How To Handle Burnout And Toxic Stress In The Workplace

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work stress and burnout

Whenever you’re stressed, your cortisol levels, which is also known as the stress hormone, increase 2-5x from their normal state. However, not all stress is equal. Humans can experience two types of stress: short-term or chronic. The difference?

One has a clear endpoint while the other never ends. An instance of short-term stress would be worrying about meeting a deadline. Why? A deadline is a tangible goal with a clear endpoint, ultimately challenging your cortisol to excel toward it.

On the other hand, chronic stress is permanent, and will eventually rewire your brain. Your brain is in survival mode when you’re under chronic stress, causing you to focus less on higher-order tasks which provides no outlet for your increased cortisol. Overall, stress in the workplace can go on to make you feel burned out.

What Is Burnout?

work stress burnout

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies burnout to be a consequential syndrome caused by workplace stress, with symptoms of feeling exhausted, being mentally detached, and having poor performance. Interestingly enough, 51% of the American workforce have felt burned out more than once and 57% say stress generates feelings of being paralyzed.

Meanwhile, 43% of employees are invigorated by stress, which may be why 64% of U.S. workers feel stressed or frustrated while at work at least once or more on a weekly basis. Moreover, 77% of American professionals and 84% of millennials have felt burned out at least once. What are the causes?

In the U.K., employees have many theories that create a recipe for office stress. 44% report high-pressure environments contribute to their work-related stress, 38% say it’s due to a lack of support from management, and 30% say their leadership’s unrealistic expectations are what stresses them out.

In addition to those, 1 in 3 U.K. employees say technology is to blame. 45% say technology increases their workload, 33% say it gives them tighter deadlines, and 29% say it makes them feel socially isolated.

Technology is a double-edged sword, though, as mindful use of it can decrease your workload. Tech that helps you work smarter, not harder, such as messaging bots, Grammarly, Slack, and more can decrease your workload and, subsequently, your stress.

How To Cope With Workplace Stress

burnout and work stress

Although it has somehow become normal for stress to exist in our places of employment, it is survivable. In fact, burnout is best treated by making simple lifestyle changes.

Take it from Jacky Francis Walker, a psychotherapist and the man behind The Burnout Bible, who once said, “Someone on the brink will probably begin to feel emotionally numbed or mentally distant. Like they don’t have the capacity to engage as much in the ordinary things of life.” Saying this, here is how you can spot the signs of impending burnout, and what you can do to steer clear of stress.

The biggest red flag you’re on the road to experiencing burnout is that you have this unshakeable feeling your work quality is diminishing, and that you’re not showing your full potential. The first thing you should do in this case is to get to the root of the problem. As a tip: overwhelming time constraints, working for a company whose values are misaligned from yours, and oppressive work environments are often to blame for burnouts.

Furthermore, it’s important you establish a routine and prioritize each day you have on the clock. Having a routine that’s predictable can help you so that when stress does strike, it’s still manageable. Creating a list of tasks is also a great way to prioritize the things you need to accomplish on your day-to-day. 

By doing this, you know what to expect when you go to work as unpredictability can often cause you stress. In your lists, strive to have a semblance of balance that’s long-term rather than trying to cram everything into a single day’s work.

Bea Arthur, who is another psychotherapist and the Founder of The Difference, once said, “You know what is urgent in your life, like seeing your family and friends more… Even if the work is still there when you get back from vacation, you’ll come back better.” Keep this in mind as you reorient your workflow to preserve your mental state.

Lastly, here’s what you can do to reduce your stress hormones. You should work these tips into your daily routine as this is the best approach to staying stress-free long-term.

51% of Americans deal with burnout by talking to friends or family. In other words, socializing is among the best ways to reduce your cortisol levels since isolation will only increase your stress hormones. Sleeping is also important. Stress causes trouble sleeping and that, in turn, leads to stress — which is why 50% of Americans fight burnout with sleep.

On the other hand, 44% of Americans use exercise to combat their burnout and stress. By engaging in physical activity, you can reduce your cortisol levels. Similarly, any form of meditation or conscious breathing will help to slow down your heart rate and decrease the negative effects of cortisol. 30% of Americans fight burnout through regular meditation.

Most importantly, seek help whenever you’re feeling stressed — in the office or out. Support increases your resiliency toward stress; and the earlier you seek help, the more likely it is you’ll be able to avoid the complications it brings.

See Also: How to Relax After A Stressful Day At Work

Contrary to the norm, burnout isn’t inevitable. Read more below for more on chronic stress in the workplace.

Burnout and Toxic Stress
Source: Online PhD Degrees

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Author: Brian Wallace

Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, and hosts the Next Action Podcast. Brian has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019.

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