How To Ease Stress and Avoid Burnout
Feeling stress is a normal thing, it is your body’s response to pressure. Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension, I know I carry my stress in my jaw… I literally clench my teeth! Stress can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry or nervous and is usually accompanied by feeling a lack of control.
While feeling stress is normal, if you continue to feel stress over a period of time, it can lead to a feeling of burn out. To support you to ease stress and avoid burnout, I share 3 steps which have worked for me and for my clients.
Step 1 - Understand your energy levels
We have all heard of the notion, some people are early birds and some people are night owls. Some people enjoy getting up early in the morning, showing up before others and getting into their work early. Others prefer to ease into their day, but find their best energy comes later in the afternoon or evening.
The truth is, there is nothing wrong with either style. So long as we can appreciate other people’s styles and not assume they are ‘slacking’ if they are finishing early or starting late.
What is really important though, is taking a moment to understand your own energy levels and cycles. We all have a cycle, moments where we have loads of energy and can focus easily and moments when we are a little flat and struggle to come up with creative ideas. Being in tune with your energy levels and cycle can allow you to do your best work when it suits you.
The mistake we often make is that we start our day doing rather mindless activities such as checking our email, we’ve put off that harder piece of work until it’s too late in our energy cycle and we don’t have the focus or attention to do it well.
Take a moment now, when do you have good levels of energy and focus? What can you do during those periods? How can you use your diary more effectively to schedule your time around your energy levels and cycles?
It doesn’t mean you never have to do tough work when your energy is low, but planning and using your energy wisely can support you to reduce your stress levels and avoid burnout.
Step 2 - Focus on your circle of influence
A tool from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Everything we do falls into one of two areas - our Circle of Concern or our Circle of Influence.
Your Circle of Concern is all those things that may cause you concern, but that you have no ability to change or influence. Such as other people’s behaviours, other people’s opinions, other people’s reactions, there is nothing you can do about other people.
Your Circle of Influence is the things that you do have direct control over. Your own attitude, your own beliefs, your own actions, your own behaviours, your own results. You can change these, you can make a difference. In fact, the more you focus on your Circle of Influence, the more proactive you are, and as a result the size of your circle grows.
Reflect now on what you have been worrying about, what has been on your mind, then ask yourself is it in your Circle of Concern or your Circle of Influence. If it’s in your Circle of Concern, what can you actually do to bring it back into your Circle of Influence?
For example, and this is basic I know, but it illustrates the point. I can’t affect if my girls have a good day at school, what I can do to ensure they get enough sleep, that they eat a healthy meal, that they are at school on time (or early) and have time to organise themselves and socialise before the day starts. The rest is up to them.
Unnecessary worry or concern has a huge impact on our stress levels and down the track burn out, so ask yourself what can I let go of?
Step 3 - Create new, productive habits
There is a model of ‘success’ that says your thinking patterns directly impact your attitudes, which impact your behaviours, and therefore your results. This becomes cyclic because your results then impact your thinking patterns. All of this forms our habits, the things we do without thinking.
Think of Einstein's definition of insanity “doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results”.
This step is a little more complex, and it might require you to do some journaling, but dig deep and ask yourself what habits have I formed that I need to change to get different results?
Do you scroll social media during your coffee break, or do you chat with a friend? Consider which habit could have a better long term result for you. Chatting with a friend (on the phone or in person) provides an opportunity to learn, to share, to connect. You never know where that chat might go?
Do you watch Netflix when you get home, or do you share with your family? Again consider which habit could have a better long term result.
What you need to ask yourself is why you pursue that activity/habit. Understanding your thinking patterns will help you to change habits and create new habits which are more productive.
Being more productive in the ‘little’ aspects of your life will help you to be more productive in your work, in the bigger picture of your life. It is the little things that truly do make a big difference.
Stress can become a big deal, for some people it is crippling, but there are actions you can take right now to change your stress levels and in the long term avoid burnout. Make a decision now, what 1 thing can you do right now that will make a difference in your life? You can’t reinvent yourself overnight, so don’t try and do too many things, keep it simple and manageable. You’ve got this!