Even though stress and burnout are common, it doesn’t mean they are normal! There is a reason doctors inquire about your stress levels at nearly every office visit.
There also seems to be general consensus these days, that the effects of stress have gotten way out of hand and most people are seeking remedies.
The problem is.. that while there are many lists of simplified coping methods for stress, research into true stress management indicates a number of factors that make it a more complicated matter.
Some variational factors include:
Type and intensity of stress
Level of burnout
Level of resilience
Co-occurring medical issues
Personal reasons for engaging and/or avoiding specific stressors
In most of the research, it is implied that the key factor is finding a combination of skills and methods that work for each person... and none of the methods will work if the person isn't willing to try them.
When seeking self-care strategies for stress, it is helpful to start with basic self-care practices; mainly sleep, nutrition and exercise. Attention to the essentials (or a lack of) can make or break the severity of any other symptoms.
After tending to the basics, your stress reduction plan will require digging deeper into your own personal needs and situation. The good news is there is a wide body of growing research on effective stress reduction techniques.
"The fastest way to reduce stress is by taking a deep breath and using your senses—what you see, hear, taste, and touch—or through a soothing movement. By viewing a favorite photo, smelling a specific scent, listening to a favorite piece of music, tasting a piece of gum, or hugging a pet, for example, you can quickly relax and focus yourself." (5)
Try to find activities using multiple senses at once, like having a bonfire beside the ocean. You can smell the fire and see the water rippling, see the flames, feel breeze from shore, hear the birds, hear the tide, and smell or taste water in the air.
Try to find activities that really awaken your senses! And if you can't actually get to the ocean... improvize ;)
If you don't have access to many soothing places or things at the moment, using aids like guided visualization has been proven to give powerful results. You can engage all the senses with the richness of your own imagination.
Sensory activities can be grounding and centering, bringing you back into the 'now' moment.
If there is a particular stressful situation that you can feel taking over your thoughts and emotions, try to think of it in a different way. Stand outside the problem and put aside your own feelings about it and how it is negatively affecting your life. Just for a moment, look at it from a completely different angle.
Does it look any different? Can you find a way to be positive or optimistic? At the very least, is it helping to teach you a lesson?
There are few things in life that are not going to teach you something or provide more than one way to look at it, if you can take a step back and let yourself do that.
Everyone has annoying and frustrating things that happen every day. Maybe you are always kept late at work, or your daughter is always running late for school, or your water heater keeps going out.
None of these are life-altering situations, but over time, they add up and really start to get under your skin. Keep a stress journal about what is bothering you each day, so you can express the smaller irks and discover resolutions to help relieve some of the stress.
Everything is always about time. Making time for your family, making time for work, looking at the clock every few minutes during your workday, trying to get out of the house with enough time to spare.
All of this focus on time, whether it is time you feel you wasted, time to get stuff done, and feeling like your time is running out, causes a lot of unnecessary stress.
There are certain aspects of life where time is relevant, such as getting to an
appointment or meeting on time, but don’t make your entire life revolve around time. It can make life feel constantly overwhelming.
When you have full on burnout 🤕 it can be hard to use standard stress relief methods. By this point, it's hard enough to get the bare minimum done, especially when you add in stress and overwhelm at the same time.
Rather than putting even more pressure on yourself, try to start slow. Practice being mindful for at least one moment every day. During that moment, you can also give yourself extra time to refocus your thoughts and energy from less negative to a more positive polarity.
Maybe you are in your office after a meeting that caused you a lot of stress and tension, so you sit for 5 minutes and are mindful about something positive you feel right now...
This could be gratitude for this job you worked so hard for, relief that your body has carried you through, happiness for your family and friends, or even acknowledging that the stressful situation is over and now you can appreciate how you got through it.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you know and lean on them when you need to. Many loved ones will quietly wait for us to ask for help, because they don't want to invade our privacy. Yet nobody can accomplish anything completely alone, and sometimes we all need help, reassurance, and support.
Be willing to seek out new sources of support as well, including professionals. Seek out people who you trust to understand, or specialize in what you are going through. Open yourself to the company of those who are going to relieve your stress, instead of add more burden to your life.
In one extreme, some cultures reject independent development in place of turning to the community. In the other extreme, some people are so independent they refuse to ask for help in spite of a desperate need.
Research suggests that it is beneficial to be willing to try out new coping behaviors in addition to any old ones that are most comforting... especially when we have outgrown things that just no longer work anymore. It is definitely worth a try, regardless of culture, when it seems our entire planet is on the verge of collective burnout.
References and Further Reading