Ways to Maintain your Mental Health and Work a Stressful Job

Can stress cause burnout? ‘Burn out’ is exhaustion which occurs as a result of excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources. It is usually experienced as physical, mental and emotional debilitation.

Workplace burnout usually happens because of increased workload, strained workplace relationships and hyper-competitive working environments. It is therefore safe to assume that stress does cause burnout. This article will describe how and why stress causes burn out and offer solutions via stress management techniques to prevent workplace burnout.

What does burn out look like?

Burnout is regularly described as overachiever’s syndrome. According to YouGov, over half (51%) of full-time UK employees have experienced burnout and/or anxiety as a result of workplace stress. The highest rates existing, somewhat unsurprisingly, are amongst social care workers and the like. Burn-out is not simply feeling tired at the end of a long week or missing a deadline. Burn-out is a total system failure resulting in physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. People experiencing burnout can be confrontational, unpredictable and generally difficult to interact with. Burn-out can have long-term physical and mental health consequences, in addition to requiring treatment and extended time off to recover.

Why does a lack of stress management cause burn out?

There are lots of things that are likely to cause stress in the workplace. Personal worries bought into work such as financial concerns can be easily compounded by your boss demanding that work is completed at unmanageable rates. Managers increasing your responsibilities even though you are already swamped. Co-workers who are difficult to work with or who endeavour to compete with you. These are all factors which can create a hostile working environment and greatly increase stress. Instead of asking for help, explaining that the workload is too much, or drawing attention to unfavourable workplace etiquette, the over achiever will endeavour to ‘power through’, ignoring their stress and focusing on the goal. This is where we put ourselves at risk. Prolonged, unmanageable stress and persistent emotionally taxing environments cause burn out. Therefore, in order to prevent burn out we need to find ways of managing our stress effectively, so it does not overwhelm us. It is vital to recognise that ‘burning-out’ is not evidence of weakness or incompetency. It’s evidence of working too hard for too long. Burnout is avoidable. Simple techniques not only prevent you from burning out, they can reduce stress making you a happier, healthier and more productive employee.

How do I prevent burn out?

Everyone has different stressors and stress relievers, meaning finding a stress management technique is a personal case of trial and error. Whilst yoga and meditation might work for some, boxing and hill sprints are a solution for others. However, there are some solutions which are fundamental in maintaining everyone’s wellbeing regardless of your role. To prevent burn out, we must take a real break. Not just from doing stressful activities, but a physical and emotional break from that which causes us stress. Therefore, its important employ a stress management technique which truly keeps your mind focused on you and away from the stress of everyday working life. Think of yourself like bucket: a bucket can only hold so much water before it overflows. Likewise, you can only take on so much stress before you burn out. The reason we burn out is because we keep taking on stress without alleviating some of the pressure. You need a tap or stress management technique(s) to continuously relieve stress, so you don’t overflow and burnout.

How to manage stress

Taking a break might seem like an easy enough solution. However, it is often difficult to find techniques which firstly, genuinely give us a break and secondly maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s important that how we manage stress does not create problems for us long term. Poor stress management techniques, including excessive drinking, recreational drug use, and reckless behaviour, can be harmful to our long-term health.

1. Be mindful

Being mindful means being aware of the present moment and putting things into perspective. When we are at work we often get caught up in the intensity of a stressful environment. Sometimes it can be really beneficial to pause, take a moment and assess what is really going on, and how it will really impact us. Often, we spend time longing to correct past mistakes and panicking about future stress. Whilst its both important to be reflective, we cannot change the past and there is true power in accepting our mistakes and learning from them without punishing ourselves. Moreover, as much as planning our future is important, it is not necessary to stress about every possible negative outcome. Being mindful can help us to see our stresses objectively which can lead to increased self-awareness and a reduction in anxiety.

2. Socialise and get talking!

One of the best ways to reduce stress and encourage positive emotional wellbeing is to socialise and talk to people you really connect with. It is important that we are able to freely express ourselves and this may not happen often in the workplace. Stress-relieving socialising doesn’t mean going to the pub and drinking your stress away or partying in a noisy club. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with having a blow out after a long working week. But, if you are regularly drinking your stress away, it can increase the risk of mental and physical health problems. Find a common interest, get involved, and chat your problems away - a stress shared is a stress halved. It might be that you enjoy playing board games, X-box, knitting or just having a cuppa and a catch up. Regardless of what it is that you do with your friends, put your phone and emails away and leave work behind. Focus on enjoying the time you have with people. That way when you get back to work you will feel refreshed and ready to take on your next task.

3. Move your body

Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. So, if you are experiencing lots of mental stress, a good way to manage it is through physical exercise. This does not necessarily need to be high intensity gym training. Something as simple as walking the dog, cycling to the shops or dancing in the living room work just fine. As long as your mind is on you (not work) you’re taking a break. If you’re someone who struggles to switch off, it might be useful to participate in a tactical or team sport, instead of simply jogging or the like. This will help stop your mind from wondering back to the office. Whilst exercise is always important as part of a healthy balanced life style, if you’re attempting to take a break whilst your body is suffering from sleep deprivation or exhaustion, this may not be the best stress management technique to employ. Listen to your body and be aware of its limits.

4. Self-care

Self-care can often feel like a vague and non-instructive notion. In essence, it consists of looking after our physical and emotional wellbeing. Therefore, self-care is focusing on the self and giving ourselves personal time to unwind. This technological age can often leave us feeling like we constantly owe people our attention which can be very taxing, especially over long periods of time. It can make it difficult to ‘switch off’. Self-care is taking the time to look after yourself by truly relaxing, be that by having a hot bubble bath, reading a book or slowly cooking your favourite meal.

Altruist are passionate about enabling employees to make positive changes and implement stress management techniques which support both their mental health and the mental health of their colleagues. For more information on our stress management training, click here

Jasmine is a student of Philosophy with particular interests in epistemology, political philosophy and gender ethics. She is a passionate advocate of mental health awareness and social justice. Jasmine is currently working for Altruist Enterprises as a ‘Mental Health Schools Facilitator’ delivering mental health and emotional well-being workshops to primary and secondary school children. She plays basketball and writes creatively in her spare time as part of her emotional self-care. Jasmine aims to use her writing to effect positive change in her local community with future goals to encourage positive social reform in global communities.

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