Hans Selye was one of the founding fathers
of stress research. His view in 1956 was that "stress is not necessarily something bad – it all depends on how you take it. The stress of exhilarating, creative successful work is beneficial, while that of failure, humiliation
or infection is detrimental." Selye believed that the biochemical effects of stress would be experienced irrespective of whether the situation was positive or negative.Since then, a great deal of further research has been
conducted, and ideas have moved on. Stress is now viewed as a "bad thing", with a range of harmful biochemical and long-term effects. These effects have rarely been observed in positive situations.The most commonly
accepted definition of stress (mainly attributed to Richard S Lazarus) is that stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that "demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able
to mobilize." In short, it's what we feel when we think we've lost control of events.This is the main definition used by this section of Mind Tools, although we also recognize that there is an intertwined instinctive stress
response to unexpected events. The stress response inside us is therefore part instinct and part to do with the way we think.
In humans, as in other animals, these hormones help us to run faster
and fight harder. They increase heart rate and blood pressure, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to power important muscles. They increase sweating in an effort to cool these muscles, and help them stay efficient. They divert
blood away from the skin to the core of our bodies, reducing blood loss if we are damaged. As well as this, these hormones focus our attention on the threat, to the exclusion of everything else. All of this significantly improves
our ability to survive life-threatening events.Not only life-threatening events trigger this reaction: We experience it almost any time we come across something unexpected or something that frustrates our goals. When the threat is
small, our response is small and we often do not notice it among the many other distractions of a stressful situation.Unfortunately, this mobilization of the body for survival also has negative consequences. In this state, we are
excitable, anxious, jumpy and irritable. This actually reduces our ability to work effectively with other people. With trembling and a pounding heart, we can find it difficult to execute precise, controlled skills. The intensity of
our focus on survival interferes with our ability to make fine judgments by drawing information from many sources. We find ourselves more accident-prone and less able to make good ecisions.There are very few situations in modern
working life where this response is useful. Most situations benefit from a calm, rational, controlled and socially sensitive approach.In the short term, we need to keep this fight-or-flight response under control to be effective in
our jobs. In the long term we need to keep it under control to avoid problems of poor health and burnout.
Introducing Stress Management
There are very many proven skills that we can use to manage stress. These
help us to remain calm and effective in high pressure situations, and help us avoid the problems of long term stress.
* Long-term stress: The General Adaptation Syndrome and Burnout.
* The Integrated Stress Response.
* Stress and Health.
* Stress and its Affect on the Way We Think.
* Pressure & Performance: Flow and the 'Inverted-U'.
People use the word "stress" to describe a wide variety of situations – from your
cell phone ringing while you're talking on another phone – to the feelings associated with intense work overload, or the death of a loved-one.
But perhaps the most useful and widely accepted definition of stress (mainly
attributed to Richard S. Lazarus) is this: Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that "demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize." In less formal
terms, we feel stressed when we feel that "things are out of control."
Our ability to cope with the demands upon us is key to our experience of stress. For example, starting a new job might be a wholly exciting
experience if everything else in your life is stable and positive. But if you start a new job when you've just moved into a new house, or your partner is ill, or you're experiencing money problems, you might find it very hard to
Burnout occurs when passionate, committed people become deeply disillusioned with a job or career from which they have previously derived much of their identity and meaning. It comes as the things that inspire passion
and enthusiasm are stripped away, and tedious or unpleasant things crowd in. This tool can help you check yourself for burnout.
Maintaining a Healthy, Successful Career
beginning of the week, and Mia is already longing for the weekend. For the past few months she's been feeling out of sorts at work, and she's not quite sure why.
For instance, she's always tired, she feels disengaged and
unmotivated most days, and she's constantly checking how long it is until she can go home.
Mia is also snapping at her colleagues (something she never used to do), and she feels that there's never enough time to get
everything done. This leaves her feeling perpetually behind and demoralized.
Mia is showing classic signs of burnout. In this article, we'll look at what burnout is, what its consequences are, and how you can avoid burnout
in your career.
What is Burnout?
Two important definitions of burnout are:
* "A state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding
situations." – Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson.
* "A state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward." – Herbert J.
Between them, these definitions embrace the essence of burnout, with the first stressing the part that exhaustion plays in it, and the second focusing on the sense of disillusionment that is at its core.
Anyone can become exhausted. What is so poignant about burnout is that it mainly strikes people who are highly committed to their work: You can only "burn out" if you have been "alight" in the first place.
While exhaustion can be overcome with rest, a core part of burnout is a deep sense of disillusionment, and it is not experienced by people who can take a more cynical view of their work.
Specific symptoms of burnout include:
* Having a negative and critical attitude at work.
* Dreading going into work, and wanting to leave once you're there.
* Having low energy, and little interest at work.
* Having trouble sleeping.
* Being absent from work a lot.
* Having feelings of emptiness.
* Experiencing physical complaints such as headaches, illness, or backache.
* Being irritated easily by team members or clients.
* Having thoughts that your work doesn't have meaning or make a difference.
* Pulling away emotionally from your colleagues or clients.
* Feeling that your work and contribution goes unrecognized.
* Blaming others for your mistakes.
* Thinking of quitting work, or changing roles.
Causes of Burnout
People experience burnout for a variety of reasons.
Lack of autonomy is a common cause, so you
might experience burnout if you don't have much control over your work, or if you feel that you never have enough time to finish tasks and projects.
Another common cause is when your values don't align with the actions,
behaviors, or values of your organization, or of your role.
Other causes include:
* Having unclear goals or job expectations.
* Working in a dysfunctional team or organization.
* Experiencing an excessive workload.
* Having little or no support from your boss or organization.
* Lacking recognition for your work.
* Having monotonous or low-stimulation work.
Consequences of Burnout
Clearly, the consequences of burnout can be severe. Your productivity can drop dramatically; and this not only impacts your career, but it negatively impacts your team and organization as well. Your creativity will also be
affected, so you're less likely to spot opportunities (and you don't have the interest or desire to act on them), and you may find excuses to miss work or take days off sick.
Career burnout can also spill over into your
personal life, negatively impacting your well-being and your relationships with friends and family.
How to Avoid Burnout
When feelings of burnout start to occur, many people focus on short-term solutions such
as taking a vacation. While this can certainly help, the relief is often only temporary. You also need to focus on strategies that will have a deeper impact, and create lasting change.
Let's look at specific strategies that you can use to avoid burnout:
1. Work with Purpose
2. Perform a Job Analysis
3. "Give" to Others
4. Take Control
5. Exercise Regularly
6. Learn to Manage Stress
To avoid burnout, follow these tips:
1. Work with purpose.
2. Perform a job analysis, and eliminate or delegate unnecessary work.
3. Give to others.
4. Take control, and actively manage your time.
5. Get more exercise.
6. Learn how to manage stress