Ahead of World Mental Health Day tomorrow, October 10th, I want to touch on a subject most of us are familiar with – stress and burnout.
We’ve all heard the term and have experienced it in some way – be it at work, school or home. Stress is almost always viewed in a negative light when in fact it can be a powerful tool for getting things done. When we are stressed our body releases adrenaline and cortisol, and our heart rate goes up. This “fight or flight” response makes us more alert, intuitive and focused. In turn we can more easily finish that project that’s due tomorrow, react to a dangerous situation or respond to a question from our boss.
The real problem with stress is when it becomes chronic and we begin to experience burnout. This is particularly common in the consulting industry I work in. Long hours, tight deadlines and overtime are all a daily occurrences. Subjecting your body and mind to an environment like that for a prolonged period of time is what can lead to more serious consequences, unless we take some precautions.
After weeks or even months in a stressful state, it’s easy to become blind to the symptoms. You may actually think that your anxiety, irritability and mood swings are part of your personality. Perhaps your stress response is to binge eat or drink, watch Netflix or shop online. We all react differently and whatever our coping mechanism it won’t solve the underlying cause.
How to overcome burnout? These are my simple steps that can help you prevent and overcome chronic stress, and lead a happier life.
1. Learn to be retrospective and mindful
Analyzing you past reaction to stress and understanding your triggers is key. It’s hard to recognize when you are stressed, sometimes we only realize it when the period has passed, but if you prepare yourself with a mental list of your coping activities and take a few minutes periodically (whether that’s once a day, week or a month) to think about your physical and mental well-being then you’re more likely to recognize the signs and can take immediate action.
2. Don’t suffer in silence
Stress is such a common thing these days that many of us wear it like a badge of honor. Trust me, there is nothing honorable about it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, apathetic or anxious, it’s best to share your feelings with someone your trust. Depending on the situation this can mean being honest with your boss about the deadline, telling your friend what has been bothering you or perhaps confiding in a specialist. Unloading some of those feelings can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
3. Treat your brain as you would your body
Most of us work out, are mindful of the food we eat and see a doctor when we are sick. Our mental health is as important as our physical health so we need to make sure we’re taking care of it. This could be with the help of a therapist or by simply practicing self-care. A good book or a yoga session can have an amazing impact on your feelings.
My final and perhaps the most important thought is this…
Take charge of your lifestyle! It's not something the world does for you - you have to make it happen. Set boundaries at work, cut out toxic relationships, choose to do work that suits your personality or support causes that are meaningful to you. We all have the power to change our life, so take hat baby step today.