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It's The Era Of The Great Resignation: Why Now Is The Time To Commit To Change The World Health Organization defines burnout as 'feelings of exhaustion and reduced effectiveness resulting from chronic workplace stress', and burnout had been mounting since before the pandemic. But now with stress peaking, millions of workers are quitting or experiencing stress-related, physical, and mental issues.

By Sree Menon

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In the first 10 months of 2021, there were 39 million resignations in the United States. Though certainly a staggering figure, when you take a close look at how little are we truly in touch with ourselves, this figure starts to make more sense. Worker stress has been a reality even before the pandemic, however, consecutive lockdowns forcing us to spend more time with our inner thoughts has helped us to take a deeper look at how truly content are we with our lives, our jobs, and every aspect of our own personal well-being. What's more, a survey's by think tanks* found that more than three-quarters of U.S. workers identified stress and burnout as big challenges to well-being at work. Moreover, many felt that workload-related pressure was harming their mental health.

This is not surprising as over the past two decades, the length of the average American workday has increased by 1.4 hours*. Since the pandemic began, many of us have shifted to working from home and our schedules are becoming irregular – lengthening our days and increasing the pressure to get even more work done!

The World Health Organization defines burnout as "feelings of exhaustion and reduced effectiveness resulting from chronic workplace stress', and burnout had been mounting since before the pandemic. But now with stress peaking, millions of workers are quitting or experiencing stress-related, physical, and mental issues. To combat this situation companies are looking for creative ways to battle worker-stress, from 4-hour workweeks to declaring mental health holidays periodically.

As individuals, we can take control of the situation too and help reduce the stress we feel in the environment by managing our energy levels appropriately, our thoughts, and reactions.

  • There are some obvious sources of energy - What we eat, how much and how we sleep, and exercise. As is commonly known, each of these elements impact the other. With good and adequate sleep, our bodies will have more energy to exercise, which helps in the release of endorphins, our bodies' happy hormone. Researchers find that the regulation of these naturally occurring opioids produces a sense of pleasure or euphoria that may help the body know when it's satisfied, preventing overeating. It cannot be stressed enough that no tools to manage stress will work unless we manage these foundational elements of energy management.
  • Managing our thoughts and reactions - We experience stress when we react negatively to a situation. This happens when our internal state does not quite match what we experience outside or when we have expectations that the external world is not meeting. There is a lot that can be done and managed by simply understanding how we experience the world and making small changes to it. There is a famous saying attributed to Buddha – "Pain is certain, but suffering is optional." Consider the following as you navigate the path towards taking control over your thoughts and reactions:
  • What are the root causes of your stress? Perhaps it's the quantity of your work and not being able to focus on basic sources of energy (e.g., not enough sleep) or maybe you are stuck in a job that is not giving you joy. Self-reflecting on these causes and isolating them to the top 2 or 3 is the first step to making any change. So often we are stuck in a rat race that we don't have time to stop to understand why are we experiencing specific emotions. In the society we live in, we allocate no time to self-reflect. It's ironical that we spend so many years understanding history, mathematics, languages, sciences, businesses, but hardly any time in going deeper within ourselves and understanding who we are and how we are connecting with the world
  • Controlling the response. Most situations we are in, are within our control. We just have to lift ourselves up and distance ourselves from our emotions to see the possibilities. Once a root cause is identified, then we can leverage tools to manage and control our response to it. For instance, in a scenario where you are overloaded with work, maybe it's time to set boundaries with your teams and employer. This may not be possible in all scenarios, but this is where scheduled breaks to do breathing exercises, a few minutes every few hours to meditate or going for a walk can be powerful. There are also various choices before us, perhaps it's time to reduce the number of hours or change your current job and pursue something that gives you more joy. If none of these options are a possibility for you, maybe the best solution is acceptance. The more you fight a situation you cannot change, the more stress one experiences. When something is not in one's control, simply accepting things and being in the moment will help reduce the stress one experiences. It's strangely freeing to align our internal mindset with the external situation. For example, remember a time when you might have been stuck in traffic and you were running late, it agitated you but maybe you chose to resign yourself to the situation and you started listening to a podcast you had wanted to hear and never had the time for. Think of what would have happened if you had not accepted that you were going to be late and continued to be annoyed at a situation you had no control over? These are choices we make in our lives on a daily basis, and they add up. If we instead choose to find the right mindset, it adds up and fills you with positive energy. On the other hand, stress can add up and create short term and long-term issues to your physical well-being. The important thing is to be present and aware as much as possible and choose a reaction that gives you more positive energy and joy. This is hard work, and definitely a skill acquired with practice.
  • Practice of breathwork. Most of us go through life day in and day out without thinking about the one thing we do every single moment we are alive – Breathing. Breath is the first thing we take when we are born and the last thing we do when we die. But in between these periods, we overlook it and take it for granted. Many ancient cultures have a rich tradition of breath management and control that helps humans manage their emotions as well as their physical health.

If you have ever gone to a yoga class, then you might have experienced the soothing effect of breath management. We also know and experience how our breath changes when we are faced with different situations – shallow and fast under stress, and long and deep to help us relax. Who has not experienced the flow of energy and relaxation on a crisp morning when breathing in fully and slowly, and felt the cold air filling the lungs? This is because how we breathe matters and there are several techniques available to breathe actively as opposed to passively.

Teaching of these techniques is an industry in itself (not as big as yoga) – there are plenty of classes, apps, and videos too. One can use these techniques whenever needed. It is most helpful if breathwork is followed by meditation (even if brief). Using different techniques throughout the day as needed. Perhaps you are about to go into a stressful meeting – A 10 round of slow inhales, by holding your breath and slowly exhaling, will help center you, and you will see a quick difference in your response to an external stimulus.

Sree Menon

Ceo, Stealth Startup

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