How to Manage Stress and Avoid Workplace Burnout
How well do you manage stress? In small doses, stress can help us to perform well and rise to the challenges that life and work throws at us. But in higher doses, it can be life threatening. If you don’t manage stress levels, you may experience burnout.
As a headhunter, I used to spend 60+ hours working every week, with little support from colleagues. At one point, I started getting awful symptoms that at times made me think I was having a heart attack. At others, I felt physically exhausted, depressed and started suffering panic attacks. After numerous tests, my Doctor told me to choose between my job and my health. I was suffering from burnout (and yes, that’s a real diagnosis). That was 20 years ago, and I have been on an amazing journey ever since…
Manage stress, or suffer the health consequences.
The direct consequences that stress can have on your health are huge. Not only is it hugely emotionally draining, but stress and high levels of the hormone cortisol are also linked to the worsening of many physical health conditions – high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, obesity, asthma… the list goes on.
Everyone has stressful times. However, most people would assume that this stress is usually experienced mostly at work, with home remaining a calm space to retreat to at the end of the day. However, for many, this is not the case. In a study published by the Journal of Science and Medicine, the majority of participants were found to be happier at work, than at home.
Is there a stress gender split?
Interestingly enough, the study found a significant gender split. While men said they were happier at home, women reported feeling happier whilst at work, because there they were only expected to perform one role and could tackle their workload task by task (Nannette Fondas, author of The Custom Fit Workplace). Juggling the roles of wife, mother and housekeeper was found to pile the pressure on – overwhelming people and leading to stress. The scary thing is that the stress hormone cortisol can actually be contagious, and therefore spread through a family like wildfire. So a stressed mum, means stressed children. And so the cycle continues.
With so many health hazards already out there, why add another to your list?
Five simple ways to help manage stress:
Sometimes we get too caught up in life and forget to breathe. When you feel the increasing pressure of stress building up, concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth, long and deep. A simple breathing technique like this can trigger your body to release endorphins and reduce the production of adrenaline and cortisol, reducing the effects of stress.
The power of laughter is incredible. Make time for fun – whether that’s spending time with your kids or friends, watching a funny movie or doing something spontaneous. Laughter is one of the cheapest medicines, good for you both mentally and physically. In the short term, laughter causes you to take in more oxygen, stimulating your organs. It can also cool down your stress response and soothe all that pent up tension, resulting in a more relaxed feeling. In the long term, it can boost your immune system, relieve pain, improve your mood and even help you to cope with difficult situations.
3. Work with people who leave you feeling energised, not drained.
Why would you choose to spend your days with people who leave you feeling drained? I’ve learnt to say no, and to choose my clients wisely. Spending time with people who lift you up will give you greater energy, allow you to breathe and laugh more often, and help to manage stress (or reduce it entirely).
4. Make healthier lifestyle choices.
Working all hours of the day it can be easy to get caught up in the daily cycle and end up with bad habits. Do you spend most of you day sitting at a desk? Could you introduce standing desks, or take a walk whilst you’re on a call? Or introduce a lunchtime yoga class? Or maybe even get off the train or bus one stop early, to add a little walk into your commute. If you work from home, set a timer and run up and down the stairs every hour. Or arrange meetings away from your normal desk space. And when it comes to food, a little time goes a long way. Instead of grabbing a meal deal or some fast food, prep your lunch in advance. You’ll feel better for it, not just in the short term but in the long term too.
5. Write it down.
One of the cheapest therapists is definitely a pad of paper and a pen. When things get too much, stop, sit down, and write everything down. This brain dump will help to de-clutter your mind and allow you to focus more clearly on what you need to get done. It will also help you to identify the source of your stress, and therefore avoid it in the future…