Seven Steps to Reducing Stress and Reclaiming Your Life at Work
By Deb DePorter, CPCC
According to the StressPulse survey by ComPsych Corporation completed at the end of 2003 and is still valid today:
- Employees in the category of high stress have increased by 15%
- More than 29% of employees come to work five or more times a year when they are too stressed or distracted to be effective 63% have high levels of stress with extreme fatigue or feeling out of control
- 32% have constant but manageable stress levels
- 43% lose one or more hours per day in productivity due to stress
The Definition of Burnout
At some point in your career you will experience burnout. No matter how much you enjoy your job there will come a time when you just do not feel like doing it anymore. If you could choose between being sick enough to stay home and not lying about being sick or going to work, you would actually choose to be sick!
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines burnout as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” Who has not felt stressed or frustrated in life?
The exact causes of employee burnout can vary from person to person. Employee burnout can be caused b the workplace, i.e. lack of recognition or lack of control, by the employee, i.e. unrealistic expectations; inability to set and maintain boundaries, or by poor employee/workplace match, i.e. personal values conflict with job values or lack of skills.
Employee burnout is not a temporary situation after a difficult workweek. It is a physical, emotional, and mental state of exhaustion caused by a demanding environment and/or the inability or desire to meet those demands.
Burnout does not happen only to those who are stressed or frustrated. Maybe there are no apparent problems or issues that need to be resolved. Work may seem to be going along smoothly. You get along with your boss, co-workers, and clients. Then suddenly one day you feel a tight knot in your stomach when you think about work.
You can’t seem to come up with any new creative ideas. You let your email pile up. You cringe when the phone rings. Yesterday you loved your job and today you hate it. You notice that you feel sick and take more days off to spend in the doctor’s office.
What could have caused this to happen? Many of us work long hours because we actually love our jobs. We have work that needs to get done and we choose to spend ten hours a day or more doing it.
Then one day we realize that many months have passed since we had a vacation, a full weekend off, or even a relaxing evening at home. There is no life balance in our lives. The scale has tipped over and we are just mechanically moving through our days.
We have less patience and coping with stress is becoming more difficult. Burnout out is caused by imbalance – an imbalance not caused by overwork, but by neglecting personal values. Not balancing the body, head, and heart leads to a misaligned life in which values of work, home, community, personal and spiritual lives collide.
Burnout provides an opportunity to stop and listen closely to your body, to your family and friends, and to your heart.
Stages of Burnout
Physical, Mental and Emotional Exhaustion
You may be holding it together at work and as soon as you get home you grab something from the fridge, collapse on the sofa, and remain comatose for the rest of the evening. Does this sound familiar? Doing more with less, having additional responsibility but not enough authority, or juggling with an unmanageable schedule is taking its toll.
Shame and Doubt
You are not feeling confident about the future and you are feeling lousy about the present so you may even start discounting your past accomplishments. You wonder if your colleagues, friends, or family members will detect that something is wrong.
Cynicism and Callousness
In response to that prolonged feeling of insecurity or vulnerability some people feel that there is only one thing left to do – put on the heavy armor and develop an attitude of looking out for number one. In the short run, the strategy often works. This hard exterior can eventually become a burdensome, self-defeating strategy.
Stress has many physical symptoms
Some are obvious while others are not. Obvious symptoms include fatigue, irritability, crying jags, anxiety attacks, loss of appetite or weight gain due to lack of exercise or overeating in reaction to stress.
Less obvious symptoms are teeth grinding, increased drug, alcohol and tobacco use, insomnia, nightmares, forgetfulness, low productivity and inability to concentrate.
Untreated burnout can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, headaches, depression, chronic illness and chronic diseases. After an extended period of time burnout can cause physical and mental breakdowns, which include suicide, stroke or heart attack.
Burnout will affect how you do your job. It can show up as poor job performance, absenteeism and lateness, lack of motivation, and poor customer service. The cost of burnout is high to both workers and employers.
There is hope! There are several techniques and tools available to help you move beyond burnout to deliberately living a life on purpose that is balanced, fun, creative, and valued.
Seven Steps To Reduce Stress
1. Pursue the Joy of the Unpredictable
We derive joy from pursuing interests and passions that do not produce any obvious benefits. Unfortunately many people believe that joy should reside in the world of hobbies or retirement. Not so! Do something that gives you energy that resonates with you and motivates you to jump; no, fly, out of bed in the morning.
Joy is about surprises and the unexpected. It’s not tranquil and it’s not spurred by attaining material possessions. It’s about feeling the thrill of life. It’s about experiencing moments that you will never forget.
2. Start Liking Yourself
You will find on the outside only what you possess on the inside. Deep down most of us do not have a lot of self-respect. Use your downtime to fix whatever problems keep you from following the best track. Self-discovery and self-improvement are a good start. As a result, improved self-respect often produces better jobs, better outlooks, and better lives.
3. Spend Time with Family and Friends
We tend to hide both physically and emotionally from loved ones and colleagues when we are burned out. We feel embarrassed because we are always canceling commitments or making excuses why we cannot commit. Instead of using downtime to reconnect with loved ones, we wallow in quit.
It is too easy to get caught up in our work. It is too easy to treasure our trash and trash ourselves. We may feel important at work but we are only truly valued when we are with family and friends. We can be replaced at work. Our friends and family stick with us.
Burnout may be reserved for people who have more choices than they appreciate. It is an early warning system that can help us get back on track. Burnout may just bring with it a more satisfying life for you, your family, and your future employer.
Listen to the disappointments, the sadness, and the regrets from your family and friends. There is truth behind the emotion that is calling to you.
4. Change the Way You Look at Stress
One way to change stress is to change the way in which we interpret any stressful event. We change how we interpret an event by changing how we think about the event. Instead of saying, “I can’t do this, it won’t work out”, try saying “I will break this project down into small steps and talk with my manager later to negotiate more time.”
Even slightly changing how we choose to evaluate an event will greatly decrease the amount of burnout we feel. Try to eliminate words and phrases such as ‘Hate”, “can’t stand it”, “no way”, etc.
Make a list of those negative words or phrases that you most often use, and then flag them each time they are said and replace them with a more neutral word or phrase.
5. Build Your Personal Foundation
The personal foundation process involves deliberately investing in one’s self. A strong personal foundation includes 10 distinct stepping stones which, when linked together, provide a solid yet personalized base on which to build one’s life. In a world that sometimes appears to be built on quicksand, we all need a personal foundation base.
This includes some foundational components such as reduce and eliminate tolerations in your life, simplify, create and use daily habits, creating reserves, and reorient around your values. If you cannot manage this on your own, I recommend finding a personal or life coach to help you in the process.
6. Work to Have Fun at Work and Build Creativity into Your Day
You do not need to throw a party to have fun at work. You can have fun by talking to a co-worker, listening to music, or by just increasing those tasks that you enjoy at work. Attempt to complete tasks that you do not enjoy right away so you do not think about them all day.
Check with your manager to see if you can eliminate or delegate these tasks to someone else. If you honestly cannot find anything you enjoy about your work, you might not be experiencing burnout at all, but a true feeling of needing a new job. This might be a good time to do some self-discovery work, take a career assessment, or hire a career coach.
If you go in the same door everyday, sit at the same desk, and start the day off with the same phone calls, a routine can easily lead to boredom. Add some job creativity to your day. For example ask to change your start time, redecorate your office or cubicle, or ask to take on some new tasks that you enjoy.
Do not ask to take on additional busy work. It is far more important to ask to take on a new assignment that will fuel your creativity, add interest to your day, and give you positive feelings.
7. Ask for Some Control in Your Job
If you need permission to take control, ask your employer to take a risk by allowing you to take control over your job for one week to see if production increases. If they do not allow you to take full control, ask for control over one small aspect of your job. They slowly ask for more and more until you have as much as you want.
How to Stay Motivated and Live in Balance
Honor your own values – 365 days a year/24 hours a day
Live life authentically
Appreciate and acknowledge who you are – NOT what you do
Become more conscious about how you are with others
Access your heart to help you manage the feelings of stress and manage burnout
You do have a choice about how you feel
Get help when you need it
Deborah DePorter, CPCC, RCC Licensed HeartMath Stress Management Consultant and Coach Author: Get Your Life Back Today: Overcoming Chronic Illness One Day at a Time C.H.A.N.G.E. Associates, LLC P.O. Box 650338 Potomac Falls, VA 20165 571-276-5528 – E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.changeassociatescoaching.com http://www.getyourlifebacktoday.com