International Stress Awareness Week: Burnout Survival Guide

International Stress Awareness Week runs from November 1st to 5th each year and was created to raise awareness for the impact and prevention of stress. Stress is a part of our day to day lives and seems to be activated by just about anything. How you deal with stress will greatly impact your ability to manage it, and your overall mental health.  Today’s blog will provide you with tools to manage stress and avoid burnout.

What is the difference between Stress and Burnout?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to changes or threats through mental and physical reactions. Historically, animals and humans had fight-flight-freeze responses built into their systems so that they could respond quickly and appropriately to a threat. These responses are automatic and prepare the body to run away, fight a threat, or freeze to stay safe. They include racing thoughts, dry mouth, an increased heart rate, nausea, tense muscles, an increase in adrenaline, faster breathing, and dizziness.

Nowadays, we are not constantly exposed to life-threatening situations like early humans were, however, this stress response has stayed with us and reacts inappropriately to other non-life-threatening stressors. The  stress response acts like a warning, telling us that we need to adjust our behaviour or the situation to reduce our stress. This becomes a problem when we experience stress that we can’t avoid, like stress at work, in a close relationship, or from a personal responsibility.

Chronic stress can lead to burnout, a physical, emotional, and/or mental state of exhaustion created by persistent stress. The difference between the two is that stress is something that may be challenging, but you still feel capable of getting things under control, whereas burnout is a feeling that effort is hopeless, and you are spinning your wheels but not getting anywhere. Burnout is a sense of not enough and being all dried up. At FSG, we often say that it is okay to be stressed, but we do not want you to be distressed – that is when burnout is possible.

Know the Signs of Burnout

If you feel yourself running out of gas, the first step or burnout prevention is to be mindful of any signs of burnout you may already be experiencing. As soon as you notice one of these signs, take steps to combat your burnout before it becomes more serious:

  • Feeling that every day is unproductive
  • Constant fatigue
  • A significant negative disposition
  • Impaired focus and concentration
  • Dependence on external substances
  • Lack of physical well-being
  • Feeling that caring for your work or home life is a waste of energy
  • Feeling underappreciated
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Loss of motivation
  • Procrastinating
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Skipping commitments

What Causes Burnout?

Burnout can emerge from any persistent stressor where you feel overworked and undervalued and from lifestyle and personality traits. Often, burnout stems from your job, but for foster parents and parents of kids with high needs, your life may feel much more demanding than a typical 9 to 5.

Some common causes of burnout are:

  • Working more hours than you can manage
  • An increase in responsibility
  • Unclear management styles
  • Strained relationships
  • Lack of recognition for good work
  • Doing work that is boring
  • Working in a high-pressure environment
  • Lack of close relationships
  • Lack of time to socialize or relax
  • Poor sleep
  • Perfectionistic tendencies
  • Negative attitude
  • Need for control

Preventing Burnout

Now that you know what burnout looks like, what can you do about it? Fortunately, burnout does not have to be permanent. If you are already experiencing burnout, or just noticing some signs, try these tips to get back on track:

Balance your diet and exercise – As the stress response is so physical, it is important to take care of your body to keep yourself healthy. I am not suggesting that you start a diet and run a marathon, instead, following a few simple guidelines such as eating more unprocessed than processed foods and taking time to stand each day are enough to begin a transition to healthy physical habits.

Eliminate or limit time with unsupportive people – Who you surround yourself with is crucial to your mental health. Not all unsupportive people are easy to avoid, such as colleagues at work or family members. In these instances, set boundaries to keep unsupportive interactions to a minimum, and practice self-care after an unpleasant interaction.

Take vacations (for real!) – If you are able to, a vacation can act as a reset to unplug from your responsibilities and return to your resting state. Vacations do not need to be large trips, you don’t even have to leave you home! Take a day off (or a weekend!) where you intentionally choose to do no work. Instead, focus on yourself and your non-work identities. Nurture your important relationships, partake in a hobby you’ve neglected, or simply rest.

Seek support – Social contact is the cure to stress! Seek those closest to you, who you can trust to open up to, and book a time to talk. Emptying out your stress to a good listener not only gives you more space to breathe, it creates a deeper sense of connection in your relationship. Another idea is to socialize with your coworkers and make new friends through hobbies, activities, or community causes.

Evaluate your priorities – Think objectively about where you currently spend the most of your time and energy and compare that to where you’d like to spend your time and energy. You won’t always be able to abandon the things that drain you, however, you can balance them with what fills you up. Set boundaries to avoid overextending yourself and nourish your spirit with the things that you love.

To finish International Stress Awareness Week, we hope you take time this weekend to do what helps you! Find something that fills your cup, spend time with the people you love, and practice saying ‘No’ to the things that you don’t.