Stress Awareness Month: 6 tips to help you mange symptoms (and avoid burnout)
We're talking a lot about burnout these days, and with April being Stress Awareness Month, now is as apt a time as ever to ignite the conversation.
Stress and/or burnout can affect anyone, of any age; the pressure to always be ‘on’ – especially now we’re working from home. We’re multi-tasking, multi-connected human beings and if we’re not almost falling over because we’re so busy, the general consensus tends to be that something is, well, not quite right. Stress evolved as a biochemical response to keep us from danger. Short bursts of stress can even be positive — enhancing neuromuscular performance and motivation – however, chronic elevations of stress triggers hormones such as cortisol and noradrenaline are what creates that sense of fight-or-flight which makes us feel overwhelmed and anxious.
The important thing to remember is that there’s no stigma or shame associated with feeling this way. We all have elements of Covid burnout. Feeling and knowing you absolutely need to take a breather isn’t an indication of failure — in fact, it’s the opposite. You’re acknowledging the signs that something isn’t right. The next appropriate step is to take action. With this in mind, here are some simple tips to follow to help.
Notice the little triggers
Whenever things get too much for me, I always notice I don’t breathe properly. I feel as if I’m constantly holding my breath. Taking a conscious 60 seconds to not be on auto-pilot and focus on breathing in and out can relieve a lot of tension. Next, stop and look around you. Instead of focusing on the next 20 things to do, stop and take note of five things in your surroundings. It opens your perspective and forces you to relax. Also, mind what you watch.
Watching the news or engaging with certain social media content can lead to negativity bias — a state in which your brain perceives the world to be worse and more threatening than it actually is. Humans have a bad habit of mentally giving more weight to things that go wrong than to things that go right— just one negative event can cause a domino effect of negativity in our minds that can be hard to stop once it’s started. If you must watch the news, limit it to once a day only and from a trusted, legitimate source.
Do a digital detox
Spending more time outdoors, absorbing your senses in this way and doing a digital fast for several hours each day (job permitting, of course) and adopting mindfulness can really help in reducing stress. It’s about simplifying your day-to-day, thereby reducing the elements that might be a stress factor, which result in burnout overall.
Listen to your body
This ties into the first point. Our bodies are constantly sending us signals when it needs rest. Our mind, however, often misleads us, and we ignore these signals all the time, especially when we’re up to our eyes. It could be that yes, your breathing is affected. Or it could be another symptom, such as a constant stress headache, a loss of appetite or a rash that won’t subside. These are all body signals; indicators that you’re feeling the strain.
Also, remember that it’s not uncommon that the adrenaline produced in our body during this time of the year further numbs our ability to detect when we need a rest. So, be sure to devote some time to yourself, and get familiar with your body’s internal dialogue. Maybe meditate in the morning or go for a socially distanced walk before work. Whatever it is that keeps you feeling good, keep the habit up. That way, when you take a dive, you’ll know to recognise the signs.
Devote some time solely to yourself
This is crucial if you are to rest and recharge your batteries. The 20-minute soak in the bath. Half an hour of reading. A morning you allow yourself to lie in. The time needn’t be long, but it’s so important that you have it. Dipping in and out of those little moments, or pockets of time as I call them, can stop you from feeling too overwhelmed. Remember, you’re doing your absolute best – we’re in the midst of a pandemic – and deserve as much compassion as you’re giving others.
End the day on a good note
Often, what can aid those feelings of exhaustion is wondering if we’re constantly doing enough; are we progressing enough? Living our best lives on social media enough? This cycle of thought can be utterly draining. Too often we focus on our endless to-do lists — what we haven’t achieved as opposed to what we have. According to Harvard psychologists, you’ll feel better and actually be more productive when you pay attention to your done list. So, a nice idea is to write or jot down three to four things that you achieved that day or that you feel went well. You’ll be amazed at how constantly acknowledging the good things you are ticking off gets rid of some tension.