The discourse around workplace burnout has been increased in recent years as awareness of the damaging mental health effects of long-term, chronic, inefficiently managed stress at work has increased. Especially throughout the pandemic, when people have been working longer hours and dealing with the pressures of remote working and lockdown, incidences of people completely burning out and needing to take time off work have been prevalent. This has especially problematic among healthcare workers, with mental health related absences reported to have cost the NHS £805 million from January 2020 to June 2021.
Burnout can be avoided, but only when people are given the tools to recognise and manage the signs of stress that can amount to burnout when left alone for too long. As with other forms of stress outside of work, human psychology reacts to workplace stress in three key evolutionary displays: fight, freeze and flight.
Recognising signs of stress
Those who have a fight response to stress may experience increased irritability and anger. This can be accompanied by urges to lash out or smash something, a frequently raised voice and a tendency to be accusatory towards others. This response can also manifest physically as a tight jaw or shoulders, neck pain, high blood pressure, clenched fists and a red face.
The freeze response is expressed as an inability to concentrate, brain fog, the mind freezing or locking up and becoming very forgetful. Those experiencing a freeze response may find themselves avoiding certain situations, distancing or isolating themselves from others and becoming demotivated both at work and in life.
The flight response can cause people experiencing stress to become restless, fidgety and unable to sleep. They may also feel trapped and excessively or constantly worried. The physical manifestation of the flight response is anxiety-like symptoms, such as a tight chest, affected breathing, stomach pains and excess sweating.
If you notice signs of stress that are detrimental to work or your daily life, it is crucial to manage them as quickly as possible. Allowing stresses to persist on a long-term basis will lead to burnout when the brain cannot function properly anymore.
Slow the body down
Stress makes your brain and body operate at high speed and one of the first steps that need to be taken is using tools to slow it down. Guided meditation and focused breathing are effective ways to achieve this through stimulation of the diaphragm and vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve runs through the diaphragm muscle and as the muscle moves around the nerve in deep breathing exercises, a parasympathetic response, the nervous system’s relaxed state, is triggered. In addition, the heartbeat naturally slows during deep breathing as the body works to ensure that lungs are properly filled with oxygen and that excessive pressure in the arteries is avoided.
Slowing the body down will limit the physical responses to stress triggered by the evolutionary fight or flight mechanisms. Wrkit’s breathe and listen sections on the POWR platform are excellent places to start in slowing the body down and manage stress. Guided meditation sessions are also available to help refocus both body and mind.
Focusing on your sleep hygiene plan to ensure you are sleeping well for enough time will help to regulate stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in the body.
Establish a consistent bedtime routine so your body and brain know to start winding down for the night, try and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, avoid exercising, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the evenings and limit blue light exposure, such as from phones, for an hour before going to sleep.
Good sleep hygiene helps to keep cortisol and adrenaline fluctuations in a normal rhythm, improving mood, lowering stress and generally supporting mental wellbeing.
Exercise and movement
Exercising boosts the production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters – endorphins. Any aerobic exercise will pump endorphins through the body, reducing stress. In addition, activity leads to positive physical effects, such as improving cardiovascular, digestive and immune health and can protect the body from the negative physical fight or flight responses.
In addition to exercise, daily pick me ups such as spending 10 minutes in a park or the garden can be beneficial in minimising stress. Fresh air and greenery are instant mood boosters that do not require putting time aside for a long, strenuous workout.
Journalling and reflecting are effective ways to manage stress as they encourage people to scrutinise the causes and meaning of stress. It is a good technique to come to terms with and gain a deeper understanding of stress by putting it into writing and then working to improve the root causes of negative feelings.
Reflecting can give people the tools to mindfully treat triggers of stress, rather than simply managing the symptoms of the stress. This will reduce overall stress as problems are solved and removed.
To find out more about how businesses can help employees avoid burnout by effectively identifying and managing stress, request a POWR demo at https://wrkit.com/contact/request-a-demo.