The Coronavirus pandemic has amplified work stress and increased tensions in the workplace. COVID protocols are challenging to develop and difficult to administer and enforce. Rules meant to minimize risk aren't taken seriously by everyone, so compliance is inconsistent. The lack of adherence to protocols creates frustration and anger between co-workers, employees and management, and the general population.
If you were experiencing significant work-place stress before the pandemic, you may be feeling unbearable or even crippling stress seven months into the pandemic. Chronic stress, if unaddressed, can lead to burn out and, once entrenched, burnout is difficult to treat. The best strategy for dealing with burnout is to address chronic stress before it reaches burnout levels.
One of the early signs of chronic stress, is over-engagement in your work. you try to meet high demands with higher and higher levels of output, you take your work seriously and may put in long hours and unpaid overtime to meet expectations. Chronic stress creates a sense of urgency and you may initially feel energized as you push yourself to accomplish all that you want to accomplish.
We all experience occasional moments in our lives when stress at work or at home is high. In the normal course of our lives, demands ebb and flow, and times of stress are followed by times of calm and normality. It is only when stress is chronic and unrelenting, lasting for long periods of time, that it can lead to not only burnout, but significant health issues as well.
Long before you get to burnout, you start to notice that stress is having a negative impact on your life. you may experience extreme fatigue that doesn't go away, no matter how much sleep you get. You may have difficulty sleeping because your mind is racing with your constant to-do list. you may notice you're short tempered, irritable, or emotional. You may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, backpain, stomach ailments, and intestinal difficulties. Chronic stress can lead to significant health issues such as elevated blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
If you do not take steps to alleviate your stress it can lead to burnout. An early sign of burnout is anger and bitterness towards your employer and/or co-workers. Your morale at work decreases and ideals and goals that propelled you through times of stress before no longer matter. Not only do you feel depressed and withdrawn, but a negative view of the workplace and of life in general starts to take hold.
The resentment and anger results in growing feelings of indifference. Rather than over-engaging in the work as you did during times of intense stress, you now disengage. You stop caring about the work or what anyone, including your employer, thinks. You no longer work hard to meet dead-lines, you are disengaged and apathetic.
Burnout and feelings of resentment spills over into home life. Relationships suffer, friendships fall away and hobbies are ignored. The person grows discontent in all areas of his/her life.
To protect yourself from burnout, you must address issues of chronic stress before it turns into burnout. Some of the stress may be systematic and out of our control, but much of the stress we experience on the job can be significantly reduced by changing our own thoughts and behaviours.
High or unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others is a significant contributing factor to chronic stress and burnout. Learning to set realistic goals and accurately assess what we can and cannot do in a given day helps keep stress manageable.
You must guard your time off of work fiercely. Blurred boundaries between work and home play a huge role in chronic stress burnout. Strict time management skills and learning to say no to increased demands is a requirement to safeguard yourself.
Taking breaks help us restore balance. These breaks can be short breaks throughout the day, such as insuring you take a lunch break rather than eating while you work. you can make a commitment to leaving work at work and ensure holidays or time off is not interrupted by work.
A strong support system, hobbies, activities, and interests outside of work also guard us against burnout. It isn't enough to manage work stress, we must ensure that we rejuvenate ourselves with enjoyable, nurturing activities when not at work.
It can be challenging to set boundaries around your time, energy and resources. It takes commitment, practice, and a strong belief in preventative action. However, failing to do so can have significant consequences to your health and general wellbeing.
If you have difficulty reducing work stress, reach out to your Employee and Family Assistance provider. They can work with you on strategies, techniques, and skills to assist you in managing stress.
Jenny DesReis, MC Psych