Everyone experiences stress from time-to-time. At home, at work, in our families. And, of course, in wider society. Particularly with the ongoing impact of Covid-19, which seems to be affecting almost every aspect of our lives.
There is evidence that low to moderate levels of stress can be helpful, providing focus and motivation, increasing productiveness. However, when your stress becomes so massive that it threatens to overwhelm you and drown you, it’s time to take radical measures to avoid burnout.
Have you experienced such extreme and ongoing stress? Maybe in work, at home or following one or more traumatic events?
If so, consider these three strategies to help you better cope with stress and prevent burnout.
1. Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself becomes very important when you’re trying to prevent excessive stress and avoid burnout. If some aspects of life are causing you to feel burned out, it can seriously affect your physical and mental health.
Two ‘quick wins’ that can help you address the issue are to exercise regularly and to eat regularly and healthily. While these may seem simple—and obvious—things to do, not everyone pays adequate attention to their diet and moving their body. However, both these things hold great power.
Think about this. Working out is a natural stress reliever and releases endorphins which can help balance your mood. Plus, when you’re stressed, you might have more of a tendency to eat junk food and crave sugar. Therefore, it’s crucial in stressful times that you make sure your meals are healthy, and you eat reasonable portions of well-balanced food.
It’s also worth looking at your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant and, while it might seem to relax you in the short term; overall, it can have a negative influence on your mood.
2. Learn how and when to say “No”
One of the biggest problems that can lead to burnout is feeling unable to say “no.” If you have difficulties setting boundaries with others when it comes to your workload, taking on tasks or meeting other people’s expectations, it can massively add to your stress. Okay, there are times when your boss says that you need to do something, and you have to do it. All too often, though we take on more than we need.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my boss ask me to spend personal time working on projects, such as on weekends?
- Have I had to readjust my schedule last minute to meet a task request?
- Are my friends/family/coworkers asking me to do work that they really should be doing?
If you said “yes” to one or more of these questions, then it’s time to start learning how to say “no.”
Of course, there are diplomatic ways to do this. For instance, you may say, “Thanks, but I already have a lot on my plate right now.” Remember, you can find polite ways to say “no” while still being invested in the team and the mission of your organisation.
3. Making a change
If, despite setting boundaries, you are still struggling with burnout, then it’s time to start thinking big-picture. First, ponder on the following matters:
- Do you find your work fulfilling? Is the work the problem, or is it your employment situation?
- What would you really enjoy doing?
- Can you break down the steps you need to get from where you are to a situation that would be more satisfying?
Indeed, burnout can be a sign that you’re just not finding your work fulfilling anymore. So why not consider making a significant change? Ask yourself, for example:
- Is there an opportunity to apply for a different position in my company?
- Or is it time to switch companies or careers?
Remember, it is not uncommon these days for people to switch jobs or even careers several times over the course of their working lives. What you found to be rewarding ten years ago may not be the case now. Plus, your priorities in life might have changed, too.
4. Talk to someone about your stress
Talking to someone is always important when you are struggling with stress. It doesn’t matter if it’s workplace stress, difficulties at home or anything else. When you talk with a person whom you feel understands you and listens, it makes a big difference. Instead of holding in all of that stress, you can release it and unburden yourself.
You could do this with a trusted friend or family member. However, you need to watch out that both of you don’t get sucked into a negative feedback loop. That is, you share what stresses you, then they share what stresses them. Instead of feeling relieved, that only causes more stress for each of you.
For that reason, talking with a counsellor who specialises in anxiety and stress management can be very helpful. They will listen and be compassionate without getting sucked into your drama. They will help you see things more clearly, allowing you to defuse your stress and helping you set and maintain healthier boundaries.
When it all gets too much
Left untreated, stress rarely goes away by itself. Instead, it can build up and up until you reach a breaking point and something has to give. When that happens, it’s easy to turn to drugs, alcohol, self-harm and other dysfunctional coping strategies. You might even contemplate ending your own life.
In an ideal world, your life should be something that is enjoyable and fulfilling, not the cause of stress, anxiety and burnout. However, no job is perfect, life events happen, and some stress is likely to occur.
If you are finding life stressful, make sure you are taking care of yourself—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Learn to say “no,” and don’t over-schedule yourself.
However, if you are still feeling burned-out, maybe it’s time to take more drastic measures—make a change in your employment or seek professional help.