Do You Think You Might Be Approaching Burn Out?
Have you ever thought that you might be either in burnout or approaching it? Do you know the difference between being stressed out and having chronic stress which leads to burn out? When stress is extreme and chronic, it can feel like we’re on a non-stop anxiety treadmill. The stress is relentless and highly uncomfortable, and we can feel like we’re barely able to cope with what is happening. This article explains stress, stressors, acute stress, chronic stress, brownout, burnout, stress management and mental wellness.
Do You Think You Might Be Approaching Burn Out?
The Optimal Functioning, Mental Wellness,
Brown-Out, Burn-Out Continuum
Bill Cole, MS, MA
Founder and CEO
William B. Cole Consultants
Silicon Valley, California
It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there's nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control? The activity of worrying keeps you immobilized.
You must not only learn to live with tension, you must seek it out. You must learn to thrive on stress.
J Paul Getty
Being a comedian, you're under pressure. You have to deal with stress and pressure to perform - to deal with pressure without stress.
The time to relax is when you don't have time for it.
Sydney J. Harris
In times of great stress or adversity, it's always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.
Have you ever thought that you might be either in burnout or approaching it? Do you know the difference between being stressed out and having chronic stress which leads to burn out? When stress is extreme and chronic, it can feel like we’re on a non-stop anxiety treadmill. The stress is relentless and highly uncomfortable, and we can feel like we’re barely able to cope with what is happening.
I coach across a number of disciplines, including sports psychology, executive coaching, and stress management and wellness coaching. The number one reason people come to see me is that they are no longer able to manage the changes in their life, and they don’t have the problem-solving skill set and stress control skill set required to keep the stress away. Transition requires a huge amount of energy and mental re-organization in order to make sense of, and to manage the new tasks required from change. If life is coming at you fast, and you don’t have much time to make sense of things, this can be quite overwhelming. It can be very stressful.
A stressor is an environmental circumstance that challenges the adaptive capabilities of humans. If a human is not able to adjust and manage the stressor, then the person feels physical, mental and / or emotional strain within themselves. Acute stress is a psychological and physiological reaction to a specific stressor event. Chronic stress represents the mental and physical reactions to events and environmental circumstances on an ongoing basis over a longer period of time.
We reach the burnout phase when our personal resources are inadequate in the face of these continuing stressors. Burnout, though, is not just an extreme extension of this stress. It carries its own unique characteristics and malaise. While we could say that stress is the reaction the body and mind has to trouble and difficulties, burnout is manifested at the spiritual level as well. When we are in burnout, we are chronically exhausted and feel hopeless, lifeless and desperate. While some stress in life is not only normal, but necessary, and desirable, once we experience high and unending levels of stress, we may slip into the next stage, called brownout. This causes us even greater difficulty in coping with the stress. Beyond brownout is the burnout stage. In burnout we are dysfunctional and just barely holding on.
Let’s contrast burnout with mental wellness.
Mental wellness has been variously defined as psychological well-being, tranquility, serenity, mental flow, being mentally sound, optimal functioning and having good mental health. There is no single definition of mental wellness. Mental wellness is multifactorial and is a vibrant, changing entity within each of us. Mental wellness is not necessarily about being happy or about being in a good mood. Mental wellness does that mean a person is free from a psychiatric diagnosis.
Even my own definition of mental wellness changes on a regular basis, but for now I would define it as optimal mental and emotional functioning, across many spheres of life. Having mental wellness is like knowing when you’ve seen good artwork. You know it when you see it and you can also identify artwork you don’t prefer. When you have good, healthy mental wellness you feel more grounded, calmer, and more secure as a person.
People come to me to learn the mental strategies and mind-body tools of optimal performance. Whether they’re professional athletes, Olympic athletes, international or national level athletes, or whether they’re medical doctors and surgeons, they all need to be at the top of their game when they perform. Jobseekers undergoing the stress of interviews and exam takers at all levels need to rise above any debilitating anxiety to play their best game.
Prior to a true burnout stage many people experience various degrees of discomfort around stress. They can plateau with their progress, experience staleness, where they feel listless, and then move into an actual slump where their performance degrades and they are experiencing sub-optimal outcomes. The ideal place all people want to be is the zone. The zone is an inner state we experience when we’re performing optimally and life is going well. When we’re functioning less optimally, and not very challenged, this is sometimes referred to as "the snore zone", "the bored zone" and "the drone zone".
Ways To Tell If You May Be Approaching Burnout
For my sports psychology clients, I’ve created the Cole Sport Burnout Inventory (CSBI), an assessment that identifies the effects of acute and chronic stress in sport that leads to burnout. Contact me if you would like to see this inventory.
Here are some of the variables listed in this inventory that you could use to informally identify if you might be approaching burnout in your life.
- You are more irritable, impatient and short-tempered than normal.
- You feel bored and unmotivated.
- You experience memory problems.
- You have trouble thinking clearly.
- You have trouble making decisions.
- Your energy levels are far lower than usual.
- You find it more difficult to physically recover from your usual activities.
- You have a pessimistic, cynical or negative outlook.
- You feel highly frustrated.
- Very little anymore seems to bring you pleasure or satisfaction.
- You’re envious of people who appear to be happy.
- You overreact emotionally to situations for no apparent reason.
- You have more conflicts with people than usual.
- You feel stuck and blocked.
- You feel despair, to the point where life seems meaningless.
- You often think, what’s the point of all this?
If you believe you may be at risk of burnout, I encourage you to take immediate steps to counter the extreme stress that you are experiencing. Seek the counsel of a licensed mental health professional or other professional to examine what factors are contributing to your stress.
A major reason people experience stress is that their coping skill set is not robust enough. As life throws us curveballs and problems, we need to be able to have the resources to manage and solve these problems. If we’re not yet very good at problem-solving, it stands to reason that if we don’t know what to do, that will frustrate us, and keep us floundering. The problems we have will remain, and may even become more intractable. For example, if there is someone in your life who’s being rude and disrespectful to you, there are multiple ways to handle this situation. One is to avoid this person. Another is to show the person compassion and kindness, hoping that they will see that there is a better pathway for them. And still another is for you to be diplomatically assertive and to discuss this dilemma with the person. You would be having what is known as “the difficult conversation”. Unfortunately, if you don’t have well-developed tactful assertiveness, conflict resolution skills and nuanced communication skills, you will not be able to have a very effective conversation with this person. You then may not even consider speaking with this person because you have no idea how to proceed. This avenue of using excellent communication skills to resolve this situation would not be open to you until you develop these skills. Until then, this situation would continue to cause you stress.
So now you can see that stress management and mental wellness is not just about learning deep breathing techniques, meditation techniques, or using visualization to imagine a successful outcome. All of these are fine, but having a robust communication skill set is one of the major tools you need to manage stress in your life.
It's critical that you are regularly aware of where you fall along the optimal functioning---mental wellness---brown-out---burnout continuum. You don’t want to let your stress intensify, accumulate and become a critical situation. Work with a coach or some other professional to build your stress management skill set that will help you buffer against pressure and stress. You owe it to yourself so you can have a happy life.
Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority
on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and
CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps
organizations and professionals achieve more success in business,
life and sports. He is also the Founder and President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association (www.mentalgamecoaching.com),
an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development,
professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He
is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school
alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author
and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league
pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For
a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments
visit him at www.MentalGameCoach.com.
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