These Three So-Called Stress-Relievers Are Actually Making Your Burnout Worse
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Stress can cause us to gnaw away at our fingernails. It can keep us tossing and turning in bed. And it can cause us to transform into Cruella de Vil.
Stress has a profound impact on our wellbeing. In my book, Stress-Less Leadership, I discuss how stress alters your brain circuitry and has long-term effects on your mental well-being. Did you know that if you’re exposed to constant stress, you can experience depression, anxiety, burnout, and other mental illnesses?
Yes, burnout is now officially a recognized mental health diagnosis. The World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases, or ICD-11, a diagnostic tool for medical providers. Burnout is described as "resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." The ICD-11 burnout diagnosis goes into effect with the new guidelines in 2022.
In the U.S., medical providers follow another set of guidelines, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM–5. Burnout is not listed as a diagnosis in DSM-5, although recommendations have been made to include it.
If you are experiencing burnout, fortunately, there are several strategies at your disposal. The first step is to refrain from tactics that you think may help but actually exasperate your stress levels.
Here are three common things people do to manage the stress that actually threatens their productivity and overall well being.
Where did you last eat your lunch when working? If you’re like most professionals, you ate lunch at your desk. 62 percent of professionals eat lunch at their desk, according to a 2016 New York Times article. With so much on our figurative plates, it’s easy to use lunchtime as an opportunity to crank out more work.
But this can do more harm than good. A recent survey from office hygiene product retailer Tork found that workers who take daily lunch breaks have higher levels of job satisfaction and are more likely to be an active member in their company.
Skipping out on lunch deprives you of one especially critical stress quelling nutrient -- social interaction. Workers who socialize are not only less stressed, they’re also more productive. In particular, socialization increases the production of oxytocin, a critical hormone that promotes relaxation and decreases stress.
So step away from the desk salad and spend some time out in the world or chatting with your co-workers at the lunch table.
When our stress levels are high, it’s easy to resort to chronic complaining. I’ve heard complaints from my clients that run the full gamut: “my coworker smells funny,” “the lights are too bright,” or, my personal favorite, “the office walls are too boring.”
But complaining doesn't do much to ease our stress levels. It actually exasperates stress. When we complain, our body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which causes our blood pressure and blood sugar to rise. It literally rewires your brain for negativity.
So, the next time you feel an urge to complain about an inanimate object that is villainizing bothering you, think twice. Do something about the things you can control and accept what you can’t.
Most of us want to play nice in the office and avoid confronting coworkers who cause us stress. Unfortunately, avoidance typically makes situations worse. It’s often better to confront the situation head-on. Otherwise, you might find yourself blowing up at an inopportune time, and then you’re the one who is creating a stressful environment, both for yourself and others.
Take note of all the things that are causing you stress and develop a strategy to deal with them. When it comes to dealing with coworkers’ stress-inducing behavior, try to take the path of least resistance. If a coworker frequently distracts you with questions, concerns, or random thoughts, try putting on some headphones to signal you're busy. If that doesn't work, try confronting them and explaining this situation.
If the situation doesn't improve, try scheduling office hours each week and telling coworkers to only disrupt you during these times unless it's urgent.
What are the strategies you have found that effectively manage stress?