Experienced feelings of helplessness, overwhelm or being drained? When our bodies are under continual stress (be it from work, family, or constant negative news headlines), we can reach a state called burnout. Let’s prevent that!
By now, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about the ‘unprecedented’ and stressful times we’re living in. I know I am. But it needs to be acknowledged. We have spent two years in a global pandemic. It only just felt like things were beginning to change when war has broken out in Ukraine. Now, all we’re hearing about are bills going up and interest rates souring!
I’m wary of triggering anyone here, but it is important to recognise how the world as it is right now can exacerbate our stress levels. And our capacity for cynicism.
We already live in a society where the expectation is to always be busy: work, family, gym five times a week, maintain a thriving social life and then post it on social media.
Top that up with social isolation, financial uncertainty and a general feeling of doom from the news. Now, you have yourself a pretty robust recipe for stress and a cynical outlook.
Whatever your reason for feeling stressed, your body receives the same message from the adrenal glands in your brain. Make more life-saving cortisol.
Ah, what lovely hormone cortisol is. Yes, it is vital for survival: it gets us up in the morning and allows us to respond to danger with a burst of energy. It pushes our bodies into a sympathetic state, otherwise known as ‘fight or flight’. However, since we’re unlikely to be running from a bear in the woods anytime soon, our cortisol is produced in far less dramatic circumstances.
To our bodies, time-pressured deadlines and leading an office presentation are worthy of the same response as this life-threatening bear chase.
Therefore our bodies pump out cortisol more frequently than our adrenals were designed for, and we spend little time in the ‘rest and digest’ / parasympathetic state, where we would naturally recover.
Now that the line between work and rest has become blurred due to virtual or hybrid working, there can be pressure to never stop. Que ‘burnout’.
Burnout has been described as ‘an occupational phenomenon’ resulting from ‘chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’.
When we spend a length of time in a state of chronic stress, drowning in deadlines and other tasks, our bodies enter a state where we no longer care about or can handle the pressure. According to Mental Health UK, symptoms of burnout include:
- Continual feelings of being tired/drained
- A feeling of helplessness / being trapped
- Feelings of detachment
- Having a cynical outlook
- Increased procrastination
- Feeling overwhelmed
Studies have shown cynicism to increase chances of burnout. When we are sceptical about people and the world around us, already stressful situations seem a lot more daunting. Chances of success upon facing challenges seem almost impossible, and so our bodies sense danger. Hello cortisol!
Tips to destress
If you’re feeling stressed, here are some ways to help you spend more time in your ‘rest and digest’ state.
1) Prioritise and make time for yourself.
Take a bath, go for a long walk in nature, listen to a podcast, bake. Do whatever brings you peace and makes you calm. It’s easy to not prioritise the 10-20 minutes of ‘me time’ but the difference to your body can be huge (and vital!).
2) Nourish your body.
Don’t underestimate the impact of what you feed your body! A lack of nutrients and an increase in fast food/takeaways can exacerbate stress and raise cortisol levels. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet with lots of protein, fruits and vegetables.
3) Get off your phone.
Easier said than done, I know. But constantly being notified with information and messages can trigger stress, especially with the need to reply instantly. Set a Do Not Disturb mode so it kicks in automatically. Additionally, aim to stay off your phone for the first hour of the day so you can set yourself up for a good day without distractions.
Sounds obvious, right? Slow, controlled breathing helps to get us out of the sympathetic state and relax into our parasympathetic state. Being conscious of our breathing allows us to be more present in reality, rather than spiralling into worries about the future.
Try alternate nostril breathing to help calm and relax you. It’s so quick, there’s no excuse not to.
5) Be wary of your triggers and know how to cope with them.
Take note of events which bring your stress levels up. It could be work, finances, family issues, FOMO, or general change. Identify a pattern, have supportive conversations and consider how you can handle these situations in the future. This is the most challenging task to alleviate stress but will reduce the weight on your shoulders.