Turn Stress into Wellness by Kerri Strauss
Strategies and Techniques for Preventing Burnout How to Turn Stress into Wellness Stress is inevitable; however, burnout is preventable. Yes, preventable. Clearly, we all juggle a lot in our daily lives including work, family, exercise, household chores, and other commitments. Many of us feel like we are running on “E.” Empty. Exhausted. Like we just can’t catch up. Perhaps we feel overwhelmed, get short-tempered, or have trouble sleeping. Maybe we feel completely physically or mentally drained from time to time. But what if those feelings are not temporary? When stress is not successfully managed and feel permanent, burnout can occur. What is Burnout? The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic stress that has not been successful managed.” Burnout affects us socially, physically, emotionally, mentally – essentially all areas of our life. The term “burnout” was first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger referring to chronic psycho-social stress. Burnout can cause fatigue, destroy ambition and sense of worth, and even lead to depression. Stress can come from a demanding work schedule, bad management, a toxic work environment, unfair treatment or compensation, a personal struggle, or unexpected bad news. When the demands (stress) outweigh the resources to cope, then burnout is likely. The key in defining burnout, though, is that it is chronic and not successfully managed. Stress does not cause burnout. Stress plus inadequate support resources causes burnout. Thus, learning strategies and implementing techniques to manage stress can prevent burnout – we can actually turn stress into wellness. 4 A’s to Cope with Stress
Remembering the 4 A’s can be very helpful. The 4 A’s are: avoid, alter, adapt and accept. When presented with a stressor, one can ask “is this something I can avoid?” Sometimes we can choose to remove ourselves from a stressful situation. For example, if your commute is stressful, try looking for a new job closer to home. Or if there is a person in your life who continually irritates you, find ways to create distance from them. If staying up late causes you to sleep through your alarm, avoid staying up late. Avoiding known stressful situations can have an immense impact. The second A is alter. Communicate clearly to let people know your expectations and capabilities. State your limitations in advance, for example, “I only have five minutes to talk,” or “I’m going to need another week to complete that project.” If hosting family parties is stressful, alter the venue and visit at their house instead. There are often changes we can make to alter stressful situations for a better outcome. Adapt, the third A, may include adjusting your standards or reframing the issue. If the long commute is unavoidable, try downloading a new podcast to make it more enjoyable. Another way to adapt is to make better decisions through the 10, 10, 10 rule. Ask yourself “how will I feel about this decision 10 minutes from now, 10 months, and 10 years?” Having this perspective can help us adapt to situations in a more positive way. The last A is accept and this one is known to be the most difficult. Accepting may include forgiving yourself and others or learning from mistakes. Don’t replay the stressful situation over and over in your head, instead, choose to focus on the positive aspects in your life and move forward. If we strive to avoid unnecessary stress, alter stressful situations, adapt to the stress if can’t be avoided or altered… or, finally, accept the things we cannot change, we can better cope with stress and prevent burnout. “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” – Michael Altshuler
You are the pilot means you are in charge of your life. One effective way to stay or become in charge of your life is through self-discipline. Self-discipline can seem difficult but can be simplified to one simple concept: automating your behavior. You don’t need more self-discipline than you already have if you establish new habits – default actions you can take when temped away from long term goals. But how do you do it? Research shows that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit. So, on average, that means it takes two months (66 days to be exact) to make a new behavior automatic. Each day you repeat the wanted behavior, you need less discipline to make it stick. It becomes automatic. Like brushing your teeth. When you are a child, you have to be reminded daily to brush your teeth. By the time you’re an adult, you do it habitually. Habits become routine and the brain follows the process, usually with little awareness. Developing new habits become routine overtime and this is the essence of self-discipline. At first, take baby steps towards new habits by introducing them one by one so they become part of your routine. There are some habits, though, that quickly impact other areas of life. Unsurprisingly, one of the most powerful habits that can lead to changing other patterns is regular physical activity. Studies show a good exercise routine may lead to reduced overeating, smoking, alcohol consumption and stress reduction. Another powerful habit can be waking up earlier, even 15 minutes can greatly affect each day, by reducing stress and hurry. Consequently, just one change in your daily routine can help introduce numerous other positive changes with little to no resistance. Additional strategies and techniques: Strategies are things you think about, decisions that direct your other actions, or plans you contemplate. Techniques are things you do, that you might improve with practice day by day, or skills you work on. - Keep a positive mindset: the mind-body relationship is powerful so it’s no surprise that keeping a positive attitude will improve your life in every way.
Fake it ‘til you make it. - Commit to continuous learning: continuing education can take many forms from a formal college class to a YouTube video. Too many people stop learning when they graduate high school or college. We all should strive to continually learn new things as this will help us analyze and grow – to make us better equipped to achieve our goals. Also, trying a new thing every single day or stepping outside your comfort zone, can help you discover new hobbies, meet new people, and face your fears. - Conduct daily or weekly evaluation: consider implementing a “15-minutes-a-day-routine,” in which you take 15 minutes every day to evaluate and reflect. This can be done first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, or in the middle. Whenever you decide to set aside 15 minutes to evaluate, make it consistent so it becomes routine. For some people, it may be easier to do this 15 minutes away from technology, for example, while going for a walk. Walking is a great way to clear the mind from other distractions and think deeply about short-term and long-term goals. For others, it may be helpful to write down these goals to analyze and commit. Writing down goals, creating to-do lists, and checking off each task can be helpful. For long-term goals, have benchmarks you can check off along the way. Another practice that helps reduce stress is to express gratitude for things your thankful for. Writing down three things that went well in your day, for example, can lead to increased happiness and reduced stress.
It’s important to get adequate sleep, exercise, set aside time to socialize with family and friends, and quiet time to breathe, do yoga, go for that walk, etc. It is generally best to avoid two high stress days in a row… and, on the flip side, generally best not to avoid two days of no exercise/down time/adequate sleep – essentially don’t let yourself skip more than two days in a row prioritizing self. There is a trend now with dread scheduling – when people look at their calendars for the next day or week and dread the things they must do. Take charge, right now, to implement change so this doesn’t continue to happen next week, month, or this time next year. You are the pilot. You are in charge of your life. Google calendar can help build time into your schedule, such as 30 minute time blocks for “catch up on emails,” or “brainstorming session,” “time for critical thinking.”
Lastly, remember iron sharpens iron. Surround yourself with those you need. Get a mentor, be a mentor. No one is alone. To make yourself better, recognize the mutual benefit of making others better. Successful people surround themselves with others who provide them with what they need to become the best possible version of themselves. Following just a handful of these strategies and techniques can create a more positive work-life balance, prevent burnout, and ultimately help turn stress into wellness.