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When stress flirts with burnout

When stress flirts with burnout
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First Published: Sun, Jan 24 2010. 10 09 PM IST

Disengage: It is crucial to lower stress levels.
Disengage: It is crucial to lower stress levels.
Updated: Sun, Jan 24 2010. 10 09 PM IST
Consider this. You are a professional who is accustomed to stress, but all the uncertainty and anxiety in the workplace these days is putting you under more pressure than usual. You feel burnt out. Are you?
Determine whether you’re suffering from burnout by assessing how you feel both mentally and physically, says Debbie Mandel, a stress management expert in Lawrence, New York, and author of Addicted to Stress. Mandel suggests asking yourself these questions about the signs of burnout: Do you have various aches and pains that come and go? Do you have trouble focusing? Are you very irritable with others and, if so, why? Are you having more conflicts than usual with people at work? Are you fatigued all the time?
Disengage: It is crucial to lower stress levels.
“Awareness is key,” Mandel says. “Just knowing this is happening is a start, because then you can work to counteract it.” Look for physical symptoms too, because stress can cause problems such as insomnia, backaches, headaches and chest pain, says Lorrie Elliott, associate medical director of the Center for Partnership Medicine, an executive health programme at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, US. Although these symptoms are often stress-related, if they are severe or persistent you should seek help from a physician to see if there are underlying health problems, says Dr Elliott.
Rebecca Weingarten, an executive coach and co-founder of DLC Executive Coaching and Consulting in New York, US, says her clients are reporting burnout even though they regularly operate under high levels of stress. “These are new stressors, like fear of the unknown, having to manage and motivate employees during very difficult times or keeping productivity up with a reduced workforce,” she says.
Prevention is the key
You can start by recognizing that this is a difficult time and that anxiety and uncertainty are now facts of life, says Robert Rosen, a psychologist and chief executive of Healthy Companies International, a management consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia.
Change your expectations from idealistic to realistic, he says: “Expect life to be tough sometimes but also expect that you are resilient and will bounce back. Focus on the positives in your life—such as family or hobbies—because it’s rare that everything falls apart at once,” says Rosen, who is also the author of Just Enough Anxiety.
Make time for exercise and be conscious of your diet. Good nutrition and exercise help fight depression and lethargy. Block out time for things you enjoy outside of work, such as painting, music or time with family, says Dr Elliott. “Set aside some time each day—at least an hour—where you focus on something relaxing and meaningful to you other than work,” she says.
It’s easily reversible
Regaining some balance between work and the rest of your life will relieve the stress and accompanying symptoms, says Gayle Lantz, president of the leadership consulting firm WorkMatters Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama. Try dividing your day into 60- to 90-minute chunks where you are highly focused on a task or project, then leave your desk and take a complete break from work, she says: “Go for a walk, have a cup of coffee, but leave the space where you are working and totally disengage for 15 minutes.” It’s crucial to lower the level of stress hormones in your body—the ones engaged in the “fight or flight” response. You can do that by meditating, even for a few minutes.
You can also help your colleagues by helping them concentrate on their work, rather than worrying about things such as the financial health of the company or who was recently laid off. “Get people to focus on execution, on getting their job done,” says Rosen. You will also need your team’s help to reduce your own stress, as you rely more heavily on its work.
Make sure to let each person who works for you know that he or she is very valuable and why, Weingarten says. “Acknowledge there are negative things happening, but that you all need to move forward in spite of them, and that when hiring starts again, they are the ones you will be thinking about for promotions.”
©2010/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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First Published: Sun, Jan 24 2010. 10 09 PM IST