Stress is an essential part of our everyday lives and well-managed stress is healthy, motivating and drives performance. It raises our cortisol levels (stress hormone) to help us take action and then fall again quickly when the moment is over. Stress becomes unhealthy when it is constant and beyond the control of individuals, such as excessive workloads, poor management practices and expectations beyond peoples physical, mental or resilience boundaries. Our cortisol levels remain elevated.
There is a growing trend, even before the Covid 19 pandemic affected the whole world, of over work and is symptomatic of an “always on” work culture and has a corresponding rise in workplace stress. The constant bombardment of emails, expectations of instant replies, blurring of work hours especially with the flexibility of working from home, creates a 24/7 “availability culture” and harder to disconnect from work. Coupled with a growing use of digital media, technology and social media, can soon get out of hand and it becomes difficult for some to switch off completely, regulate time on devices and the “fear of missing out”.
Challenging situations such as the uncertainty of Covid 19, when there is no defined date that life can return to some normality or understanding what the overall local and global consequences will be, can grind down even the most resilient leaders. The hope we are clinging on to seems to stay constantly out of reach. Overwhelm can occur and we feel helpless.
It is a good time to remind ourselves who we are responsible for….and that is ourselves. Shock horror……
As leaders if we can’t recognise how we are doing ourselves, acknowledge it, and take action early, even though it may make us feel vulnerable, we not only put ourselves at risk but also those who look to us for guidance, support and feeling safe and secure. Vulnerability is actually a strength, it enables us to answer honestly when asked “how are you feeling emotionally”
We are the Captain of our own Ship and if we don’t pay attention to all the elements that keep the ship safely afloat, we can find ourselves off course, bobbing up and down on the waves floating in one place, or a sinking feeling like we’ve got a leak and taking on water, for example.
When we are feeling stressed, surrounded by peers or our managers who are stressed and those we lead. It can be very difficult to go about our day with autonomy, being aware of our personal strengths and weaknesses, of factors that can and cannot be controlled and of positive and negative social forces.
“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship”
Louisa May Alcott
What are the negative effective effects of stress
Relationships - Unchecked workplace stress can affect our relationships, both at work and home. It reduces our ability to connect and be present with people or focus on others.
Health - when we’re overloaded, it is not uncommon to make unhealthier choices, such as not eating properly, drinking too much alcohol or using other “stimulants”, not exercising. Our sleep patterns can also get disrupted, making us tired and increasing our cravings for sugar for example. Making us irritable with our partners or work colleagues. Cortisol levels remain elevated putting stress on systems within our body.
Burnout - this is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion and is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands. In the workplace it can lead to feeling unmotivated and losing interest in the job at hand and all the joy of the role you had. It makes us more vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu.
Thinking about Covid19 after the initial adjustments to workplaces and work practices, most settled into new routines. Frontline workers, particularly healthcare, eager to do what is necessarily to sustain life and provide comfort and support when required. But as time and severity progresses and second and third waves emerge, many have not had the opportunity to really have “time off” physically, mentally or emotionally for many many months and the symptoms of burn-out are starting to emerge. It is a gradual process, the signs are subtle at first but become worse as time goes on.
Signs and Symptoms of Burn-out
It is important to recognise in yourself and those around you the “red flags”, the early symptoms that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. If you pay attention and actively reduce your stress, you can prevent a major breakdown.
Recognising the difference between Stress and burn-out
Other factors that lead to burn-out
Time to hit pause and change direction
If you recognise any of the symptoms in yourself of impending burn-out or you’re already experiencing it, it is time to learn how to overcome burn-out and feel positive and healthy again.
Recognise - Watch for the warning signs in yourself and others
Reverse - Seek support to manage stress before it becomes chronic and burn-out occurs
Resilience - Build resilience by taking care of your physical and emotional health
Reframe the way you look at your work
Find the value in your work - Focus on the aspects of your job that you do enjoy, it might just be chatting with people at lunch, how your role helps others. Changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
Find balance in your life - Focus on the parts of your life that bring you joy, family, friends, hobbies, and set aside time, in your diary if you must, to experience new things or get back to the old things you used to enjoy.
It’s OK to have friends at work - having friends to chat and joke with during the day can help relieve stress, improve performance or simply get you through a bad day. It can get pretty lonely at the top if you remain aloof. Have a strong well communicated vision, ensure that everyone understands the contribution they make in their role and the value they provide to reach that vision. This can go a long way to create an environment of openness and calmness. Your employees are seeking leadership. Lead by example, empower, support and show them their value.
Take time off - with holidays, or sick leave, removing yourself (or others) from the situation before it becomes too big a problem and you and/or others are forced to take extended time off, causing extra workload and stress for those remaining. Start small ensuring everyone including yourself has adequate refreshment breaks during the day, you might like to give 10 minutes or so to do some simple exercises, doing this together can be fun and bonding. Encouraging taking in some fresh air with a walk outside for 10 minutes or so. Acknowledging it is OK to do this without feeling guilty. Lead by example.
Burn-out is also a sign that something important is not working in your life.
Take a moment to reflect on what is important to you, your goals and dreams.
Are you neglecting something that is important to you?
Use this as an opportunity to discover what really makes you happy, slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect, heal.
Set boundaries - Learn how to say “No”, don’t overextend yourself and find yourself with no time. Learning to say “no” allows you to say “yes” to the commitments you want to make.
Manage technology - set times of the day to check your emails. Set a time each day when you are completely disconnected with email, phone, or any other devices.
Set aside relaxation time - activate the bodies relaxation response, a state of restfulness. Try yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises.
Feed your creative side - try something new, use your hands, start a fun new hobby or resume one you have’t done for a while. Choose anything that’s not related to work (or whatever is causing your stress). Creativity is great antidote to burn-out. Activate that right brain for a change
Get plenty of sleep - when we’re tired we can think irrationally exacerbating burn-out.
Make exercise a priority - it is a great way to boost your mood right now. Aim to exercise 30 minutes a day, preferably outside or break it down into 10 minute spurts. Try and do an exercise that moves both your arms and legs like walking or swimming, dancing or martial arts, boosting your mood, sharpen your focus, increase your energy and relax both the body and mind. Whilst you're doing this exercise, focus on your body, how it is feeling? how are your feet touching the ground? or the wind on your face? this detracts you from focusing on your thoughts.
Eat a healthy diet -
Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates
Reduce caffeine, foods with chemicals and hormones, trans fats
Eat more Omega-3 rich foods e.g. oily fish, walnuts, flaxseed, seaweed
Cut down or quit smoking - nicotine can increase levels of anxiety
Reduce alcohol to within healthy guidelines - alcohol provides a temporary relief from worry but can cause anxiety as it wears off.
I see many clients in my clinic presenting with panic, anxiety, stress and burn-out and often this is impacting their coping skills to perform at work, as well as in their daily lives, which in turn causes them more stress. Taking action early, recognising your triggers and what's behind your emotional, physical and behavioural responses can enable you to improve your overall health and well-being and perform optimally, not only for you but your team also.
I just love this question from one of my clients on their 3rd session " Can what's happening here with me and the changes that are happening to me have an effect on my team? because everyone is so calm now, we're having lunch breaks form our desks, even going outside for walks and a breath of fresh air"
We have the power within us to not only change ourselves, but the impact this has on those around us.
Change ourself, change our team/family, change our community
If you want to start your Ripple effect, contact me today to Change your Mind and Change your Life