Avoid stress overload escalating to burnout

getimage (10)FEELING hopeless, depressed, battling with exhaustion, yet pushing yourself even harder, longing for the boundless energy you once took for granted?

You might be heading for burnout, University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) part-time lecturer Dr Dorrian Aiken says.\

“Burnout is increasing, resulting in the modern-day psychological issues of being both stressed and also lacking vitality – a feeling of not being in touch with one’s own life,” says Aiken, who specialises in the field of coaching, organisational transformation and leadership development.

According to a study last year by the American Institute of Stress in New York City, uncontrolled stress physically impairs more than three-quarters of the population and almost as many suffer psychologically.

Aiken says the deterioration from stress overload to burnout can dramatically reduce capacity for recovery.

“Stress is not necessarily a bad thing, and gives many of us the focus we need to get an important job done. It is important to recognise that stress, per se, is not necessarily evil.”

As the pioneering endocrinologist Hans Selye, who first defined stress as a physical condition, observed: “Without stress, there would be no life.”

The challenge, Aiken says, is to strike a balance, to have sufficient stress to perform optimally with passion and energy, with time to rest and recover.

“However, unremitting stress releases unacceptably high levels of cortisol and adrenalin into our blood stream, and the impact over time is a reduced immune system.

“Neurobiological research reveals that under stress, our bodies stop the constant production and replenishment of new cells.

“Stress focuses our attention on fight or flight, so our body’s resources must be concentrated on the impending threat to our survival.

“Over time, the depletion of new and healthy cells erodes the efficiency of our immune system and this leads to the beginning of burnout.”

“Some of the symptoms of burnout are increased muscular pain and joint inflammation, often resulting in broken sleep due to constant body discomfort,” Aiken says.

“Meditation has been shown to reduce levels of pro-inflammatory genes, resulting in faster physical recovery from stress-related conditions.”

So what else can you do? Aiken says one can start by tackling one problem at a time.

“Choose the problem with the highest burnout potential that could be solved with concrete solutions.

“If you take action on one level you might find an improvement in the others as well.

“Involve your family in your striving for balance and share the daily responsibility you might be carrying on your own; adopt healthy eating and exercise habits; and set boundaries both personally and in the workplace.”

However, she warns that the problem with all the advice given is that it requires an ability of the person receiving it to be self-reflective.

“Sadly, self-reflection and recognition often only follows a full-scale break-down which literally stops a person in his or her tracks with probably long-term consequences for regaining full health.”

Aiken says if you recognise that you are at risk, a good starting point is to find a mentor, a coach or a trusted confidant to help you begin to examine and re-frame some of the – probably untrue – assumptions that cause you to drive yourself beyond a healthy level of endurance.

-The Herald Reporter 

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