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Beat Stress Before You Burn Out

Joel was one of the best employees on the team. He always came to work on time, seldom took sick days, produced top quality work and completed his projects on time, even if he had to stay late. Joel often assisted team members when they ran into problems on their projects. But lately, things have changed. Joel has been calling in sick, coming in late and complaining of stomach cramps and headaches. He’s irritable; both customers and coworkers have noticed a dramatic change in Joel’s behavior. Additionally, the quality of his work has decreased and it takes him longer to complete a project. What happened to Joel? He’s suffering from burnout, an affliction that costs businesses an estimated $300 billion a year.

We all experience a certain level of stress in our daily lives. Good stress, called eustress, provides stimulation, excitement, and a competitive edge. However, due to ongoing, sometimes unrealistic job deadlines, family demands, personal finance issues, relationship problems, and demanding bosses, even the most confident overachiever can be nudged off-balance. Stress takes a serious toll on your mind and body and affects your productivity.

Dr. Hans Selye, a stress research pioneer, describes stress as the “physiological reaction to external and internal events.” The mind and body become unable to relax after continued stressful events. Burnout is the physical, emotional, and mental response to constant, unmanaged high levels of stress. Stress builds until a person feels he can no longer control his world. The result is that he becomes paralyzed, unable to act. Sometimes these physical and psychological problems become severe enough to cause illness and a complete inability to function. The worker feels overwhelmed and his or her career is actually threatened.

Burnout can happen to anyone, at every level, and in any profession.

Symptoms of Stress

Physical symptoms:

  • Feeling fatigued, exhausted, or drained
  • Irritability/lower tolerance levels
  • Muscle tension, achy joints, headaches
  • Upset stomach or loss of appetite
  • Susceptibility to illness

Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression/hopelessness
  • Frustration
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Feeling powerless or trapped
  • Anxiety/nervousness

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Inability to laugh at daily situations
  • Social withdrawal from coworkers, peers, and family members
  • Change in job performance: increased tardiness or absenteeism and decreased efficiency or productivity
  • Self-medication—increased use of alcohol, tranquilizers, or other mood-altering drugs
  • Skipping rest and food breaks

Personal Stress Reduction Strategies

The type of stress in your life is not nearly as important as your ability to handle it and control it. It is critical to admit when the stress in your life is approaching dangerous levels. When stress starts to build, take immediate action. Don’t wait until things spiral out of control. Use the following strategies:

  • Keep your sense of humor
    A recent UCLA Medical Center study suggests that laughter and humor can help to reduce stress. Laugh: it’s good for you! Learn to smile and to look for the humor in the workplace. Sometimes looking at a problem in a different light can give you a new perspective and help you find a solution.

  • Pace yourself
    Use good time management strategies to help manage your workload. Set realistic deadlines and goals. Identify job activities that could be simplified or delegated and create contingency plans to deal with unexpected events.

  • Reinforcement
    Value yourself and your contribution to the company. Do the best work you can, even if you feel no one is noticing. Share your achievements with your boss. Vow to keep a positive outlook.

  • Release stressful feelings
    Being frequently angry, filled with rage or anxiety, is not healthy. Find a sport or exercise that works for you and make sure to schedule time for regular physical activity. If you become stressed out at work, take a brisk walk to help release pent up emotions and aid the body in eliminating harmful chemicals.

  • Practice good nutrition
    Stress robs your body of needed vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B and vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and zinc. A number of studies have concluded that stress increases one’s susceptibility to illness. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, maintaining a balanced diet and limiting the amount of caffeine, nicotine, and sugar promotes health and improves your ability to handle difficult situations.

  • Talk to someone
    Share your burden; discuss stressful events with another person. Often an associate, friend/loved one or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor can help you see the lighter side or offer a fresh approach to a problem.

  • Take time for yourself
    Take stress breaks during the day. Stretch at your desk. Take short vacations away from the job at least twice a year. It is important to take time off for yourself especially during stressful periods.

Burn-out costs businesses and individuals dearly, but it can be prevented.  By following some of the tips outlined here, you'll be better equipped to recognize the symptoms of stress and take action before the situation becomes dire.