Description: I suspect you probably know quite a bit about stress, about how it feels, about what it does to your ability to manage, to work, to focus, or to relax. You likely know that you have limits relating to how much stress you can manage before you cannot keep functioning well. But did you also know that we (all of us) are actually not ‘built’ for the sorts of stress we are living with these days. I am not just referring to the times of COVID. As a species we have evolved to cope consistently and effectively with stress and stressors that are rather intense AND very short term. Think of encountering a bear while out gathering berries for your family. The stress of that will be intense AND short term… over rather quickly one way or another. If we manage to sneak away from or other wise evade the bear we can calm down, have a good story to tell around the fire that night and the insight that we should avoid that bear infested area (and we can tell others so they too can avoid that stress in future. These days, while you can still, in theory, run into a bear the stressors we typically contend with are less intense than a bear encounter (most of the time) BUT they are much more drawn out in time. You cannot run away a mortgage, an ailing relative, or other adult responsibilities. As a consequence, our stresses these days are chronic rather than acute and the bear fleeing, fight-flight, stress physiology we evolved does not serve us as well in dealing with today’s stressors. We spend are living with moderate levels of stress for very long periods of time. According to pioneering stress researcher Hans Selye, our stress response physiology starts out in alarm mode (think of a bear encounter) but then settles down a bit into a resistance phase which we maintain for days, weeks or even months until our system starts to breakdown, and we enter an exhaustion phase. This is sometimes referred to as burnout where our abilities to manage in spite of our stress levels starts to falter. What does burnout look like or feel like? It is important that we know these things so that we know that we need to make changes… take steps to reduce our stress levels, if we are to thrive. How would you know that you were starting to burn out? What signs or symptoms could you look for and think about responding to? Not sure? Then read the article linked below for some useful research-based information about what burnout is, how it presents itself to us and about what we can do about it.
Source: Your Body Knows You’re Burned Out, Melinda Wenner Moyer, The New York Times.
Date: Feb 15, 2022
Article Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/15/well/live/burnout-work-stress.html
Yes, we could decide we are going to tough out our stresses. We could take the position that only those who bear down and muscle through their stresses succeed. However, burnout is not so much a thing as it is the consequence of not noting and dealing with our stresses and our reactions to them or of getting assistance in doing so, not just from friends or therapists but from those with we work with and work for as addressing signs of burnout could require some significant change in our lives and in our work and other contexts. So, pay attention and talk about the steps that might help so you can reduce the likelihood of your experiencing serious signs or consequences of stress-related burnout.
Questions for Discussion:
- How are stresses different “these days” as compared to the hunting and gathering eras of our ancient ancestors?
- What are some of the consequences of the stresses we contend with in our lives these days given the evolutionary forces that shaped the stress response systems we possess?
- Is burnout an individual issue? What else could or should be seen to be at play and what sorts of things can we do to reduce the potential consequences of burnout?
References (Read Further):
/Lead (2021) Employee Burnout Report: COVID-19’s Impact and 3 Strategies to Curb It Link
World Health Organization (2019) Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases Link
Hirotsu, C., Tufik, S., & Andersen, M. L. (2015). Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep Science, 8(3), 143-152. Link
Yau, Y. H., & Potenza, M. N. (2013). Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva endocrinologica, 38(3), 255. Link
Koutsimani, P., Montgomery, A., & Georganta, K. (2019). The relationship between burnout, depression, and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 284. Link
Shanafelt, T. D., Oreskovich, M. R., & Dyrbye, L. N. (2012). Avoiding burnout: the personal health habits and wellness practices of US surgeons. Journal of Vascular Surgery, 56(3), 875-876. Link
Selye, H. (1950). Stress and the general adaptation syndrome. British medical journal, 1(4667), 1383. Link