We have heard a lot about stress and burnout over the last year. These terms are now used on a daily basis by many but do we actually understand what they are and how they show up? More importantly are you aware of how to reduce stress and boost wellbeing with some easy and quick techniques?
Stress and burnout are two of the most common health issues that can affect wellbeing. Both are serious and can cause you emotional distress, physical ill health, and may require you to take time off work to recover.
In this article, we’ll cover what stress and burnout are, as well as give you a few ways to reset your stress response and hopefully find ways to avoid getting to the burnout stage.
Stress is a normal biological response to physical, mental, or emotional pressure. It helps you respond to things that require you to take action. Got out of bed this morning when your alarm went off? That’s your body in action responding to your autonomic nervous system which releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, stimulating you to get up.
Stress has a biological and physical response in our body causing changes to our heart rate, breathing pattern and immune system. It also causes changes in the way we are able to think and respond, causing more black and white thinking, less creativity and more emotionally charged responses to situations.
Stress becomes unhelpful when it is something that we feel exceeds our ability of what we can cope with. We often experience feelings of stress when we experience something new, unexpected or when it feels like we have little control over our circumstances and future.
We can differentiate between primary and secondary stress responses. Primary responses occur when we are first presented with a stressful situation in the moment. This is akin to the “fight or flight” response and is an evolutionary response to help you react quickly to a dangerous situation. Secondary responses are what happens when your body remains in this stressed state for too long, and these are the kinds of things that cause problems over time – aching muscles, heart problems, emotional difficulties.
Burnout is another name for chronic workplace stress. It’s characterised by feelings of exhaustion, an increased mental distance or cynicism about your job, and reduced efficiency at work.
You can have stress without burnout but you can’t have burnout without stress.
Essentially burnout is what happens when stress caused by work isn’t managed properly and you end up experiencing a secondary stress response for an extended period of time. Burnout is a serious issue which has been recognised as a syndrome by the World Health Organisation. Research has shown that if you are burnt out you are 63% more likely to take a sick day, and 2.6 times more likely to be actively seeking a new job. Being burnt out not only has a significant impact on your ability to cope with your work but can also have a negative effect on your relationships, your career and your health. If you are struggling with the demands of your job or feeling burnt out it is important to take action early and seek help if needed. Finding ways to change some of your thoughts, habits and behaviours can help reduce some of those pressures. There are however some quick easy ways to manage stress that may help you on a day by day basis.
While tackling burnout is often a longer term issue, there are a few easy things you can do to begin to reset your stress. These techniques are based on the biology of stress and how you can increase the hormones of oxytocin and natural endorphins to counteract the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline.
This is the Thrive Lab A, B, C, D, E model. For more details on these and to download them in a handy poster format, check out our infographic.
Engaging in physical activity can be a great stress reduction tool. Even just a short walk or running up and down the stairs a couple of times can help. Just 10 minutes of mild to moderate physical activity has been shown to be effective.
Breathwork is the most powerful and effective antidote to stress. Focusing on our breath and learning to breathe properly, using our diaphragm, can reset stress within a minute. Even the world's best surgeons use breathing exercises during intense long operations to remain cool and calm under pressure. Box breathing or 7/11 breathing exercises are some ideas to get started. If you are not keen on breathing exercises try singing as it helps you take deep breaths to belt those tunes out! The important thing is to find something that works for you.
Feeling deeply connected to another human being can boost our body’s levels of Oxytocin. From having a coffee with a colleague to a deep and meaningful chat with your best friend , it is vital to have positive and supportive relationships in your life to help combat feelings of stress.
Laughing and crying are both ways to release stress hormones. Laughter yoga is becoming increasingly popular and did you know having a good cry can release cortisol in your tears! Try watching a funny film or a tear jerker movie after work to get those emotions going. Also, creatively expressing your emotions through writing or drawing can be a good way to help you manage your emotions and release some pressure.
Nature has a beneficial effect on your wellbeing – so consider getting outside and taking notice of the natural world around you. Research has shown that taking an awe walk is a good way to boost wellbeing. An awe walk is a mindful walk during which you take notice of your senses and your environment. Taking notice of what is around you rather than being caught up in your thoughts can help to connect you more deeply with nature and give you a sense of perspective on your problems. If you are at work you could even consider taking your meetings outside. Also think about your work space. Can you brighten it up with a plant or a picture of nature? Research has found that just looking at scenes of nature can have beneficial effects on reducing stress and improving wellbeing.
So, next time you are feeling stressed try out one of these techniques and let me know how it makes you feel. If you would like help managing stress and burnout for yourself or your team at work then please get in touch with us at The Thrive Lab.