Managing Stress to Avoid Burnout

By: Tony Adamson, Neurodiversity Coach, TRA Coaching

23rd April 2024

Managing stress to avoid burnout

Stress is everywhere I look. It feels like it’s an ever-present factor in so many people’s lives, stemming from the many and varied challenges of modern life. It’s almost as if we’ve chosen to structure society to maximise stress, to load more and more demand in, to factor in less time to do all the things we need to do.

 

In this definition, stress is our physical and emotional response to when we perceive a situation exceeds our resources to cope. On the evolutionary and unconscious level, we experience stress as a literal threat to our survival.

 

As a practicing coach, I know that stress is such an important topic in the lives of so many of the people I work with. The irony is though, that whilst the stress response is the same for everyone, what triggers it is deeply personal.

 

What triggers stress for you, doesn’t for me. What I find stressful, you don’t even notice. How can we make sense of this?

 

The first thing to understand about stress, is that’s it’s adaptive. It helped our ancient ancestors survive, and served as a warning that something was wrong in their environment. We evolved the stress response – fight/flight/freeze/faint – as a mechanism to survive our environment and perilous existence long enough to reproduce.

 

 

As you can see from the ‘stress curve’ diagram, the right levels of stress can energise, move us into action and improves performance when we’re in the ‘Zone of Optimal Performance’ . Too little and we experience boredom, too much and we can go over the top of the curve and down the other side. This is when chronic stress becomes toxic.

 

Common workplace stressors include: limited control over responsibilities, lack of clarity around what you do, having too much or too little to do, being micromanaged, job insecurity, interpersonal relationships or ‘office politics’, poor executive leadership and lack of direction.

 

Stress hormones, Adrenaline, Cortisol and Norepinephrene, which prepare us to respond to a stressor, build up in our bodies and deplete our resources leading to exhaustion, illness and ultimately burnout.

 

How stress manifests itself is personal, yet there are some behavioural, emotional, physical and cognitive commonalities:

 

Emotional
Frustration
Anger
Demotivation
Behavioural
Withdrawal
Procrastination
Drinking, smoking
Physical
Drained and lacking energy
High blood pressure
Headaches
Cognitive
Catastrophising
Negative mindset
Impaired focus and concentration

 

Burnout is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “a condition of mental and physical exhaustion which are the direct result of consistent and prolonged workplace stress which hasn’t been adequately managed”.

 

No one’s immune from burning out, however, if you manage your stress then you won’t burnout.

 

Understanding your stress triggers and emotional responses, the situations which create stress for you, managing your boundaries, finding a better work/life balance, managing pro-actively rather than reactively can all help.

 

Quite often this involves acknowledging the things which aren’t working for you, and being prepared to be open to making changes: what are you saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to?, how do you rest and recuperate, where do you find a better balance, accept you can only do so much. What others can you add to this list?

 

Coaching creates a safe and supportive environment within which is explore the issues in your life which are creating stress, and developing strategies to better manage these.

 

How do you move from where you are now to where you’d like to be? What does this look like for you? What changes do you need to make and how do you go about making these?