Burnout and Work Stress
Stress at work is an inevitable part of our lives. Heavy workload, uncertainty of job security, poor working conditions, long working hours, improper breaks, et cetera. can lead to mental and physical problems, decreased job satisfaction, poor performance, and ultimately burnout. Burnout as a term was introduced by Freudenberger (1974) who described the state of being burned out as becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources in the workplace. He further describes it as physical and emotional exhaustion, fatigue, detachment and self-doubt.
Despite extensive use of the terms burnout and stress, people still aren’t rightly aware of the moments when they may be feeling burned out and more importantly how to manage it and cope with stress at the workplace.
How Does The Body React to Work Stress?
Take a moment and imagine yourself on a relaxed weekend and suddenly your supervisor has sent you an email regarding an incomplete assignment that needs to be finished urgently. How would you feel about it? Tensed? Stressed?.
As a result of this sudden situation, your mind and body respond by triggering the fight-or-flight response, leading to physical reactions such as increased heart rate, and muscle tension. Concurrently, you may have thoughts like, "If I don't complete this, I might have a bad impression leading to consequences. What if this impacts my promotion?" To handle the anxiety, you work extended hours into the night to finish the task.
During such situations at work, our body reacts in a variety of ways;
The most common is a physical reaction to stress – the release of cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone”, which helps the body to prepare for a “fight or flight” response. It increases heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and prolonged risks of heart disease and depression (Rosmond & Björntorp, 2000).
Another common reaction to work stress is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which control’s our body’s unconscious functions, such as heart rate, digestion, and breathing. When stressed, sensations in the stomach, sweating, and nausea are some common reactions one can experience during such moments (Chrousos, 2009).
How Does Stress Impact One’s Well-being?
Well-being refers to a state of being healthy, and happy, both physically and mentally. It involves the presence of positive emotions and the absence of negative emotions, as well as the pursuit of meaning, personal growth, and self-actualization (Diener, et al., 2010).
Long exposure to work-related stressors can have a significant impact on a person’s well-being and mental health.
Starting with negative thoughts and emotions involving negative self-talk as shared in the example above are one of the first reactions to work stress. Such thoughts and feelings can lead to anxiety, irritability, and burnout.
Chronic stress can also lead to depression, a serious mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide (Rao, Raju, Sreehari, & Umamaheshwari, 2019).
Stress can impact our ability to concentrate and make decisions, which can interfere with our work or personal life. When we are under stress, we may be more likely to engage in conflict or withdraw from social situations, which can strain relationships with others and oneself.
Burnout can be a famous and significant impact due to work stress, reducing job productivity, and performance, and in turn also causing harm to organisations by boosting absenteeism and job turnover, causing stress to spread within a workplace.
How to Cope with Stress
While stress at work is common, finding a low-stress job is hard (if not impossible). A more realistic approach is to adopt effective coping strategies to reduce this stress and burnout. Personally, you can take steps to manage work stress by sticking to a positive morning routine, getting clear on requirements at work, and adopting smarter time management techniques. Furthermore, there are skills and techniques (Almalki, Alseghayyir, & Almutairi, 2020) one can learn to manage stress at work.
Relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce the physical effects of stress, such as muscle tension. By tensing and relaxing each major muscle group for 10-20 seconds, and focusing on the word "relax," anxiety symptoms can be reduced. Other relaxation techniques can also be effective.
Problem-solving is a coping strategy that involves defining a problem, brainstorming potential solutions, ranking them, and developing an action plan. This approach can help individuals actively address the challenges and obstacles they face.
Mindfulness involves being present in the moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance. This can help break harmful habits like ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, which can exacerbate stress. Mindfulness can be practised formally through meditation or informally through exercises like mindful walking, which is a practice of walking with present-moment awareness, intentionally paying attention to the sensations in the body and the environment around you. and has been found to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Reappraising negative thoughts involves treating them as hypotheses rather than facts, and considering alternative possibilities. For example, A person might jump to negative conclusions with little or no evidence ("my boss thinks I'm incompetent") and doubt their ability to cope with stressors ("I'll be devastated if I don't get the promotion"). Regularly practising this skill can help individuals reduce negative emotions in response to stressors.
It should be noted that some of the aforementioned stress management techniques may require the guidance and support of a trained professional in order to be effectively implemented.
In addition, there are also several techniques that individuals can easily incorporate into their day-to-day routines to promote better well-being and reduce work-related stress. This may include creating a pre-work ritual, trying to be clear on the expectations of your day, walking at lunch, rewarding yourself for small achievements, and listening to music back home.
These are ways that can effectively help manage stress at work and prevent burnout. By implementing these techniques, individuals can maintain their well-being and avoid the negative consequences of chronic stress.
We, at MentAmigo, understand the need for the comfort and safe space that you may be looking for. Consider checking out our services and finding a therapist that’s right for you.
Almalki, S., Alseghayyir, R., & Almutairi, A. (2020). Effects of a Stress Management Intervention on Burnout in Nursing Students. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, 10(9), 37-45.
Chrousos, G. P. (2009). Stress and disorders of the stress system. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 5(7), 374-381.
Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi, D., Oishi, S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). New well-being measures: Short scales to assess flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 97(2), 143-156.
Freudenberger, H. J. (1974). Staff Burn-Out,. 159-165.
Rao, U. A., Raju, S. S., Sreehari, T., & Umamaheshwari, V. (2019). Correlation of cortisol levels and severity of depression in Indian patients. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 61(3), 303-307.
Rosmond, R., & Björntorp, P. (2000). The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity as a predictor of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Journal of Internal Medicine, 247(2), 188-197.