Burn-Out & Stress

To reduce the chance of "burn-out"and stress, exercise regularly, maintain outside interests such as hobbies, take regular breaks such as long week-ends and annual leave, use creative thinking techniques, etc..

- research has shown (Narelle Hooper, 2008a) that exercise improves the brain's function by improving the blood flow to parts of the brain and stimulating the leading cells to make brain neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These act like cerebral fertilizer for neurons. In fact, people learned 20 percent faster immediately after doing exercise.

- meditation has been found to help handle the stress and burn-out that can accompany change management. According to brain scans, experienced meditators have increased thickness in the parts of the brain that deal with attention and process sensory inputs. It has been claimed (Fiona Smith, 2006d) that meditation creates "stillness"in the mind, reduces anxiety and stress, and it allows people to tap into their unconscious and the creative side of the brain. This can help in decision-making. When meditating, beta brain waves slow down and allow people to tap into their intuition and to see new patterns.

- never allow yourself to become dehydrated as the brain stops functioning properly, ie the brain starts to close down and your effectiveness in decision-making, etc is impaired. For example, for every 10 kg of body weight you need to drink 1 glass of water plus 2 extra glasses, eg if you are 80 kg, you need to drink 10 (8 plus 2) glasses of water per day.

- not appreciating that the brain is a muscle that needs to be used and challenged to improve its performance by cognitive, physical and social activities, such as taking up a new hobby (learning a new language, learning to dance/sail, etc). For example, Churchill painted landscapes and Einstein played the violin. Furthermore, there are 4 pillars to brain health (physical exercise, balanced nutrition, brain exercise and stress management), ie

"...exercise for 30 minutes at least four times a week; eat a variety of foods of different colours; drink cold water; include fish and lots of green vegetables in your diet, but don't bother with supplements. And if stress gets you down, meditate or just breathe slowly for a few minutes..."

Joanna Maxwell, 2008

This will improve brain performance and build a buffer of reserve cognitive function for the future.

Balanced lifestyle is about a healthy mind in a healthy body. This is linked with well-being (involves physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, mental, etc elements)
In the increasing busyness of digitally-connected lives, eg "on 24/7", it is becoming increasingly hard to get a balanced lifestyle.

. Burnout can be a form of work-related stress. It is most likely to occur in middle professional levels where tight deadlines and high volumes of work means that long hours of work are necessary. Similarly for senior executives, where expectations of accessibility and output are relentless; including working weekends and holidays. As we progress up the organisational chain, work becomes more complicated with decisions less black and white plus interacting with a greater number of people with different interests and opinions.

Most executives think they are bullet-proof, ie these problems only happen to others, not themselves. Also, many executives are adrenaline addists and get caught up in their ego.

Personality type is a factor in burnout, ie perfectionists are at a greater risk as they expect to get everything right every time. This can be very stressful.

The organisation's culture and the role of leadership play an important part in the emotional impact and experiences of staff. For example, value dissonance (where an individual's values do not align with those displayed by other people in the organisation). This can have a negative impact on job satisfaction, motivation and productivity and form the basis of burnout.

Experiencing burnout often means feeling empty, devoid of motivation and beyond caring. Usually people don't see any hope of positive change in their situation.

Signs of a person experiencing burnout (Helen Hawkes, 2015c) include
- feeling tired and drained most of the time
- disruption to sleep pattern
- lowered immunity and regulatly feeling unwell
- frequent aches/pains (head, back, muscle, etc)
- change in appetite or sleeping habits
- loss of motivation
- increasingly cynical and negative outlook
- decreased satisfaction and/or sense of accomplishment
- sense of failure, helplessness and self-doubt
- feeling helpless, trapped and defeated
- detachment, feeling alone in the world
- using food, drugs and alcohol to cope
- taking out your frustration on others
- skipping work or coming in late and/or leaving early
- withdrawing from responsibilities
- isolating yourself from others
- procrastination, taking longer to get things done

Even though burnout is defined as the incapacitation of a person who is unable to work, there is a more dangerous form, ie walking wounded (those who continue to do their job but at a reduced level of productivity and morale plus start to suffer from health issues)

There are 3 components of burnout, ie
i) emotional exhaustion
ii) cynicism
iii) ineffectiveness

Ways to prevent burnout include
- starting the day with a relaxing ritual
- adopting healthy eating habits
- good and regular sleeping habits
- regular and frequent exercise
- learning to say no to requests of your time
- learning to delegate
- taking regular daily breaks from technology
- engaging in a creative activity outside your work
- find something that you are passionate about and make time for it

"...need to master meditation, exercise and sleep, emotional, cognitive and spiritual health to go beyond surviving the treadmill in life..."
Helen Hawkes, 2015c

Sufferers of burnout need a period of rest to regain the energy and strength to continue working. A long-term solution requires an understanding of what is causing the burnout in the first place, ie is it work and/or lack of knowledge or skills and/or people around you and/or organisation and/or location?

. The challenge is to combine work and personal commitments while avoiding burnout. This can be done with a pragmatic approach including keeping to strict routines and pre-planning, which can dramatically reduce stress while lifting productivity and performance. Some examples are
- e-mails (a constant flow of e-mails can ramp up damaging stress. Thus the need to prioritise e-mails so that we only handing the most important while deleting or ignoring others)
- exercise (allocate a daily 30 minutes exercise break and treat it like any other important appointment in your diary)
- technology (use smart phones to reduce stress and clear brain space, etc)
- meetings (allocate time for a break between meetings; allocate a time frame to each meeting of one hour - see section on how to make meetings more productive)
- diet (reduce alcohol, caffeine, sugar, saturated fats and chemicals while increasing antioxidants via organic fruit and vegetables) (Helen Hawkes, 2015a)

 

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