The Real Impact of Burnout and Stress

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July 29, 2021
Podcast
Originally recorded in September 2019, this article has been revised and expanded by Team JRNI to include new resources and information.

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring JRNI Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. In this episode, we explore the causes of burnout and stress, and how to overcome them. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

Modern life is all about the hustle and grind, right? Stress is such an embedded part of the equation, many of us don't question it. Going to a job we dislike, jugging bills we can never seem to get on top of, or navigating a toxic relationship with a family member... it's just what we have to do to survive. Just suck it up and keep moving forward... stress be damned.

Or do we?

In 2019, the World Health Organization added a new classification of occupational hazard to the professional landscape: Burnout. While this may sound like a no-brainer, it's actually a big deal. Rather than stigmatizing stress as a short-term personal problem, attention is now shifting to how our institutions are themselves contributing to and perpetuating this growing physical and mental health crisis.

Burnout is a chronic state where the regular stresses of everyday life are sustained over a long period of time. Beyond short lived feelings of "stress," acute strain takes a toll on both our mind and body.

The 3 primary causes of burnout include:

  1. Job pressures
  2. Financial difficulties
  3. Challenging relationships

In other words, modern life is putting us at a high risk of burnout. And when we're overwhelmed with too much stress, it can be difficult to see a way out.

Navigating the constant stress of family life, unclear job expectations, heavy workloads, and other sources of stress can easily drive even the most steady among us headlong into burnout.

While acknowledging it may often be stigmatized in the workplace, burnout isn't just a "mental health thing". As the hits keep coming, our body kicks into a prolonged "fight-flight-freeze" response. We weren't designed to be in perpetual overdrive. The cumulative impact of how our bodies deal with a stress cycle that never ends can be severe, and even life threatening.

Serious health effects of acute stress include:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Weakened immune system
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Migraines
  • Gastro-intestinal disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Decline in mental health
  • Skin conditions
  • Respiratory infections
  • PTSD

Symptoms of Burnout

Irritability

Don't just chalk this one up to "having a bad day." Irritability is itself one of the most common signs of burnout. If you notice yourself getting annoyed by small things that didn't used to stress you, it could be a sign that burnout is creeping in.

Difficulty Concentrating

One of the warning signs of burnout includes a reduction in our ability to focus. High levels of stress also detract from our ability to think creatively, which itself only serves to perpetuate the stress cycle.

Rumination

It is one thing to think about a problem, and another to become totally immersed in it. If your mind can't stop spinning on an issue and your thoughts are getting  disorganized, this is another potential tell.

Anxiety

High levels of stress can easily lead to a perceived loss of control. If you find yourself gripped in disastrous "what if" thinking, or are regularly perceiving stressful situations as threatening, burnout might be a leading cause. In this case, anxiety might look like a recurring fear of losing your job, or of not being able to pay your bills, without any clear evidence that these are imminent concerns.

Difficulty sleeping

Another physical impact of stress is insomnia, or difficulty sleeping. If your schedule has you running from 5am to midnight every day, existing in a chronic state of sleep deprivation, this one may be harder to spot. Most healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and the impact of not getting that rest on a regular basis is profound. The long term impact of not getting enough sleep includes: memory loss, difficulty with thinking and concentration, mood changes, weakened immunity, high blood pressure, weight gain, and poor balance (among others).

Ways to Combat Burnout

Reconsider how we work

Globally, we're facing epidemic levels of stress and dissatisfaction. A major contributor to this is toxic work environments and old paradigm management practices. We're human, and everything we're experiencing comes with us to work. Instead of requiring people to "suck it up," we need to figure out how to work together to make modern life more workable.

  • If you're employed in a toxic work environment, consider whether it's time to find a new job. Hiring a career or life coach can be a tremendous help in clarifying the situation, deciding what action you'd like to take, and mapping out the steps to get there.
  • If you're in a position of power, identify ways to demonstrate you care about the lives of those people you manage. Employers of the future are increasingly collaborating with their employees to create whole-person work environments.

Give yourself permission to take breaks

Building in recovery time for the body and mind is one of the most effective ways to overcome burnout and stress. "Busy" shouldn't be a badge of honor. No matter how bad you want to keep working, keep networking, keep building things, encourage yourself to take breaks - BEFORE you think you need them.

Understand that going slow is okay

Productivity is not our only metric of success. While it may be an "economic indicator", it doesn't show up anywhere in the research on human happiness and what it means to thrive. According to the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company:

"[I]n working with top teams, we conclude that just speeding up isn’t the answer. It often makes things more complex, consumes more energy and, in the best case, solves only a part of the challenge. In fact, we find that if these top teams slow down, they eventually go deeper and faster into achieving their objectives. They deal more effectively with increased complexity and challenges – and they use less energy."

Ask for help

Combating burnout is not a solo endeavor. In fact, the way many of us arrive in a state of chronic stress is by trying to handle life's challenges all on our own. Consider where you can ask for a hand, delegate, or remove something from your plate. If you really don't see a place to start, consider working with a coach to help you implement stress reduction strategies and identify possibilities you may not yet be able to see.

Ready to Become A Coach?

One of our values at JRNI is that we dare to be different. Our coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like some partners in the process, come check out JRNI Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.

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