Tag Archives: Self-Care

Danger: How to Avoid Work Stress and Burnout!

 Matchstick Men with Heads on Fire
5- Matchstick- Men -with -Heads -Burning- on- Fire -Image

Did you know that overwork and burnout contributed to more than 745,000 deaths worldwide in just one year? Yes, according to Psychology Today, a recent study from the World Health Organization, found that “over 60 percent employees suffer from workplace stress.” In today’s environment, the risk of feeling or becoming “burnout” has never been greater or more real. So even though we survived 2020, most of us approached 2021, cautiously optimistic that the worst was behind us, and that better days were coming with the COVID-19 vaccine. We hoped for the return to some semblance of normalcy and some relief from all the work pressures and life stressors. But here we are in the last quarter of 2021, and many of us are still experiencing a prolonged period of high stress and are at risk of becoming burnout.

In fact, many of us are now grappling with heightened levels of anxiety, renewed fear and uncertainty due to the recent surges in infection and hospitalization rates caused by the Delta variants of the COVID-19 virus, possible shutdowns, a return to the office, as well as the reopening of in person school. Therefore, it is fair to say that 2021, has not delivered the well-deserved break from the stresses of life that many of us hoped or wished for.

The Stress Curve-Image
The- Stress- Curve -Image

The Difference Between Stress and Burnout

Although many people use burnout and stress interchangeably, the two concepts are very different. The World Health Organization describes “burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” On the other hand, stress is an everyday response to the demands and pressures of life. Stress affects both our personal and professional lives and can lead to a decline in productivity, motivation, and mental wellbeing, as well as an increase in lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

In explaining the difference between burnout and stress, Forbes explained that “you can’t cure burnout  by taking an extended vacation, slowing down, or working fewer hours. Stress is one thing; burnout is a totally different state of mind. Under stress, you still struggle to cope with pressures. But once burnout takes hold, you’re out of gas and you’ve given up all hope of surmounting your obstacles. When you’re suffering from burnout, it’s more than just fatigue. You have a deep sense of disillusionment and hopelessness that your efforts have been in vain. Life loses its meaning, and small tasks feel like a hike up Mount Everest. Your interests and motivation dry up, and you fail to meet even the smallest obligations.”

Are You Burnout?

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world came to an halt, none of us expected it to last this long. Many employees cancelled vacation plans, stop participating in some social and leisure activities that were crucial to maintaining work life balance and overall well-being because of social distancing and quarantine requirements. Without these much-needed breaks and interactions to help them balance and reset, many employees are now experiencing burnout, struggling to maintain productivity, find purpose and meet performance expectations amidst the constant change and uncertainty in the environment. Some of the common signs of burnout identified by Psychology Today are:

  • Disillusionment/loss of meaning
  • Mental and physical fatigue and exhaustion
  • Moodiness, impatience, and being short-tempered
  • Loss of motivation and a reduced interest in commitments
  • Inability to meet obligations
  • Lowered immunity to illness
  • Emotional detachment from previous involvements
  • Feeling efforts are unappreciated
  • Withdrawal from coworkers and social situations
  • Hopelessness, and a helpless and depressed outlook
  • Job absenteeism and inefficiency
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Foggy thinking and trouble concentrating

So, are you burnout or at risk of becoming burnout?

Men Holding Batteries Changing from Full to Empty-Cartoon
Men Holding Batteries Changing from Full to Empty-Cartoon

How to Address Burnout?

In trying to better understand and address burnout, it is important to look at whether work stress leads to burnout or if burnout leads to stress. In this classic chicken and egg situation, it is easy to say that work stress causes burnout or to conclude that burnout causes stress. But although work stress and burnout feed off each other, research tells us that,  “burnout has a much greater impact on stress than vice versa. Once burnout begins, it develops gradually, building up slowly over time. Ultimately it leads to work being increasingly perceived as stressful: The amount of work is too much, time is too short, and stress is too great. When people are tired, their ability to operate effectively and efficiently as well as cope with stress decreases. “This means that the more severe a person’s burnout becomes, the more stressed they will feel at work, such as being under time pressure.” Therefore, ““Employees suffering from burnout should be timely provided with adequate support to break the vicious circle between work stress and burnout.”

Having established that burnout can lead to detrimental physical and mental wellbeing, it is crucially important that we take proactive action to practice self-care (See previous post) and protect our overall well-being.  While each of us have our own strategies to deal with workplace stress and guard against burnout, Psychology Today offers some additional strategies that you can apply to boost your coping and resiliency skills:

  • Set time limits when you start and end your day and stick to those. Ideally, don’t work on weekends or at least limit your work to a couple of hours on one weekend day but not the other.
  • Use assertive communication with supervisors to set boundaries with workload and expectations.  Learn to say no.
  • Create a life vision or career plan that includes work-life balance. Your career and financial success should be harmonious with your personal life, including your health, relationships, hobbies, and more. Plan your career in the context of your life, not the other way around.
  • Be your own good parent and prioritize your self-care. Care enough about yourself to want the best for yourself not only in your career, but in your health and wellness. When you get adequate sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, and allow time for hobbies, you will be more productive at work.
  • Recover from the disease of being busy. Use mindfulness practices to reboot your mind, body, and spirit. By doing so, expect higher productivity, fewer errors, more creative thinking, improved problem-solving and collaboration, and higher emotional intelligence at work.
  • Delegate and access support. Look at your to-do list and ask yourself, “Am I the best person to do this? Am I the only person who can do this? Do I enjoy doing this? Is this worth my time?” Outsource tasks you don’t enjoy, when possible. Identify where you need help and ask for it.
  • Start your day right. Establish a morning routine that works for you and starts your day on the right foot. If you are a planner, plan your outfit, a nutritious breakfast, and set the coffee maker the night before. If not, leave yourself time in the morning for self-care. Practice a morning meditation or set intentions for the day.

Until next time Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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How to Practice Self- Care- Tips -Video

For additional insights on this topic, check out the additional resources at:

The Surprising Difference Between Stress and Burnout | Psychology Today

How To Tell The Difference Between Stress And Burnout (forbes.com)

Rethinking Self Care: 5 Things You Need to Do Right Now

Self Care Isn't Selfish-Sign
Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

In my last post , I shared some of the key lessons I gained for 2020 and how we might apply them to navigating 2021 and beyond. I did not focus on the self-care piece, because I wanted to dedicate an entire article to the importance of taking care of ourselves and the consequences we face when we do not.

I will be the first to admit that, I have not always honored my own self-care or prioritized it. Until recently, I had a very narrow view of self-care. It was that extra thing I did at the end of a day, week, or month. I took pride in the fact that I travelled for annual vacations, never worked on my birthday, and pulled out all the stops to treat myself on my special day. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities and I am sure that you probably have your very own version of the same. However, the problem with this approach is that, it does not paint a full and proper picture of self-care and its importance to our overall well-being.

What is Self- Care?

There are many definitions of self care. One of the definitions I particularly like is from the -UK Department of Health Steering Group. Joining Up Self-Care in the NHS. 2003

“Self care is a part of daily living. It is the care taken by individuals towards their own health and well being, and includes the care extended to their children, family, friends and others in neighborhoods and local communities. Self-Care includes the actions individuals and carers take for themselves, their children, their families and others to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long-term conditions; and maintain health and wellbeing after acute illness or discharge from hospital.”

What is Self-Care? – ISF (isfglobal.org)

This definition emphasizes the fact that, self-care is a part of our everyday life and encourages us to take a broader view of self-care, one that includes the physical, emotional, mental, and social dimensions of our well-being. Therefore, we should not regard taking care of ourselves as a luxury. or as that optional thing we do when we find the time. It is an essential part of ensuring that we are caring for ourselves, as we carry our varied roles and responsibilities. I have often watched my friends, family and colleagues neglect to take care of themselves, as they poured all their time and energy into getting the job done, caring and providing for their families, studying, and meeting all the demands on their time.

The inevitable result is that they get sick, experience burn out, develop lifestyle diseases (diabetes, obesity, hypertension), develop poor sleeping habits, suffer from aches and pains and poor mental health.

For women, the tendency to neglect self-care is compounded by the fact that, society normalizes women as the primary care givers in the home. Women learn very early to shoulder their responsibilities, juggle multiple obligations, to not complain and carry on as best as we can. Men also struggle with self-care as they seek to fulfill their roles of provider and protector. Some neglect doing their annual physicals, internalize their emotions and fail to pay adequate attention to their nutrition. And at times, the stereotypes, and perceptions of what is “manly”, can prevent men from engaging in some types of self-care activities that can enhance their emotional and mental well- being. So, while some of us are better at taking care of ourselves than others, if you are reading this, your self-care practice might need some improvements

As a single mom, working fulltime from home, I have been guilty of neglecting my self-care and the reality of it – hit home for me last year. In mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic started, my team and I were deployed to work remotely from home. The team was relatively new, and we were still in the throes of group formation (you know how that process is), as well as learning about the agency we were established to support. Around that same time, I bought a new home and was working with contractors, while helping my 10-year-old daughter adjust to virtual school. The fear of getting COVID-19 was palpable, everyone was social distancing, and everything was stressful in preparing for the move. I was burning the candle at both ends and did not have much help.

No sooner than we had settled in our new home, George Floyd was murdered. This single act and the events that followed, affected me and people across the world in ways that I could never imagine. Growing up in Jamaica, I had not had to deal with the reality of race. And when I moved to the U.S. 8- years ago (see my Coming to America story), I had never experienced individual and structural racism, in the way that my black brothers and sisters here in America had. But, just the year before, my daughter had gone through a very painful experience with discrimination. The racial and social justice protests triggered both of us, and we struggled to make sense of how to navigate what it is like to be black in the country we now call our second home.

5 Tips to Improve Your Self- Care

During this time, my only self-care (more like self-preservation) was wearing a mask, washing my hands and social distancing. I was super stressed, suffered hair loss, felt irritable all the time, and just felt ‘dry” in every area of my life. I was not ok, and I had not put my mask on first. Fortunately, I had a comfort circle to help me work through it. I made some changes and committed to placing a greater value on my overall well- being. Becoming intentional about my self-care worked and I am in a much better place today.

So, here are 5 things you can do (right now) as you rethink your approach to valuing and caring for your whole self:

Make It Happen-Photo
Make It Happen-Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com
  1. Identity your stressors and know your signs: We all react to stress differently. And it is important for us to recognize what happens in our bodies when we are stressed. Signs of stress can range from (but not limited to) overeating, aching muscles and pains, tendency to self-isolate, alcohol abuse and drugs, worry, depression, irritability, feelings of anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness, or spikes in blood pressure. Knowing your sign(s) will help give you a heads- up to take actions to address it. Another key part of this is figuring out, what has helped you in the past to manage your stress and stay healthy.
  2. Develop a SMART Self Care Plan: There is no one size fit approach to coming up with a personal plan for self-care. We are not all athletes or meditation enthusiasts, so whatever works for you, will not necessarily work for me. The key is to focus on the essential elements (emotional, physical, mental) of sustaining your well- being. Draft your plan by outlining the specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time- bound activities, that you commit to doing in support of the different elements. So, for physical self-care, do not just say you plan to exercise more. Set a goal of walking 7500 steps x 5 days a week or taking 2 x 15 minutes break at work (a.m. and p.m.) and getting 7- hours sleep nightly.
  3. Find an accountability partner: This is the person or persons you share your SMART plan with and who will help you stay on track (or encourage you when you hit a setback.) This can be someone in your family, friend(s) or a colleague(s) who will check in with you frequently to see how you are working the plan. My biggest accountability partner at home is my daughter. She happily points out -when it is time for me to do my workouts, when to log off from work and how many dark chocolates I have eaten.
  4. Prioritize Mental Health: Mental health is no joke. The unprecedented events of 2020 brought this issue front and center and revealed that, we are all vulnerable and no one is immune. The grief of losing loved ones or coming close, the fear of getting sick, the uncertainty of not knowing when things will return to ‘normal’, loss of employment, economic challenges and social tensions impacted everyone. Yet, the stigma associated with mental health, sometimes cause us to not seek help, self-isolate, internalize our problems, pretend to be OK and suffer alone. This results in increased rates of depression and anxiety, loss of hope and purpose and the development of lifestyle diseases. So, if you are struggling in any area- please ask for help.
  5. Be a support for someone else: Truth is we all need people, and we need each other. If we are to be out brother’s /sister’s keeper, we need to be intentional about reaching out to someone that we have not heard from in while. Though your plate may be full, pick up the phone and call that person you just thought about and if you cannot call- text. This is the time to check on your “strong friend’. A listening ear or a quick word of encouragement might be the thing they need to brighten their day or give them the strength to push on.

Folks- it’s called self- care for a reason- you have to do it. Please take good care of your whole self!

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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