Stress is a part of life, but how many of us take the time to understand stress and its role in our lives. When stress levels become problematic how do we go about reducing stress? The first step to conquering stress in your life is to understand it. Stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. However, not all types of stress are harmful or even negative. There are different types and levels of stress, and it affects us in many ways. It has actually been found that some stress in our lifestyle is good for us but the problem with stress is when it becomes excessive and we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to recover from stressful episodes.
Some people seem to thrive under pressure. However, over time, chronic stress with no down time can overwhelm us all, leading to a decreased zest for life and, eventually, burnout. Certain lifestyle features can lead to an especially high risk for burnout. Classic high-risk stressors include the following:
- Too Much Work With Little Balance: A life of consistent 80-hour work weeks with no down time is a classic high risk scenario for burnout. And schedules approaching that level of fullness can also be very draining. Although we all tend to have especially busy weeks, those who devote all their time to work and work-related activities, and put other areas of their lives—like relationships, hobbies, and exercises—on hold, put themselves at higher risk for burnout. It’s not just the fact that work can be draining and stressful, but that the lifestyle is out of balance. Activities that relieve stress and sustain us emotionally and spiritually are reduced or eliminated in favor of more stress-inducing work. Such a schedule is also a burnout risk because, as a person living such a busy lifestyle approaches a state of burnout, they’re not able to easily get themselves back in balance with these stress relieving activities.
- No Help or Supportive Resources: Taking on huge amounts of responsibilities that can’t be delegated can also put people at higher levels of stress, increasing burnout risk. Having the feeling that, ‘If I take a day off, things will fall apart,” causes a generally elevated sense of stress. We all need support, backup, and others we can offload responsibilities to if need be.
- Too Little Social Support: In addition to needing people who can help us with responsibilities, we need people to help us shoulder the emotional burdens in our lives. Having someone to talk to about what stresses us, someone to play with when we have free time, and someone to understand us when times are tough, and someone to supply new ideas when we’re stumped are all important and necessary aspects of social support. Feeling isolated with our stress creates more stress, and elevates our risk for burnout, whereas adequate social support can be a buffer against it. Who do you turn to when stressed?
- No Time For Hobbies: Those who work hard often tend to play hard, which helps sustain them. Having an outlet for enjoying life outside of work can help you feel alive and supply you with a mental and emotional break fro what’s stressing you. However, if your whole life consists of responsibility and work, and you don’t have a creative outlet or regular outlet for good old fun, it’s harder to sustain yourself through the stressful times in life.
- Too Little Sleep: People don’t always realize the importance of this one, but if you don’t get adequate sleep, you are less able to handle stress, and you’re also less productive and suffer other consequences. When you get inadequate sleep on a regular basis, you put yourself into a state of chronic sleep deprivation and chronic stress, and put yourself at a higher risk for burnout. (How much sleep do you get?)
- Too Little Time Off: Part of living a balanced lifestyle is having regular times off. Taking a vacation at least once a year can help you get into a different situation and remind yourself why you are—outside of your responsible roles. Vacations help you to get back in touch with yourself and discover new parts of yourself, as well as just sit, relax, and think of nothing. When you return, you’re usually at least somewhat happy to get back to your life, and such times off can be good burnout prevention.