For many of today’s executives, the pressure to perform is always on.
But taking on heavy workloads and trying to keep up with unrealistic expectations over prolonged periods can often lead to a breakdown.
After years of commitment and doing whatever it takes to excel, even the best of us can face burnout.
What is burnout?
Officially recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO), executive burnout is a medical syndrome specifically tied to chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
Stress in the workplace is not uncommon but when left untreated it can lead to burnout, this, in turn, can lead to more serious health issues.
Individuals suffering from burnout can experience a total loss of motivation and energy, they can become negative, cynical and less effective at work.
In the process of climbing to the top, the constant demands and long working hours find many executives fighting a losing battle with fatigue, stress and anxiety.
Not wanting to admit defeat, the drive to achieve perfection and the fear of not being in control can trigger a downward spiral in job performance.
Working around the clock is bad for health. The number of hours we are required to work has an influence on our mental and physical well-being.
Excessive working hours can also have a detrimental effect on the quality of sleep – a contributing factor to fatigue, exhaustion, anxiety, and reduced performance.
Avoid burnout before you’re burned out
Burnout in the workplace can be identified by three components: feelings of depletion or exhaustion; feeling negative or disengaged from one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout syndrome is a gradual process, which can creep up on you, so it’s important to recognise the signs and symptoms as early on as possible. By being mindful and actively reducing your stress, you can prevent eventual burnout.
The first step to preventing burnout is knowledge. It’s important to recognise some of the warning signs and know what to do about them.
Physical and emotional symptoms can include:
loss of appetite
shortness of breath
lack of focus, dizziness
low immune system
early stages of anxiety and/or depression
Behavioural symptoms can include:
family or relationship problems
More serious side-effects can be seen in addictive behaviours, such as increased consumption of drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, and a change in appetite: binge eating or not eating enough.
Burnout is not to be ignored.
If you can self-identify with these symptoms its essential to create a self-care commitment.
How Should You Self-Care?
Learn to sleep again. Poor sleep, or a lack of it, is extremely bad for your health. Most adults require six to nine hours of sleep every night so it’s important to have a regular bedtime routine.
If you’re an over-thinker – clear your head by writing down all your to-do’s in a diary.
Make your bedroom a relaxing environment. Don’t take your phone or tablet to bed with you. Electronics and TVs in the bedroom strongly impact your quality of sleep.
Ditch ready-made meals and fast food, and practice the art of home cooking to anchor you into the present. Focus on foods that nourish your body – especially during times of stress and burnout. Boost your mood, fight fatigue and improve your sleep by introducing more Omega-3´s, fibre and dark leafy greens into your diet.
Make more time to enjoy your friends and family. Pick up the phone and call a loved one, just to chat and catch up – texting or messaging doesn’t count!
Set clear boundaries between work and home. Setting boundaries between the two can increase efficiency at work as well as reduce stress and improve your personal life. The reward is more relaxation and less burnout.
Learn to say no to taking on more responsibilities and things that will only add to your stress level. Delegate! Make time each day to create a plan of action. Effective delegating can free up more time and prevent stress and burnout.
Take regular breaks during your workday and don’t work straight through lunch.
Listen to your body, spend time in silence, meditate, do yoga, stay hydrated and stay away from alcohol.
Have some fun – find joy in life, take walks in natural surroundings, take time out, learn to breathe, book a holiday, and LOVE YOURSELF.
By practising self-care your physical, mental, and emotional health will benefit – in return, you will reach your optimal performance. So stop those long hours, put yourself first, and make time for rest and renewal.
Recently, we published an article that offers seven practical ways to help you reduce stress at work (you can read it here).
We wanted to take this idea further and offer an insight into some of the common stressors of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what you can do to mitigate these.
First things first: The world of work has changed forever
Companies like Google, Microsoft, Gap and United Airlines have all recently had to change their policy on working. Many employees are now working from home full time to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, and many won’t ever return to a normal office environment again.
But like working from an office, remote working comes with its own set of side effects. And given that you’re alone for much of the day, it can be easy to let things like executive stress, anxiety and depression spiral out of control.
While some people argue that working from home offers more work-life balance, others argue the opposite, stating that working from home causes them more stress. Here are a few common stressors to watch out for if you’re working from home, and what you can do about them.
1. A lack of structure
Whether you like it or not, humans depend on routine to be productive in their day-to-day lives. Without structure, we can lose our sense of purpose and value in the world, and we end up blurring the lines of our own personal boundaries. For instance, when does work stop and leisure begin? How much is too much time on our phones?
This feeling can eventually morph into feeling out of control, and that’s a cause for concern. When we feel out of control, we often feel more stressed and more overwhelmed with our day-to-day tasks, and this can lead to negative ‘escapism’ habits that help us avoid rather than address these things.
It’s important, then, to set clear boundaries between work and play as early on as possible. Be sure to segregate your office environment and your home environment, even if the two things exist under one roof. That way, you can better balance your day and focus on work at work, and home at home.
2. Too many distractions
There are many distractions when trying to work from home. If you have young children, for example, it’s easy to always want to play and be with them. It can also be easy to continuously venture to the fridge for food, or to watch television during ‘office’ hours.
While setting boundaries is critical to helping remove these distractions and focusing on work, it’s also important to recognise when something is a distraction and when something is downtime. Next time you turn on the television, ask yourself: Am I doing this to avoid work, or am I actively taking a break? Ultimately, if you’re not truly invested in what you’re watching and you’re thinking about work, you’re most likely ‘escaping’.
3. Social isolation
A lengthy period of time alone isn’t good for anyone, no matter who you are. In today’s pandemic, social isolation is a real concern and it’s leading to more unhappiness, depression, anxiety and, in some more extreme cases, even suicide.
Much like knowing when to take a break from work, it’s important to recognize when you need some human interaction. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and FaceTime a relative just to catch up and get in your social fix. This will help you realise that you’re not alone, that everyone is experiencing what you are. Remember: there are people out there that care about you. Ultimately, this social time will help you reduce your stress and focus better at work.
4. A lack of movement, a poor diet
2020 has been a scary year so far. As a consequence, it can be easy to turn to comfort food more often than we like to help us through this turbulent period. Much like the ‘escapisms’ we mention above, eating poorly is just another variation.
What’s more, without a commute to work or the ability to venture outside as regularly as you like, it can be tricky to get in a good amount of movement, leading to stiff joints, aching bones and poor health.
We encourage you, then, to go outside and put the laptop away more frequently than you feel comfortable with. We urge you to take a walk while you take a conference call, and to make a smoothie rather than find that bar of chocolate in the fridge.
Finally, set up a reward system
To reduce your stress of working from home, be sure to set up your own reward system. Finished a project? Treat yourself to chocolate. Put in a full day’s work? Turn your phone off and sit in the park.
Self-discipline and rewards are your greatest strengths as a remote worker. In the western world, we’re often setup with this system through childhood – our parents will reward us for good behavior and punish us for bad behavior.
While we don’t ask you to be hard on yourself during this time and punish yourselves, it is important to remain vigilant of your actions at home and try to actively reduce your remote working stressors. Only then can you really be truly ‘on’ when you’re on, and truly ‘off’ when you’re off.
Stress is healthy for you. It’s your body’s natural way of telling you something isn’t going quite right, and that you need to cool off, calm down and slow your speed.
However, in unhealthy doses, stress is disastrous on the body. In fact, according to The American Institute of Stress, 120,000 Americans die from work-related stress each year.
Work-related stress is one of the biggest killers out there. After all, the average person spends more than 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, which approximates to one third of your time here on Earth.
Rather than accepting stress, then, it’s important to find useful ways in which you can reduce it in your everyday life. In this blog, we share the 7 steps to help you reduce stress while at work.
1. Establish healthy workplace boundaries
It’s easy to say yes to too much work in an attempt to impress the higher ups. While striving towards new goals is important, it’s more important to know your limits.
Knowing when to confidently say no to more work than you can handle could save your life in the long term. It’ll reduce burnout, help you perform better in the work you do have to do, and help you work in a happier and more sustainable way. You can’t work 24 hours a day. Accept this.
2. Learn how to relax
Overwhelming feelings of ‘too much work’ can paralyse you during your downtime. Many people who are highly stressed at work will respond to emails on Sunday evenings, take phone calls during family dinners and even dream about work.
This is unhealthy. This is stressful. To mitigate against this, change your perspective on work and begin to realise that it’s a never-ending ‘thing’ we all do – there is no such thing as ‘completed’. As a result, many things we think are important now can in fact wait until tomorrow. Go back to your family, they need you and you need them. Work will always be there.
3. Acknowledge your workplace stressors
Many people who feel a heightened sense of workplace stress know that it exists, but they can’t put their finger on exactly what it is that gives them this feeling. It might be the unnecessary emails and mobile phone pings, or it might be sitting still for too long.
Whatever it is, it’s important to know what makes you tick while at work, and to begin to remedy against these. Do you have a big project to complete? Turn your mobile phone off to reduce your distraction. Is your back aching and causing you pain? Get up and go and walk. You’ll be better off for it in the long run.
4. Prioritise and organise
Those with poor organizational skills will feel stress more than those who keep on top of their to-do list. Falling behind at work never leads to positive feelings, so ensure that you prioritise and organise your workday to help you reduce your stress.
Some people like to make a to-do list at the end of their days so that when they return to work the next day, they know exactly what needs to be done. Others like to tick off smaller tasks (as Tim Ferris calls them – Scooby Snacks), and to use this motivational momentum to tackle the meatier projects. Find what works for you and be sure to keep organised.
5. Delegate the smaller tasks
You’re holding yourself (and others) back if you believe that, to do something well, it must be performed by you and you alone. After all, there’s more than one way to lead a horse to water.
Learn and practice the art of delegation to reduce the burden on your back, and free up your time so that you’re not always working in hyper gear. You don’t have to do everything, there are alternatives.
6. Perfection gets in the way of good enough
Nothing in this world is ever perfect. You aren’t, we aren’t, no one and nothing ever is. So, don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough.
Don’t get us wrong, you should be working hard and aiming for high standards, but high standards and perfection are completely different. Yes, you can always do better, but in the interest of efficiency, effectiveness and moving forward, ‘good enough’ is, well, good enough.
Here’s the takeaway: To reduce workplace stress, deliver your projects, learn from project feedback, and strive for better on the next one. For everyone’s sake, move on.
7. Talk to your supervisor
If you’re still struggling with stress at work, it might be time to approach your supervisor or boss and considering alternatives. Stress is a nasty and vicious malady and opening up about this problem with your peers is better than quietly drowning at your desk and constantly underperforming.
Speak with your supervisor and work to find a long-term solution to fix your stress. That might mean reducing responsibilities, reducing working hours or simply reprioritising your schedule. It might also mean time off and professional help but ultimately, it’ll mean a happier, more productive you.
Seeking treatment for workplace stress
Nobody should accept constant stress at work. It’ll make for an unhappy place to be, demotivation, and eventually, it’ll lead to mental health concerns like severe anxiety or depression.
Finding the right help for stress, then, is essential to getting well again. If your employer can’t help you, it might be time to take actionable steps yourself. After all, your health is more important priority in your life.
According to an Integra Survey, 62 percent end the day with work-related neck pain. To make matters worse, more than half said they often spend 12-hour days on work related duties and an equal number frequently skip lunch because of the stress of job demands.
According to a survey of 800,000 workers in over 300 companies, the number of employees calling in sick because of stress tripled from 1996 to 2000.
Stress is a killer, and executives – who work harder, longer, and have more responsibility than others – are most at risk of succumbing to stress-related maladies.
Here’s what to do about it.
The effects of executive stress
While workplace-related stress has skyrocketed in recent years, none have been as affected as those in the driving seat of business. CEOs, for example, spend an average 62.5 hours at work per week, and that doesn’t include putting out fires, responding to urgent emails and handling requests outside of office hours.
As a consequence of such demand, the stress you feel as an executive will age you. Here are some other side effects from feeling constantly stressed at work:
Low energy, demotivation and a lack of inspiration to come up with new ideas.
Frequent colds, illnesses and infections.
A loss of libido or desire for human connection.
Insomnia, chest pains, and aches and pains.
Or course, one of the made side effects of executive stress is the use of substances to maintain a high workload, or the effect on mental health. Many executives experience severe anxiety and depression related to workplace burnout, and this can affect life at home, too. Not only that, but many executives turn to substance abuse as a way of coping with such demanding work schedules.
In fact, in 2017 the New York Times reported on the story of a high-level executive who overdosed on substances after a long battle with substance abuse. The victim, Peter, was using to cope with the stress of his job, and because he was in a position of leadership, he failed to communicate his addiction and suffered in silence.
Work isn’t as important as your health.
What to do about executive stress
There are many things that you can do to ease the side effects of executive stress. Here are a few options:
Commit to healthy lifestyle changes
Learning how to switch off is as important as knowing when to turn it on. Work shouldn’t be a 24/7 thing, regardless of whether you own a business or just sit in a leadership position. Know when to turn off your emails and tune in to time with your family. Set strong boundaries with colleagues and ensure they respect them so that work doesn’t spill over into personal time. Finally, exercise regularly, eat well and get your eight hours. Set your alarm for 7am and go to bed at 11pm. Billy don’t be a hero.
Remain aware of your stress triggers
Remaining mindful of what triggers your stress at work is vital to knowing when to step back and take a break. If you haven’t moved your body in many hours, be sure to do so. If you’re feeling sad and unproductive, don’t try to slog through. Go outside and get some fresh air.
Knowing when you’re feeling a heightened level of stress means that you can work to keep your stress levels in check, proactively working to reduce your heart rate (and save your life) at the same time.
Turn to support
Friends, family members and other colleagues you can trust are all good places to turn to. Alcohol, cocaine and gambling are not. Talk about how you’re feeling and recognize how people are reacting to your current moods. Feeling snappy and irritable because of work? That’s not a positive sign and there is no excuse. Recognize this and open up with your friends and family, don’t ‘react badly’ to their concerns.
Professional help for executive stress
If, after some time, the above approach to workplace stress reduction doesn’t have an effect on you, it might be time to look for further intervention to help you regain control over every aspect of your life.
Rehab centers like us are here to help executives like you build a strong set of tools that’ll help you manage your stress better for years to come. There is no avoiding the feeling of stress. In fact, in many aspects it’s a positive thing that keeps up on our toes and working hard.
But when that feeling boils over and your health begins to deteriorate, it’s time to do something about it. As executives, though, it can be tough to take extended time away from the office to seek help for your stress. That’s why we’ve created the 10-day Executive Stress program. In just a little over a week, we can help you regain control and learn the tips and tricks you need to manage your stress.