Some levels of stress are normal, necessary and can act as a safety net, ensuring we don’t get complacent. When everyday stress becomes chronic stress, this is where the problems start. For the executive, low levels of stress ensure that your deadlines are met, presentations are prepared for and you stay focused on your role and responsibilities. This type of stress is often linked to a specific event, such as a project, deal or situation, and usually, once the project or deal is concluded, the stress dissipates and you recover. Research done in 2009 by Professor Ayala Malach-Pines of Ben-Gurion University in Israel found that if executives feel that their work is valuable and meaningful, then they are less likely to burnout. She says:
‘The root cause of burnout lies in people’s need to believe that their lives are meaningful, that the things they do are useful and important. For many people, the driving force behind their work is not merely monetary but the belief that they can have an impact, and it is this idea that spurs them on.’ She goes on to add that, ‘ …it is possible to be very stressed but not burned out if you feel your work is worthwhile and you are achieving the desired goals.’
When the stressors become prolonged and continual, the risks of burning out become much greater. Where stress might be characterised by over-engagement, burnout becomes characterised by disengagement. Where stress produces a sense of urgency and hyperactivity, burnout produces feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Stress causes a loss of energy, whereas burnout causes loss of motivation, ideals and hope. With stress, the primary damage is physical, and with burnout the primary damage is emotional. If you’re burned out, you will continue to feel stressed even after the stressors have gone or lessened. You have also lost your sense of self-efficacy and can no longer see the value in what you do. In some cases it results in a total breakdown of the central nervous system, which requires medical intervention and several months or even years to fully recover.
The symptoms of burnout are often similar to that of depression. In a study by Bianchi, R., Boffy, C., Hingray, C., Truchot, D., & Laurent, E. (2013). Comparative symptomatology of burnout and depression: Journal of Health Psychology, 18(6), 782-787, there were no observable differences between clinically depressed workers and workers suffering from burnout. Diagnosis is often made by the GP; all of the people I interviewed for this book had visited their GP in the first instance (with mixed results). Commonly, the visit to the GP has been deferred until too late, and any assistance the GP might have been able to offer is too little, too late. I personally waited until the red flags were impossible to ignore before taking action, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. Sometimes anti-depressants are prescribed, along with sleeping pills or anxiety medications.
Leanne Spencer is a Fitness Entrepreneur, Author of the Amazon Bestselling book Rise and Shine: Recover from burnout and get back to your best and Founder of the Rise Method and Bodyshot Performance Limited. Connect with me @riseshinemethod or Facebook.
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