We are one stressed-out workforce. There are goals to meet, colleagues to support and pressure to do more with less. Then one day?boom?we’re burned out and we can’t cope.
RHI Consulting, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based IT consultancy, last year asked 1,400 CIOs the main source of workplace stress. Their answers: rising workloads at 55 percent, office politics (24 percent), work-life balance (12 percent), commuting (4 percent), the pace of new technology (1 percent) and other (1 percent). Presumably the 3 percent who had no answer were too stressed out to respond.
Is all of this stress bad? Steven Berglas, a clinical psychologist and author of Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout (Random House, 2001), thinks not. He says eustress, the psychological term for good stress, is critical for physical and mental health. “The mind needs to be actively stimulated with input from the external world,” says Berglas.
Eustress has a positive effect on you. The thrill of the challenge keeps you invigorated, and the stress revs you up, keeps you focused and makes you want to accomplish your next task.
Distress, or what we simply call stress, can lead to what Berglas calls supernova burnout. It’s when a competent person suffers from chronic trepidation, despondency and depression. The exhilaration is gone.
There are plenty of useful strategies to combat distress and help you harness the positive aspects of eustress?and most are well within the grasp of even the most stressed-out cases.
Ask for help. “People who have a history of success find simple requests for assistance extraordinarily difficult to make,” says Berglas. They have a tendency to stubbornly believe they can find their own way out of any problem. As a result, they’re out of the practice of asking for help when they need it. A high-performer who asks for help is often taken aback with how much support he receives, says Berglas.
Offer help. Mentoring others can be a great source of distress relief on several levels, says Berglas. You reaffirm your own success when you pass on your wisdom, you gain self-esteem by feeling needed and vital, and you make it easier for others to come to your aid.
Embrace bad news. When experiencing burnout, there’s a foreboding sense of doom. The tendency is to avoid the negatives of the job as much as possible, but that could be counterproductive. “The best way to cope with feelings of stress or burnout is to embrace the facts of bad news; the more detail the better,” says Berglas. Gathering as many details as possible lets you play out what the worst-case scenario might be.
Don’t suppress anger. Suppressing anger is bad for your health and exacerbates burnout, Berglas observes. Instead, he says, we should find ways to use the rage to heighten feelings of eustress constructively. Channel the energy you might expend on being angry into tackling a new challenge, he suggests. Focus on the moral victory of achieving something new.
We can’t change who we are overnight. By taking small steps to get reengaged by work, you can adjust and respond effectively. “Reapply your strengths in novel ways,” advises Berglas, “but never attempt to reinvent yourself. We are who we are from age 3. What we do with who we are, however, can be bent, twisted and molded in infinite ways.” n