Choose Yourself: The Importance of Stress Management

By: Lauren Baptiste

Recently, I’ve noticed a pervasive trend in our current work culture. With the pressure to maintain job security in an uncertain market, employees are pushing themselves to the brink of their mental and physical health just to prove that they deserve to keep their jobs.

Does this balancing act of personal wellness and professional pressure resonate with you? If so, then I’d be willing to bet that you may be experiencing symptoms of burnout and excess stress.

As an executive wellness coach for my firm Acheloa Wellness, I work with many assiduous individuals willing to set aside their needs and sense of wellbeing for the sake of getting the job done.

I get it; when I worked as a finance professional at a Big Four accounting firm, I maintained an arduous schedule while holding myself to impossibly high standards. The issue here is that when you commit to temporary personal sacrifice for the sake of work for too long, you open yourself up to the risk of permanent damage to your health.

I’ve had discussions with a number clients who describe feeling as though they cannot manage their personal and professional lives. Many feel stuck, as though they are putting their whole selves into their work and receiving nothing in return. A recent client of mine told me they feel as though they are failing and that when they give themselves permission to take a break, they experience intense guilt.

We as professionals must realize that our success starts with managing our stress. When given control of our lives, unchecked stress devolves into burnout, leaving us to pay for the cost of the resulting physical and mental health issues.

The good news is there are plenty of distinguishable signs of burnout. If we can recognize our symptoms, we can address the root of the problem, giving us a clear path to personal and professional empowerment.

What is burnout?

When most people think of burnout, they associate it with low-stakes issues like feeling as though they need a vacation or not getting enough sleep. These experiences may seem innocuous, but can actually represent the much bigger issue beginning to arise: burnout.

Burnout is a diagnosable syndrome. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as:

A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

According to the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) of the WHO, symptoms include feelings of depletion or exhaustion; cynicism toward or mental distance from one’s job; and reduced productivity and efficacy.

[Related: Stop Talking About Burnout Unless You Plan to Do Something About It]

The cost of burnout.

Have you ever thought about the cost of stress? When you reflect on your day, week, or even year, do you consider the energy and money you spent to appease feelings of anxiety or fatigue? You might want to.

Think about the extra coffees you purchased to alleviate exhaustion and the medications that you took to address the heartburn or headache that followed your fourth caffeinated beverage in a day. Consider all the doctor’s visits you had to schedule. Reflect on the mental health difficulties you may have faced. Ask yourself, how many of these instances can be traced back to stress?

A number of mental, emotional, and physical ailments can arise as a result of burnout. In addition to the feelings of depletion and distance from work, those suffering from burnout may also experience adrenal fatigue. Why? Because excess stress causes your adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol, the hormone that elicits our fight-or-flight response to danger.

In the right circumstance, cortisol is useful. If you’re walking down the street and a speeding car barrels toward you, that boost of adrenaline will push you to get out of harm’s way. However, when we do not manage our stress in situations that are not life or death, we overexert our adrenal glands, which can cause body aches, fatigue, weight gain, lightheadedness, low blood pressure, and a number of symptoms that range from unpleasant to dangerous.

When we think about stress, we don’t often consider the long-term effects. To many, stress is merely inconvenient and can be eased with a funny movie or a glass of wine. But when you take personal inventory, you can often link your choices and the many ailments and challenges that you experience as a result of unmanaged stress and burnout.

This is because the buildup of our smaller daily choices make up the bigger picture of our lives. And those choices add up.

[Related: How to Get to the Core of Your Work Stress]

Now is the time to address burnout.

Addressing burnout starts with setting boundaries. This can look like communicating to your boss that you have too much on your plate for a new project or honoring your time boundaries.

If your break is from 2:00–3:00 PM, do not start working a minute earlier than 3:00 PM. If you took off time to take a vacation, try not to check your work email. You deserve time to rest and rejuvenate. I know that it’s tempting to get ahead of your projects, but a necessary reset once in a while will benefit the quality of your work just as much as your health.

A consistent routine brings balance to our lives and keeps us grounded even during stressful times. I encourage my clients to set a bedtime and wake up time during the work week and stick to it to the best of their ability. Additionally, a consistent evening and morning routine brings a sense of stability to your life.

I recommended sprinkling acts of self-care into your routines, such as massaging your feet with oil or reciting a brief prayer or expression of gratitude. These small acts remind you to value and love yourself each day.

And if you’re reading all of this thinking, “I’ve done those things and I still feel ‘off,’” my final recommendation is to invest in yourself. Consider personalized wellness coaching to help you incorporate wellness into your life on micro and macro levels.

With ongoing encouragement, kind accountability, and a clear direction forward, everything is possible. But if you’re currently carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and hoping for things to magically improve, then you may find yourself back here in six months feeling the same…or worse.

[Related: Sacrificing Your Health for Success Can Have the Opposite Effect]

Lauren Baptiste is a corporate wellbeing consultant, executive wellness coach, and international speaker. After working 10+ years at a Big Four accounting firm and personally experiencing the effects of burnout, she started Acheloa Wellness, a wellness coaching firm that empowers individuals and organizations to break through the widespread effects of stress. As a practitioner of Ayurveda, hormonal health, and other healing modalities, she brings a holistic approach to transform burnout to balance, joy, and high-performing productivity.

Originally published at https://www.ellevatenetwork.com.

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