We have heard a lot about stress and burnout in the workplace over the last year. These terms are now used on a daily basis by many but do we actually understand what they are and how they show up? More importantly are you aware of how to reduce stress and boost wellbeing in the workplace with some easy and quick techniques?
Stress and burnout are two of the most common health issues that can affect wellbeing in the workplace. Both are serious and can cause people in your teams emotional distress, physical ill health, and may require them to take time off work to recover.
In this article, we’ll cover what stress and burnout are, as well as give you a few ways to reset your stress response and hopefully find ways to avoid getting to the burnout stage.
What is stress?
Stress is a normal biological response to physical, mental, or emotional pressure. It helps us respond to things that require us to take action. Got out of bed this morning when your alarm went off? That’s your body in action responding to your autonomic nervous system which releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, stimulating you to get up.
Stress has a biological and physical response in our body causing changes to our heart rate, breathing pattern and immune system. It also causes changes in the way we are able to think and respond, causing more black and white thinking, less creativity and more emotionally charged responses to situations.
Stress becomes unhelpful when it is something that we feel exceeds our ability of what we can cope with. We often experience feelings of stress when we experience something new, unexpected or when it feels like we have little control over our circumstances and future.
We often differentiate between primary and secondary stress responses. Primary responses occur when first presented with a stressful situation in the moment. This is akin to the “fight or flight” response and is an evolutionary response to help you quickly react to a dangerous situation. Secondary responses are what happens when your body remains in this stressed state for too long, and these are the kinds of things that cause problems over time – aching muscles, heart problems, emotional difficulties.
What is burnout?
Burnout is another name for chronic workplace stress. It’s characterised by feelings of exhaustion, an increased mental distance from your job, and reduced efficiency at work.
You can have stress without burnout but you can’t have burnout without stress.
Essentially, it’s what happens when stress caused by work isn’t managed properly, and you end up experiencing a secondary stress response for an extended period of time. This has a significant impact on your ability to cope with your job and can have a negative effect on your relationships, your career and your health.
Burnout is a serious issue which has been recognised as a syndrome by the World Health Organisation. Burned out members of your team are 63% more likely to take a sick day, and 2.6 times more likely to be actively seeking a new job. Burnout can seriously affect your people’s work, and also their emotional and personal lives.
How to tackle stress by psychologically reframing it
Have you ever wondered why for some people being late for a meeting is enough to cause steam to come out of their ears and yet for others they can breeze in with an apology and calmly begin? This is because whether this event is seen and perceived as stressful depends not on the external event itself but how we view it. This is influenced by our values, our personality and the messages we have heard as we grew up.
So, reframing your stress response to understand why certain events trigger your stress can be a useful way to help tackle stress. One way to do this is to think about what is under your control and influence. This is a technique that was highlighted in Covey’s book, The 7 habits of highly effective people. The idea is that you spend most of your time, energy and attention focusing on what is under your control. Focus on how you act, what you say, how you treat others and what is happening in the here and now rather than worrying about what has gone before or is yet to come, what other people are saying and situations that you can have little influence over. Find out more about reframing stress here.
5 easy things you can do to reset your stress
While tackling burnout is often a longer term issue, there are a few easy things you can do to begin to reset your stress. These techniques are based on the biology of stress and how you can increase the hormones of oxytocin and natural endorphins to counteract the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline.
This is the Thrive Lab A, B, C, D, E model.
Engaging in physical activity can be a great stress reduction tool. Even just a short walk or running up and down the stairs a couple of times can help. Just 10 minutes of mild to moderate physical activity has been shown to be effective.
Breathwork is the most powerful and effective antidote to stress. Focusing on our breath and learning to breathe properly, using our diaphragm, can reset stress within a minute. Even the world’s best surgeons use breathing exercises during intense long operations to remain cool and calm under pressure. Try box breathing or 7/11 breathing exercises are some ideas to get started. The important thing is to find one that works for you.
Feeling deeply connected to another human being can boost our body’s levels of Oxytocin. From having a coffee with a colleague to a deep and meaningful chat with your best friend , it is vital to have positive and supportive relationships in your life to help combat feelings of stress.
Laughing and crying are both ways to release stress hormones. Laughter yoga is becoming increasingly popular and did you know having a good cry can release cortisol in your tears! Try watching a funny film or a tear jerker movie to get those emotions going. Also, creatively expressing your emotions through writing or a quick doodle in work is a good way to reduce stress.
Nature has a beneficial effect on your wellbeing – so consider getting outside and taking notice of the natural world around you. You could even consider taking your meetings outside. Also think about your work space. Can you brighten it up with a plant or some picture of nature? Research has found that just looking at scenes of nature can have beneficial effects on reducing stress and improving wellbeing.