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How are you managing your stress?

If you’ve been running on empty for a while, how long do you expect you can keep going for?

While our sporting athletes commonly push themselves to their limit of endurance, attempting to do so regularly in our everyday lives can come with a huge cost.

It’s time to stop papering over the cracks, pretending to ourselves and everyone else that all is well, when it clearly isn’t.

Brownout is the term used to describe the mental state experience prior to burnout. It sounds like that rather nasty stain on the office carpet that everyone hopes was a coffee spill rather than anything else.

It reflects the degree of mental stress that causes you to lose interest in your work, become more distant from your colleagues and feel tired all the time.

It’s that “one Powerball™ and I’m outta here” scenario that can quickly spiral out of control as the cracks in your performance and wellbeing start to widen.

But while presenteeism in the short term can lead to diminished productivity and performance, it is the longer-term impact on our mental health and well-being that is the greater concern.

Prolonged excessive stress can cause immense harm – physically, mentally and cognitively.

It can lead to the unthinkable where suicidal thoughts and impulses are acted upon.

A recent article in the Wall St Journal highlighted how a greater number of suicides now occur at work, which can be extremely traumatic for workplace colleagues and lead to feelings of intense anger and guilt.

More workplaces are offering mental health training which helps to elevate awareness and understanding of mental health issues, but this alone won’t turn the rising tide of people dealing with anxiety, depression and psychosis.

Yes, better mental health management and managing stress is a must, but the smarter approach is to deal with what is contributing to the increased level of stress being reported first, and then take the appropriate steps to manage this more effectively, by raising stress resilience.

Carrying on with our heads in the sand, hoping it will all sort itself out and get better on its own is Pollyanna thinking, that is irresponsible at best and reprehensible at worst.

Because it doesn’t have to be this way.

What if there was better

Duty of care?

Through the creation and maintaining a safe work environment from a physical, mental and cognitive perspective.

This is about developing a workplace culture that cares and that helps in managing stress.

Duty of care is everyone’s responsibility.

Workplace practice review?

We are creatures of habit and develop ways of thinking and doing that helps us to get our work done.

But, when time is short, and the pressure to deliver high, it’s natural to take the odd shortcut or two. Cutting corners, taking risks and operating in survival mode will work in the shorter term.

The problem is when this becomes the new norm, where everything is treated as being urgent and important. This keeps the mind in a state of high alert, consciously and subconsciously appraising anything new or different as a potential threat.  

It leads to polarized thinking and poorer decision-making because there’s no time to stop and consider other options.

Challenging our habits and rituals can lead to improved ways of doing.

Greater workplace flexibility?

Unrealistic deadlines and unrelenting pressure to keep pushing harder without time out to recuperate and refresh makes it harder to think straight.

It takes courage to stand up to a boss or manager and say

“No, enough already.”

One friend confided how on one occasion he challenged a client who was pushing for some work to be done in a much shorter time frame than usual “because that was the nature of the business.”

He queried how this made sense when it was his work, which for he was being paid a relatively minor amount of money that would have a significant impact on the project’s ultimate success, and the company had already invested several millions of dollars and many months in setting the project up.

Why pile on the pressure now and run the risk of receiving poorer quality of the work or potential mistakes?

Working too hard for too long or working too fast, makes it harder to think things through and puts you at greater risk of missing those cues your body and mind is telling you, that you need to slow down or stop.

Stress and fatigue reduce access to the prefrontal cortex, diminishing working memory as discussed in another blog.

Is this about managing expectations?

It’s not unreasonable when starting a new position to seek clarification on what is expected in terms of time to be worked and time off to refresh and recuperate.

You may love your job and be fully prepared to work super hard, but that doesn’t mean putting your health on the line.

The wake-up call as Arianna Huffington discovered after she collapsed from exhaustion, can be distinctly unfriendly, presenting as a health “scare” or leading to a decision it’s time to call it quits.

Workplace flexibility and managing expectations takes our physiological and psychological needs into account.

If you’ve noticed that work has lost its luster, that sleep is no longer refreshing, and everything feels a chore, it’s time to step back and check in to ask “is everything OK?”

Taking care of business starts with taking care of you, managing your stress levels including knowing when to stop and getting good at saying “no.”

It’s about thinking smarter by design.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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