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Managing Your Stress: How to Douse Burnout and Regain Your Zest for Life

Aug 17, 2007
Stress has been called an equal opportunity destroyer. No one is immune from its effects. Although we often think of stress in terms of its physical symptoms, in fact, our emotional and behavioral lives may be the first to be affected.

Some people may express their stress with every change in the weather; others who are more stolid may suppress every sign until they are desperately ill. For many people, though, the phenomenon called "burnout" is a typical stress reaction.

Why do we get so stressed? Probably most often because we let our lives get out of balance. We are unable to maintain healthy boundaries that allow us the space we need to rest and recover from our lives. Often, we are our own worst enemies. We want everything--right now--and we don't expect to have to pay for it. Our debts mount up, on our credit cards, in our social obligations, and in our rising sleep deficits.

Even good experiences can be stressful. Falling in love, getting a wonderful new job or beautiful new home, traveling to hear your favorite singer, making a round-the-world journey. These are great things, but they carry their own stress.

Remember, too, that stress also has its good side! Not enough stress (think bored adolescent still asleep at 1 pm!) is not what you want either. A certain amount of stress motivates and inspires us to do the things we care about in life. We all need meaningful challenges.
We get into trouble when stress becomes chronic. Acute stress is painful but brief, and most of us readily find ways to discharge it.

Chronic stress takes a terrible toll when it goes on for days, weeks, months, or even years without being processed or discharged. Various experts even say that 80 percent up to 100 percent of illness is stress-related.

In our addicted nation, many people are actually addicted to their own adrenaline. They love the rush they feel when they are stressed to the max and pumping hard. This can apply to home or work or even exercise. These folks may need to crash and burn before they'll seek help for their addiction.

But you won't do that, will you? You want to know if you are in danger of experiencing burnout, and you are ready to take the challenge to bring your life into balance.

If you check four or more of the symptoms below, you may be experiencing burnout and therefore at risk for illness and other severe consequences. Follow the steps below to douse the danger of burning out and breaking down completely.

Tip-Offs: Burnout Symptoms.
Forgetting things. (What 10 o'clock appointment?)
Unusual fatigue. (Can't I go home yet?)
Insomnia. (Watching old movies at 3 am)
Changes in appetite. (Ravenous, or nothing looks good) This can be associated with weight changes as well.
Changes in behavior and mood. (Leave me alone or I'll kill you!)
Grumpiness. (Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr)
Getting sick a lot. (My third cold this month)
Withdrawal from others. (Just go away!)
Anxiety and worry. (Now what's wrong?)

Fire Yourself Up Again
If you checked four or more of the symptoms above, you are probably in the process of burning out. Intervene now, before it's too late. Tailor these three simple steps to your own style and personality and you'll be well on your way to renewing your vibrant energy and zest for life.

1. Balance Your Lifestyle!
Nobody's perfect - why expect or demand that of yourself?
Nobody's perfect - why expect or demand that of someone else?
Use your unique strengths to cope (you know what they are!)
Take up a hobby or something you enjoy.
Don't let one aspect of life dominate the others.
Out of time? Cross off something you don't enjoy and let someone else do it (they just might enjoy it.)
Use what you know

2. Create Support Systems
It's tough feeling alone, especially in the middle of a group of busy people.
Find people you can talk to.
Find a place or activity that's stress-free
Share something with someone.
Join a professional organization or socialize with people in your field who work for a different employer.
Become a mentor or resource for someone.

3. Gain Control Over What You Can and Let Go Of What You Can't.
Believe it or not, you're not indispensable.
Try to see opportunities instead of problems.
Review your career goals.
Do what you love, and you'll love what you do.
Are you working just to work?
Work Smarter, Not Harder.
Eighty hour weeks won't yield twice as much output.
Find a better way to do the job rather that just doing more of the same.
Schedule your days (and weeks, months, years) and work your plan.
Adjust your schedule with flex-time, job-sharing or taking a new job.
Find a mentor you respect.

Most important of all, remember that life is really much too short to waste it feeling freaked out and frazzled. Take time to enjoy yourself and appreciate the people and things around you.
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Nancy D. O'Reilly, PsyD, has worked with women for more than 25 years and has researched women's aging for more than a decade. She founded the WomenSpeak Project so women could support each other in the experience of growing older in a society that does not reward aging. Visit WomenSpeak.com for ongoing research, an E-zine, and resources about Health and Wellness, Relationships, Finances and Aging itself.
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