It was Lou Holtz, an American Football coach, who said that ‘It is not the load that breaks you down, it is the way that you carry it.’ Looked at from the right perspective this statement is an encouragement and not some kind of grim warning! What Holtz’s comment highlights is that it is not the situation that causes the problem – it is our reaction to it. In other words, it is important that we recognise stress is an inevitable and natural component of any situation that we care about, rather than an inherent weakness in ourselves. With this attitude and perception, we can begin to approach stress with a different mindset. For example, we might find ourselves saying any of the following:
‘I want to make the best presentation I can’
‘I want to do the best for my team’
‘It is going to be a difficult conversation with X, but the issue has to be tackled’
‘We have a deadline for 5pm’.
These statements all describe situations that generate a certain level of stress. Who really enjoys facing up to tricky conversations or the pressure of meeting that deadline? However, a resilient mindset can use these pressures as a way of sharpening our performance, of being the best that we can be, as learning experiences on our journey to new levels of success. And, finally, as a basis for celebration afterwards – We did it!
Therefore, it can be said that stress enables us to perform at our top level – to give that brilliant presentation, to care for the team, to have that difficult conversation with confidence and wisdom. It is because we care and are involved that we are bound to feel this kind of performance related stress. It is when we breeze into situations treating them as a given, that we tend to screw up!
Stress becomes toxic when it spreads like poison through our system with no let up and no clear objective in sight. It is like trying to dig a hole in sand – after a while more sand falls back into the hole than we can dig out. We lose hope. In short, stress related problems occur when we are in perpetual overload day after day, week after week and month after month, with no relief and no foot off the gas. It is in this situation, that stress edges into burnout, and the red lights are flashing!
In contrast to the performance enhancing effects of situational stress, burnout takes away our edge and blunts our emotions. It may produce a feeling of helplessness, maybe even hopelessness. Our feelings may be made worse by a sense of detachment in both our work and domestic lives. We do not know which way to turn or what to do – our heads are definitely down and we are at risk.
If we detect signs of burnout, then we need to take action. The steps below are much simplified; however, they are important:
- Find supportive and listening help on a regular basis, either through a wise friend or colleague, or a professional coach or counsellor.
- Revise your working day, and get in more exercise whether just walking/running outside or in the gym. Find someone to share this if you can.
- Split your work up into bite sized bits and work in say 50-minute slots, with relief in between.
- Set yourself realistic daily targets, so that you come to the end of the day pleased with what you have achieved, not burnt by the mountain remaining!
- Discover or rediscover the passion and purpose in what you are doing. Your coach, counsellor or friend mentioned above may well be key in this journey.
- Begin the process of re-balancing your life – time off, recreation, building or re-building relationships, re-establishing sleep patterns etc.
- Look at your diet. Are you filling yourself up with ‘sugar buzz’ type foods? The sugar high is followed by a mood down as sure as night follows day! Are there any food types that impact you badly – particularly those with lots of additives such as carry-outs, ready meals etc. Get plenty of natural good stuff, focus on things that carry Omega-3 fatty acids etc. How is your fluid intake?
- Above all, don’t sit under the cloud of potential burnout, get help to rebuild your natural resilience. Use what you have learnt through this challenging period as a platform for future success!
Develop your Resilience
1 Read this blog and ask yourself is stress a rocket fuel or an inflammatory in your life.
2 Please e-mail us for our sheet on dealing with stress/burnout.
3 Ask for details of our “The leader within you” programme.
4 Please comment and share.