Stress is the natural and normal reaction to events that occur on a regular but also on a less-frequent basis. When we fail to control stress or cope with it, we may experience distress. When we handle it well, when we use stress to give us the drive we need to compete and to succeed, then we experience eustress. There is the “good stress,” for example, that a bride experiences on her wedding day and the “bad stress” that we experience when things get out of control.
A related problem is burnout, which we usually associate with work. If our jobs are causing an ongoing deterioration in our ability to cope, if they are causing mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, then we may be experiencing burnout. The good news is that we can recharge our batteries and restore optimism. But if we are unwilling or unable to rejuvenate, then the cumulative effect can be very damaging indeed.
One way to judge if you are a candidate for burnout is to ask yourself:
Are my expectations too high?
Am I constantly seeking perfection?
Do I have trouble admitting problems?
Have others mentioned the possibility of burnout to me?
Am I too idealistic?
Stress takes its toll on us in various ways. And when the stress is prolonged or too intense, it ultimately has a serious effect on both the mind and the body. It may lead us to make the wrong decision. For example, burnout can cause you to leave a job that you have loved for a long time.
KNOW THE SYMPTOMS
Review these common reactions to stress. CHECK those you’ve experienced in the last two years. CIRCLE those you’ve experienced in the last six months.
__ Blurred vision
__ Unusual or excessive sweating
__ Sudden, unexplainable fear
__ Personality changes __ Unusual fatigue
__ Negative thinking, talking
__ Mood swings
__ Sleeping too much
__ Nervous laughter
__ Temper tantrums
__ Excessive eating
__ Frequent illness
__ Tic or rapid blinking
__ Increased drinking or smoking
__ Crying at inappropriate times
__ Inability to concentrate
__ Withdrawal from activities/people you usually enjoy
__ Digestive problems
__ Muscle tension
__ Dry mouth
__ Loss of appetite
__ Muscle spasms
__ Heart palpitations
__ Compulsive behavior
__ Hair loss (temporary)
__ Teeth grinding
__ Atypical poor performance at work
__ Talking too much
If you have checked or encircled enough items to make you concerned, it’s time to talk to a medical professional. If your reactions, though, seem normal, it may be good to compare your number to the number a trusted colleague has. Find the least-stressed co-worker you know, one in whom you can confide, and ask him or her to do the above assessment. Then do your comparison.
GAIN GREATER CONTROL
1) Arrange light-hearted activities to lighten the mood
According to a survey by William M. Mercer Inc., only 8% of employers try to lighten the mood at work with fun activities. One thing you can do to alleviate stress in the workplace is ask your boss to arrange some fun activities. If you are met with resistance, arrange them yourself. They need not cost anything at all, but they should be more than doughnuts at the next meeting. Here’s one example. (If you’d like 50 other ways, contact the author for 50 additional ideas at no cost.)
~Award Your Own Eponyms
They have the Toni’s for Broadway, the Emmys for daytime television, and the Oscars for Hollywood. Name an award for someone in your workplace who is truly exemplary in terms of a particular organizational value. (Don’t limit yourself to current employees.) Who really serves customers? Who really knows how to lead a team? Who really emphasizes quality? That is the person whose first name will be used as the award recognizing the particular qualities he demonstrates so well.
Once the award has been established (and a ceremony held to recognize the individual), subsequent recipients can be regularly identified and given the award with considerable fanfare.
2) Increase your self-satisfaction
Not surprisingly, psychologists tell us that negative stress results when we feel we have little or no control over situations. One clue to your personal control-factor may lie in the way you answer this question: How do you know you’ve done a good job?
If you cited others–for example, “My boss tells me I’ve done a good job”–then the external-control quotient in your stress-equation is probably pretty high. However, if you cited yourself–for example, “I am pleased with the results”–then your internal-control factor is probably quite healthy.
Think of all the things you do on a weekly basis. How many of them are you doing because of your own wishes/intents and how many are you doing because others expect or want you to? Express your answer as a percentage: To what extent do you feel “externally controlled”?
3) Change your view of change
Change, for most of us, is a cause of great stress. The ever-increasing speed at which change occurs–whether we like that speed or not–is a source of considerable tension for many Americans. (In fact, the great religious leader, Norman Vincent Peale, once remarked, “The American people are so tense that it is impossible to put them to sleep–even with a sermon.”)
We cannot change the changes, for life is a perpetually-shifting mosaic. Permanency only comes when life has ended. But we can change our reactions to change. We can learn to view new situations as a source of challenge, not a source of distress. We can force ourselves to consider innovation and altered circumstances as small miracles, offering us the opportunity for growth and an escape from boredom. Nothing remains forever. Given the inescapable fact that change is a normal part of life, we need to draw upon the emotional resources to help us meet new challenges and to stimulate us to action.
A number of tests have been devised to determine how well we cope with change. You can easily find them online. Take one of them and then determine to improve your coping skills. Every six months, take the test again and assess your progress.
DO YOU HAVE NATURE-DEFICIENT DISORDER?
Author Richard Louv, who coined the above phrase, maintains that “time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.” Even if your job does not require this computer-centric work, you will no doubt benefit from partnering with nature to relive your burnout. Let Mother salve your soul.