Get more out of life by tackling the sources of your stress
Stress, anxiety, burnout, depression…these words are all too common nowadays and if you haven’t experienced anxiety, burnout or depression yourself, you almost certainly know more than one person who has and you’re unlikely to have escaped feeling stress at some point. Understanding the symptoms, the differences and the risks and relating these to your own life can help you limit and reduce stress and hopefully avoid the more serious consequences.
…has various definitions, including it being the body’s reaction to a stressor. A more useful definition is that it’s when we feel we don’t have the resources (time, energy, etc.) to handle the workload (not just at work!). Like anxiety, stress can sometimes be a good thing, helping us to take action and do what we need to do. Some people say they thrive on stress and enjoy the motivation they get from it. If it becomes chronic, however, a way of life, it can have serious effects on health and relationships.
General Adaptation Syndrome provides a way of looking at stress that helps you to know what to watch out for. There are three stages:
Alarm – This is the “good” stage, where our fight-or-flight reactions are triggered and may help us to act, giving us energy and quick reactions.
Resistance – Ideally after the first stage, life returns to normal, the body stays on alert but recovers and repairs itself after the stress has abated.
Unfortunately, if we continue to feel stressed, the body tries to adapt and we might think we are coping, but in reality, we are using up our resources. Blood pressure and heart rate will stay higher than usual and there may be some early physical symptoms like headaches, digestive issues, sleep problems and irritability.
Exhaustion – If the stress continues without periods for recovery, providing time for the body to repair itself, exhaustion is what follows. This is the point where we have used up the body’s resources and the immune system is weak. If the stress continues there is a likelihood of developing more serious stress-related diseases (it’s a long, depressing list as most organs in the body are affected by lasting stress).
…is a natural emotion and not necessarily problematic – if you feel anxious at appropriate times, when there is something real to worry about and then you feel fine afterwards, that’s fine – but if it’s “excessive…., in the absence of an appropriate context it becomes a psychiatric disorder that warrants therapeutic intervention.” Anxiety disorders are an increasingly common problem and although there are many factors involved, stress is one of those that you can influence.
… happens when at the exhaustion stage of General Adaptation Syndrome though this only refers to the physical symptoms whereas burnout really refers to a psychological state. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) is the most widely used measure of burnout and measures:
- Emotional exhaustion – feeling emotionally overextended and exhausted by work
- Cynicism – becoming cynical about many aspects of life
- Professional efficacy – whether you feel effective at work
Most information and research refers to occupational burnout, caused by factors at work. However, caregiver burnout and parental burnout are also recognised and have similar symptoms, so it’s not just work stress you should be aware of, but any sources of major stress in your life. Whatever the case, by the time someone has reached the burnout stage, the effects tend to spill over into all areas of life – health, relationships, family, leisure time, sleep…
The process of burnout happens over time. It’s not the result of a few days or weeks of stress, but of months and months of pushing yourself past your limits with no recovery in between. It is more likely to occur in people that take on too much and can be influenced by ongoing negative situations at work.
…may be confused with burnout without a proper diagnosis as the two tend to have three things in common:
- Extreme exhaustion
- Loss of enjoyment / feeling down
- Reduced performance
Both burnout and depression leave a person feeling apathetic, with no energy to do anything and probably not caring either, so the usual stress management ideas don’t work. This is why it’s important to get help if you think you might be suffering from either of these.
Treatment & prevention
Treatment of anxiety, burnout or depression is long and the level of success depends on the individual as well as external factors. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you are in over your head. Once you get that far, there are no quick fixes, so it is really worth taking a little time to see how you can reduce the stress in your life NOW, and handle it better when it does occur.
Download my questionnaire about the stress in your life or read the article Reduce Stress, Avoid Burnout.