Feeling stressed out these days? You're not alone. While tension and worry can be a natural part of life, unfortunately, we live in a society that normalizes feeling highly stressed out all the time. And living with these high levels of chronic stress can lead to a host of physical and mental health problems, including burnout.
We use the term burnout loosely, but from a clinical perspective, the World Health Organization describes it as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn't been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job; negative feelings or cynicism related to one's job; or, reduced professional efficacy.
The irony is that we work so hard because we care so much about our jobs, but when we experience burnout, we stop caring and don’t perform as well. While this feeling of detachment is an attempt at a coping mechanism to deal with the stress, getting a handle on your workplace stress before it reaches the point of burnout is an even better way to cope.
Name That Stress
The key to heading off burnout is to notice when your stress levels tip from the healthy good kind of stress, called ‘eustress’ to the negative, unhealthy kind of stress, called ‘distress.’
Eustress is motivating. Think of a big project you’re excited about—you feel energized and focused, you're confident in your skills and capabilities, and you’re excited to work on it.
That’s eustress at work—it keeps you engaged, makes you highly productive, and ensures you deliver on your commitments.
Eustress can feel good because it's usually also short-term. You get super-focused, and your performance and productivity improve. When the project is over, you feel the euphoria of success and move on. The stress disappears because you don’t need it anymore.
On the flipside is distress—that feeling when a project or situation seems beyond your capabilities to handle. You may feel anxious and worried, your performance and productivity take a hit, as does your energy and motivation. Distress can be short-term or long-term.
Spot Your Stress Signs
Even good, positive, energizing eustress can turn to distress when there's too much of it. I call this stress overload. When I’m operating at stress overload levels, my brain races, I can’t stop thinking about everything I need to get done, it takes me hours to fall asleep, and I wake too early. I often get a sore neck and I feel like I’m running through every day but getting nowhere. At the end of the day, I’m drained and dreading the next.
How about you? How does stress overload impact your body? Your relationships? Your sleep? Your productivity?
When you’re in stress overload, instead of trying to power through, make some positive changes. It’s not normal to be overwhelmed all the time, and your response should not be to just keep going until something gives. Pay attention to the signals your body may be sending that you're under stress, then take action the moment you notice it reaching—or passing—the tipping point.
So, what are your indications that you’ve tipped from eustress to distress? Most of us know our individual signs of a rising stress level: impatience, irritability, sleep difficulties, headaches, or a deep desire to lock yourself in a room with a good book and a box of chocolate (okay, that one may be unique to me).
Make a list and start watching for your stress signs. Chances are you’re living with many symptoms of stress overload right now.
Strategies to Destress
Many of us fall into the trap of believing that working ourselves to the breaking point shows great dedication and loyalty to our workplace. That’s old thinking. What actually shows great dedication and loyalty, to your employer and to your family and friends, is taking really good care of yourself so you can maintain a highly productive, positive, and engaged presence at home and at work.
Here are five strategies to start to get your stress overload under control:
1. Take breaks every 90 minutes. Research has found that people who take breaks every 90 minutes are more productive and more relaxed.
2. Set boundaries with work. Don’t check work email after hours, don’t work on weekends, and take your vacation time. When you recharge, you're far more relaxed—and productive.
3. Do one thing every day that fills your tank. Play catch with your kids, work on a hobby or passion project, or phone a friend. It can take less than 10 minutes, but it will have a huge impact on reducing your stress and increasing your resilience.
4. Focus on what makes you grateful. In my family, we share three good things that have happened during the day over dinner. Research shows that doing so increases happiness and well‑being.
5. Get more sleep. Seriously. Researchers found that sleeping too little—defined as fewer than six hours each night—was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burnout.
Taking time to care for yourself helps you be more productive and more engaged. Identify three actions you could take today to reduce your distress, stay in the sweet spot of eustress, and avoid the trap of burnout.
Originally published on Happify Daily
About the Author
Stephanie Berryman Stephanie Berryman is a leadership coach, consultant, and bestselling author. Her latest book is Working Well: Twelve Simple Strategies To Manage Stress and Increase Productivity.