5 minutes away from the stressor can be enough to reset enough so you can return and participate in the flow of work or play again. Use this tool during a busy work day so you can complete your work and hopefully not return home in a irritable state.
Nap—yes even 5 minutes in a reclined position with eyes closed can help.
Next Level Skills
Okay so I am not great at counting. While the title claims three I am going to add another. Here is the bonus step you can take.
Challenge your thinking.
Stop, step back, and take 5 minutes to look at what is stressing you. Think about the content of that stress. Look also at the context. Use the 5 minutes to determine how the stress is connected to you. Now consider what responsibility you have for it. Is this thing that is stressing you even within your control? Notice how I used the 3 quick steps to reduce stress and get to this next skill.
Many times we become stressed about things that have nothing to do with us. Or about things we can do nothing about. In the post 5 Minute Stress Management I talk about control. Taking a moment to look at your locus of control can help bring the stress down. Note that identifying where the stress comes from and how much control over it can help you to highlight thinking that is not helpful.
Challenging your thinking about the stressor can be relatively easy one you get the hang of it. For example once you determine that no amount of stressing over the driver that cut you off is going to change it, you can work to let go of that stress. Practicing this regularly makes it a habit.
That’s it for today
Have a great day and remember to leave a comment or email with feedback. Also consider letting me know what kind of content you would like to see more/less of in the future is always helpful.
Greetings everyone. I am finally returning The Stress Nest. Let me first say that I have missed bringing various stress management topics to you. I appreciate all who continued to return to (or find) The Stress Nest over the past year. What a year it has been. A once in a life time pandemic and all the uncertainty that comes with that.
The Shock Felt Round the World
In the beginning of the pandemic I think most of us around the world were in a state of shock. After all a pandemic is a once in a lifetime ( or many lifetimes) event. It became more evident over time that this situation would be slow to wrap up. It was time to increase efforts in the stress management mode. In other words, time to get off the couch and look at what I would do to get through.
Lucky for me I am a healthcare provider and as such am considered an essential worker. In the beginning this meant a lot more work for me which often included weekends. I say lucky because I was not restricted to my home. I went out and back to work everyday. This created a framework around which I could continue life in a relatively straight forward fashion. It also created a frame around which to develop new skills.
I had to consider, “how am I as an individual, a worker, and a family member going to get through this pandemic?” As an essential worker part of that decision was made for me (i.e. I would be working), but what about all the other areas of life?
I managed my stress by using information found in some of the posts I had written. This served to nudge me forward when my go to was to sit with chips and dip on the couch.
First Things First
I had to determine where my stress was coming from as in 5 Minute Stress Management. Then make some decisions as to how to proceed. A lot of my new found stress was significantly beyond my control as it flowed from pandemic issues, but not all. I had to take some time to determine where that stress was coming from. And then determine how much control I had over those areas. While much of what was occurring was well beyond my control—-e.g. whether my state would require masks or lock down. Other parts where in my direct control. For example how much work I could do from home. Or how much to expose myself to others in the community.
I also had to prepare myself for change. Change that would come from outside my control and change I could enact to maintain safety. I also had to find ways to navigate through an historically stressful time. I had to make the hard decision to put this blog on hold for the time being. My focus was to navigate myself through this difficult time and assist others in my personal and work life. The “put your own oxygen mask on first” approach to crisis.
Next, it was important to determine what self-talk I had going on. In the beginning of the pandemic I turned to some of the skills detailed in Taming Stress with Self -Talk. I had to look at how much negative self-talk was creeping in. Then challenge the self-talk as well as focus on how I could use more adaptive forms of self-talk. I had to work at changing to instructional or motivational self-talk mind set while challenging my judging self-talk.
Be The Change
It was also important to for me to start work on building new skills at home. I identified that I had been getting a lot of my amusement from outside sources. Much of that amusement was no longer available. For example meeting friends for cocktails or going to the movies were no longer viable activities. This helped me to look at what changes needed to be made. For the next unknown period of time I would be staying very close to home. I developed some new skills and honed others. I knew if I made it through this, I didn’t want to come out only having watched television (but of course a lot of that got done as well).
However you’ve made it through this historically stressful time, Welcome! Or Welcome back! If you’ve “Liked” the Stress Nest, Thank You!
I plan to post new material every week or two. In the coming year I am also hoping to add some video content. It’s good to have goals.
As always please leave comments as to what kind of content you would like to see. Is there a form of stress that you may be experiencing that I haven’t covered? Would you like to see more detail on subjects already covered?
Resilience is a part of dealing with day to day stress. Resilience when cultivated can turn daily stress into mere challenge. I’m currently reading The Resilience Advantage: Stop Managing Stress and Find Your Resilience by Richard Citrin and Alan Weiss PhD. Both of the authors are business consultants (not exactly my wheelhouse, but the title intrigued me). While the focus is primarily on business, many of the concepts are applicable to personal use as well.
So, what is Resilience?
As defined by Miriam Webster resilience is — “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”
Because we can’t control everything in our lives (or the world) misfortune and change are apt to find us at some point. So, cultivating resilience can help us bounce back when things change.
How do we cultivate resilience?
Recognizing that we are already fairly good at managing stressors. This is an aspect I see in my office routinely. Many times individuals negate how far they’ve come and discount the positive coping skills they possess because the current state of affairs is difficult. Recognizing that you’ve had difficult times before and that you came through those them is a helpful first step. It’s hard to improve things if you are busy beating yourself up.
Recognizing that the human brain is a fairly old piece of equipment that functions much like it did for our ancestors hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago. Our biology is stacked to look at stress and do one of three things: Fight–Flee–Freeze. The adversity our distant ancestors faced were often life or death. Our bodies today function in the same way even though the stimulus has changed. Instead of being chased down by lions, tigers, or bears our current society treats us to stressors like traffic, crowding, and insult. If you go into attack mode every time you get cut off in traffic, stress will have a severe impact on you.
Embracing that we hold a key to impacting stress by changing our thinking. By changing the way that we think about our stress we can impact the whole process in a more positive way. While the initial response to stress is biological we can develop ways to challenge those reactions to create more adaptive responses. That’s not to say that negative stress will never find us, but when we teach ourselves to think differently about stress, we can often change the dynamic from tragedy to challenge.
Cultivating confidence in your abilities is key to helping you become more resilient. How have you handled challenges in the past? What parts of those successes may you be ignoring in the present difficulty? According to Citrin and Weiss, “The best performers use stress to improve themselves.” Think of people who perform as a part of their work (musicians, actors, sporting celebs). In each of the cases individuals study where they have been successful and where they have fallen flat and they adjust their course accordingly. Some do this very quickly while others take time to look at the whole picture. How can you make changes to better address how you look at stressful challenges?
Change Your Thinking
Stress is a part of living. According to Citrin and Weiss, “Stress is a reaction to stimuli (an event of some sort), but that stimuli needn’t automatically cause a negative reaction. Our Reaction–and however we control or don’t control it–causes the stress.” (Page 38) I like to further refine this as the difference between a reaction and a response. A reaction is automatic while a response requires some reflection on the problem as a whole.
Can you transform your stress into empowerment? By weighing risk and reward we move toward empowering ourselves to move through our stresses and become stronger. Citrin and Weiss provide a model on a 10 point scale which may be useful (page 43).
Place your stressor on the risk scale
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5
+5= Transformational shift in my life like winning the lottery
+4= Dramatic improvement that creates notable success at work/home
+3= Successful gain that brings me praise and appreciation
+2= Success that is short lived but enjoyable
+1= Creates a good feeling but not much beyond it
-1= Minor setback, does not affect me much
-2= Problematic event but easily managed within my immediate world
-3= A public setback, one that impacts my reputation
-4= A major defeat in an areas that I have devoted much energy
-5= Major blow to finances, reputation, or health
Answer the following questions
What can I do to prevent the likelihood of a negative event occurring?
What can I do to mitigate the effects if it does occur?
What can I do to create a positive outcome?
How do I build momentum to make that happen?
They go on to state “This model enables us to focus on the positives and potential wins by acknowledging and managing the negatives and potential losses.” And “Resilience changes our perspective on stress in that it moves us from a state of pain to a state of gain.
To review more on thoughts, feelings, a behaviors look here.
This blog post was adapted from the first part of the book The Resilience Advantage: Stop Managing Stress and Find Your Resilience by Richard Citrin and Alan Weiss PhD.
Burnout risk may be around the next corner. What is the risk that at any given moment you will experience burnout? The answer depends on a number of factors you face in the day to day. Some of those things are beyond your control and others that are within your power to change. The issue to to find the factors that you can change.
The type of environment in which you live and work can push you toward burnout or protect you from burnout’s grasp. Your job is more than just a list of tasks and may extend beyond the workday. Your work environment is comprised of:
Interpersonal Relationships at work
The number of hours you work
And the setting in which you do your work
Working from home.
The demands of the job also have an impact. As more people are forging into the digital arena job stress is often on location at home as well. Setting poor boundaries around work can mean always being at work and never really being home.
The people with whom you work can make the job seem easy or like drudgery. Looking at the ways in which you interact with co-workers can tell you a lot about this area. Having a group of people who respect one another and work together makes the job much easier and likely more efficient as well. The only aspect of this area you can control is your own part in those relationships. Do you tend to be uplifting or a drag at work? Are you a complainer or an optimistic problem solver? Looking at your part can improve the whole if you are not happy with your work relationships.
The number of hours you work has a big effect on whether you will experience burnout. One study showed that there was a 12%-15% increase in the odds of burnout for every 5 hours per week worked OVER 40 hours (McMurray et al. 2000). So keeping yourself to 40 hours (or less) can go a long way to helping prevent your chances of burnout. Again this is more challenging in a digital work environment where work may occur at the dining room table. Setting clear boundaries around the work and sticking to those boundaries will help limit your risk.
Location, Location, Location
Work setting is becoming more and more difficult to define. When I was growing up my father went to a job in a certain location and returned home at the end of the day. Forty some years later my brother works from home from his laptop and rarely goes to an office setting. It’s very important for my brother to set limits with his work and define what a workday means for him. If he sets poor limits he can find himself working more than is healthy for him.
Time, Time, Time
There are many jobs in which shift work is a part of the setting. Those who work in factories, healthcare workers, and as well as retail workers are working shifts. This can mean working two or three shifts over the course of a month making home life much more difficult to manage. Another aspect of time, is rotating schedules in which each week there are different days you may have off from work. Trucking can be like this. All of these can work for you if you pay close attention to your personal needs. For me when I was working shifts it was most important for me to know which days I would work and which I would have off and when ever possible that those work days all occurred on the same shift rather than in rotation.
Recharging, Rebooting, Recovering
Take the time to notice what stresses you out. Look at what gives you a boost and helps you to recover from work. Look at what is meaningful for you in your day to day life —interacting with your children, spouse, friends; honing some kind of talent that has nothing to do with work; learning a new skill; taking up a new hobby or developing one. These are all methods toward warding off burnout in the day to day. If we are workers only we are set up for burnout in ways that often sneak up on us. Having a broad range of interests that you make time and space for in your life goes a long way to decrease your burnout risk. Partly because there are other things you find meaningful, but you will also be more likely have others who can clue you into what’s going on with you if you begin to show signs of burnout.
So what’s the take-home?
You have to be willing to make change where it is possible (within yourself) even if it is scary to do so. Having confidence that you can manage whatever the results of your efforts will be helpful. Take a long look at what may be burning you out in your work and make some tough decisions.
Often just asking a few questions will create a space in which you can look at things more objectively and make some meaningful change for yourself.
Can I change any part of the work environment which will in turn decrease my stress?
What can I do?
What is beyond my control to change?
If I don’t stay at this job, what then?
Another burnout risk is your thinking style. Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full person? What kind of thoughts do you find yourself having most in relation to work? People who are less flexible in their thinking are more likely to develop burnout than people who are more flexible in the way they think about things. For a great Youtube presentation on thinking style and stress check out Doc Mike Evans here. For more on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they relate to stress check out the June post here.
Thanks for dropping by the stress nest.
Have you experienced burnout? What strategies worked for you to manage/eliminate it?
Burnout prevention is a topic that seems to go unnoticed. If we want to be healthy then preventing burnout is key. The question is how best to go about burnout prevention.
Well, like most things related to health, the answer is–it’s different for everyone. The study of stress shows that we all respond to stress differently. Knowing more about how you respond to stress will carry you closer to knowing your own best strategy or strategies.First let’s look at the different levels of prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary.
Primary Burnout Prevention
Primary prevention occurs prior to the onset of any burnout symptoms. This kind of prevention comes in the form of counseling about coping with stress and considering what stresses uplift you versus those that are more difficult for you. Think public service announcements.
Secondary Burnout Prevention
Secondary prevention comes when an individual arrives at some awareness of symptoms by happenstance. This is what happened when I visited my healthcare providers for usual check ups and found that I had several stress related issues. I was completely unaware of these symptoms until being seen by my healthcare providers. They were able to pick up on these symptoms and inform me. Think a kind of stress surprise.
Tertiary Burnout Prevention
Tertiary prevention is a process of keeping known illness from causing lasting damage through rehabilitation and prevention of relapse. I was engaging in this type of prevention when I made decisions concerning my work/life balance that subsequently addressed the symptoms that came to light in secondary prevention. Think total behavior change at this stage.
Role of Emotions
Looking at your emotion management can help you look at your burnout potential. One of the most beneficial emotions when addressing stress is confidence. Feeling confident that you can effect change in your environment cognitively, physically, and socially can go along way toward inoculating you against stress.
How can this be? Because, when stress arrives (as it always will), feeling confident within yourself that you can make meaningful change will serve to decrease the stress you feel. On the flip side if you are certain that nothing you do will effect change or help you will be left in despair.
Challenging your thinking helps you build new skills. Building new skills helps you address all kinds of stress more effectively. This process is not one we enjoy, but at some point we need to do something different. One of my mentors used to repeat the adage, “If you want something different to happen, you have to do something different.” You can review challenging your thinking here.
Questioning Around Stress
How do you find that different? Sometimes asking yourself a few questions can be helpful. Questioning the situation and your part in it will help you to shift your stress. Here are a few questions to get you started.
Which of my needs have been neglected?
Which of my abilities remain underdeveloped?
Which of my objectives are unrealistic?
Which of my thinking patterns are dysfunctional?
What in my environment is a burden?
Are there things I don’t know about the things I find stressful?
What parts are missing?
What am I not seeing?
Are there areas that I am avoiding?
What one thing can I change which will result in the best outcome?
Is there a way to reclaim a portion of my freedom/autonomy?
What must I resolve to move forward?
Often simply answering the questions above will cause some movement in areas that may have had you stuck.
Give it a try and let me know what you think. Have a great week. Thanks for dropping by The Stress Nest.
I have been making my way through a book on burnout–Burnout for Experts: Prevention in the Context of Living and Working–a compilation edited by S. Bahrer-Kohler. A hefty tome which is taking me some time to move through. Here at the first of the year–a new year, and (depending on who you ask) a new decade I thought it would be fitting to do a few posts on the phenomenon of burnout. What it is, how it manifests, and what we can do about it. I myself have been visited by the burnout bug. It’s one of the reasons I decided to make some changes in my work/life balance, but more about that later. Burnout is a classic consequence of unregulated stress.
In my work I talk regularly with individuals who are experiencing burnout. Many people are caught off guard by symptoms of burnout. I know I was, after all I am supposed to have all my stuff together right? Burnout can affect anyone and it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for it. Framing burnout as a consequence of unregulated stress helps people to better understand what they are dealing with.
What is Burnout?
According to Mirriam-Webster, one definition of burnout is “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” You can find the full definition here. I also consider burnout a consequence of unregulated stress.
In chapter 4 of Burnout for Experts–Burnout Symptoms and Cycles of Burnout– the author reviews burnout. Burnout in terms of work involves three basic components–
Lack of Professional Competence
Emotional exhaustion can sap the life out of anyone. It’s that sense that no matter how hard you work you’ll never get ahead. Recognition for work is a piece of it, but also the match between you and your co-workers. If you are a generation X worker surrounded by baby boomers (or vice versa) there may be a mismatch in the way you and your coworkers approach work that can increase your chances of burnout.
Cynicism can also wreak havoc on your life in general including your work life. Again according to our friends at Merriam-Webster Cynicism is: “1. The doctrine of the Cynics and 2. Cynical attitude or quality.” Anyone in the dark? That leads us to look up Cynic which–drum roll please– is “a faultfinding captious critic.” Captious is “marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections.” Well enough said, this kind of attitude is likely not to make you any friends on the job, but when you start to notice cynicism in yourself or others, it may be a sign of BURNOUT.
Lack of Professional Competence
Lack of professional competence is a difficult one. Because the author did not tease out her intended meaning. I see this as both a potential symptom of being a new on the job and of burnout. These of course can overlap and the author does suggest that young people are more prone to burnout because of not having a lot of experience and expertise on the job. We older workers have likely seen a number cycles of the job and tend to be less influenced by the ebb and flow of these cycles. Competence to my mind is another matter and can increase or decrease based on your stress levels. You’ve probably had an experience at least once in your life when you had prepared for some event or challenge and then came up blank. That can happen more often when we experience unchecked stress.
What causes Burnout?
Any overly stressful situation or conglomeration of situations can cause burnout, but the author also notes that burnout is influenced by the following:
Lack of control over decisions
Undermining of Teamwork
Lack of fairness
Conflict between core personal values and job.
Workload is not just about the amount of work, but also about the amount of time allotted to do that work. Business continues to press workers to “do more with less” and grind out the product. Whether that product is a thing or a service being pressed to do more in the same amount of time is a recipe for burnout.
Long hours can cause issues as well. I also believe that the advent of smart phones and internet have increased burnout because many workers are in essence “always available.” These devices have blurred the lines of what it means to be at work. I have counseled many people on being available after hours and working to set limits on work where possible. Setting limits with managers who want to regularly contact you after work hours can be difficult because we want to show that we are ready and able to take on the work. But being over zealous in this can lead to a cycle of never having down time which of course can then lead to burnout.
Lack of Control over Decisions
This is a big one. It’s one of the biggest factors I think that leads to burnout. The sense of being stuck in the middle with no power. Few of us want to be in this position. Often it is not the stress of the work that leads to burnout, but the situation of having little to no autonomy as to when various parts of the job get carried out and how. We can’t all be the decision makers at work, but if we can find some part of our work that we control this can be protective against burnout. Also having the confidence that you can change jobs if you wanted to. Feeling stuck is never a good feeling and can push us to burnout if not addressed.
Working for an institution that does not value teamwork can be stressful. I’ve had managers that seemed to actively work at squashing teams. Teams that work well together can really crank out work which can leave others looking bad by comparison. Feeling undermined can push workers toward burnout which then tends to show up as missed work days. Sometimes because of illness and sometimes because of just plain feeling fed up. All of this can be avoided if managers value teams and encourage them to flourish.
Lack of Fairness
Lack of fairness affects workers at every level of business. From factory workers to physicians each sees when he/she is not being treated fairly. While we often can’t control this as workers, we may be able to control where we work. On an organizational level businesses can ferret out where fairness is an issue by looking at where turnover is high. Departments that have difficulties retaining workers are often areas where a lack of fairness is high.
Conflict Between Personal Values and Job
The conflict that can arise between one’s personal values and how you must perform on the job can push workers toward burnout. Finding a job that better represents your values can go a long way to avoiding this.
Other issues that can influence burnout are the state of your personal relationships, how you are sleeping, and how well you are caring for yourself away from work. Look at previous posts on sleep, eating, and relationships. We will continue to look at various aspects of these in coming weeks.
Let me know what you think about your experience here at the Stress Nest. Leave a comment or drop an email. Whatever works for you. Your feedback will help me to tailor the content such that you are finding what you need here.
Thanks for dropping by and Have a Wonderful day~ Lynda
Going green, so to speak, is one way of decreasing your stress. I am not talking about the green revolution in which you reuse and recycle, but rather something that is starting to get more recognition in city planning across the United States. Namely having ready access to green spaces as a means to help increase social cohesion and decrease overall stress levels in populations.
Hopefully we can all appreciate how stress relieving it can be to spend time in nature. What has been a hunch of those providing care is now being born out scientifically. If you are a person who has access to nature (i.e. trees, wild animals, grasses, water expanses, etc) bravo. One way to help decrease your stress is to get out and take a walk in the great outdoors.
Location, Location, Location
One aspect the article mentioned is having tested two locations or conditions. Walking along either a busy street OR walking in a forest preserve. They were able to show over the course of the study that those who walked in the forest had lower perceived stress levels. So while walking in general helps lower stress levels as discussed in previous posts (here and here) we now finding that the location of the walk can amplify the effect.
Make it Meaningful
So what does this mean for the average person like you and me? Well, to my mind this represents a very low cost means of accessing stress reduction. Finding a place to walk in nature near you could be the biggest contribution you can make to your overall stress in 2020. If you live in a large city this may be more challenging. Many larger cities have started incorporating green spaces within walking or commuting distance.
If you can take the time to get to a green space once a week or more to take a walk (some studies suggest that you can even sit and just be in the green space) for 30-50 minutes, you will go a long way to helping reduce your stress. As we’ve discussed previously intention makes the meaning. Setting aside/planning a time when you will spend time in nature will make it more likely to happen.
What Constitutes a Green Space?
ANY location of relatively unspoiled nature. It can be a small park at the end of the block or a large forest preserve. It can be a location with a large expanse of water with unobstructed view. A beach can be a green space. A mountain, a large field of grass with a path, a fitness path.
Whatever is available near you. I find it much easier to go green and decrease my stress when access is relatively close. There are several in my community less than a 20 minute drive from my home.
Find It and Use It
Once you find your local green space be sure to use it. Also by linking other stress reducing habits you’ve built you can increase your overall effect. For example, you could make it a part of your DIY stress kit as discussed in a previous post. You may even decide to make it a part of “unplugging” from technology if only for the time you are spending in nature. I once walked several sections of the Appalachian Trail and found no need for music or distraction. Nature had me completely enveloped. And while not every aspect of that adventure was stress free (let’s just say there were tears) I did find that I slept very well while out in nature. Since striking out into the back country is not everyone’s idea of “stress relieving” take a moment to consider simply going to a local park and sitting or walking for 30-50 minutes. You may find that your stress levels go way down.
Give it a try making an effort to go green and decrease stress may work so well you can relinquish your gym membership. Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Try it out and let me know how it works for you.
Thanks for dropping by The Stress Nest.
I hope your 2020 is filled with much more fun and much less stress.
Attitude and stress have an interesting interaction. We often feel justified in feeling upset or resentful when stress is high, but research suggests that cultivating a more positive attitude may be more beneficial to our physical and mental health.
Bad-itude or Gr-attitude?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary resentment is “an indignant sense of injury or insult received or perceived, a sense of grievance; (a feeling of) ill will, bitterness, or anger against a person or thing.” It defines gratitude as “the quality or condition of being grateful or thankful; the appreciation of an inclination to return kindness; gratefulness.” Choosing gratitude over resentment is a choice that leads to more benefit both for you and those around you.
Okay so what’s the point?
When we cultivate gratitude our bodies respond by increasing our subjective sense of well-being likely through activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that induces calm). When we are grateful we have lower heart rate, better immune response, and a higher sense of positive well-being. Conversely when we are resentful our heart rate increases, our immune system struggles, and we have higher tension which in turn increases our feelings of anger or bitterness toward the world. Check out this article in psychology today which talks about the benefits of gratitude.
Can I really choose?
Yes, you really can choose gratitude over resentment. There will always be situations that increase our stress, but we can choose to get mired in the negative aspects or focus more on the positive parts of our lives. This may mean letting go of hurt and identifying where things are going right in our lives. While the driver that cut you off in traffic this morning can increase your resentment in the moment, holding on to that is a choice. When you look at the whole of your life that momentary hurt doesn’t amount to much, but when you hold on to that throughout the day you are doing damage to yourself and possibly those around you.
For the most part it’s up to you
I’m not suggesting that you ignore injustice or harm, but much of what stresses us out in the day to day isn’t about world peace or even what’s happening in much of the world. Typically it’s about things in our lives much closer in. What I call “toothpaste issues.” If you are prone to resentment you can choose to make a shift. This won’t happen over night, but as you consciously choose to focus more on the positive over time you will notice a shift. Most of the time making that shift is about looking at what can be done about what irks us and then taking action or choosing to let it go. If you want to take a deeper dive into changing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors check out a previous post here.
Cultivating gratitude creates an attitude that will decrease your stress. Start creating a more positive attitude by:
Taking time to say thank you to those you interact with is a powerful way to step into gratitude.
Thank everyone from the neighbor who shoveled your walk to the cashier at the store.
This helps to cultivate positivity.
I have been amazed at the number of people who are genuinely touched when thanked.
Keeping a journal of gratitude–
Take note of things that you are grateful for , review the list, and add to it regularly.
This activity can help you realize on a difficult day that all is not bleak.
Taking time to let go of old hurt is a great step toward unburdening yourself.
Holding on to hurt is not the same as holding others accountable.
Holding onto hurt only makes you miserable.
Letting it go helps you feel lighter and happier.
How can you start cultivating gratitude today?
Thank you for dropping by.
Please a comment about what you’d like to see more (or less) of as we move into the new year.