“We think, mistakenly, that success: is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”
Arianna Huffington, Entrepreneur and Author
“One thing I see all the time from people in business, they are quick to neglect their needs, health and time, giving it all to their business,” says Vesna Hrsto a Melbourne-based Naturopath, Mind-body Medicine specialist and Life Coach.
“They end up losing their energy and spark, the two things you need to sustain a business. They lose access to new ideas, creativity, plus their health and happiness diminishes ultimately burning out. It’s your energy, essence and mojo that got you into your business, you don’t want that burning out.”
Vesna is intimately acquainted with burnout having crashed in the earlier days of running her business. You’ll learn more about her story and her path back to health, and how her experience changed the way she practiced, later in this chapter. She’ll also share some of her strategies to blitz burnout and maximise your health and well-being.
But first let’s look at what stress and burnout are and how they’re defined.
Stress is most commonly defined as: “A condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources that the individual is able to mobilise.”
Similarly, New Zealand’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health definition is: “Stress is the reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed upon them. It arises when they worry that they can’t cope.”
In other words, we feel ‘stressed’ when we don’t think we can cope. But there is no stress in a situation until you feel some strain.
How you choose to react to stressful events, people and situations is an important point. As is, how you choose to fortify yourself against your body’s natural stress response, commonly called the fight or flight response. This is a basic biological survival instinct. When you perceive a threat, your body quickly releases hormones designed to help it survive.
Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, your body’s alarm system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, and elevates your blood pressure. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream.
Cortisol also alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
These ‘stress’ hormones are designed to help you run harder and faster—hopefully outrunning whatever is threatening you. Which is great if a lion has you in its sights, but not much good if ten-too-many emails send you over the edge. People can also experience this response when frustrated or interrupted, or when they experience a situation that is new or in some way challenging.
There are very few situations in modern life where the “fight-flight” stress response is useful. Most situations benefit from a calm, rational, controlled and mindful approach. Further on in this book we will look at some techniques to keep this fight-or-flight response within your control.
Burnout, also known as General Adaptation Syndrome, refers to the way we learn to ‘adapt’ to the long-term effects of exposure to stress. When pushed to extremes people have been found to react in three stages:
First, in the Alarm Phase, they react to the stressor.
Next, in the Resistance Phase, they learn to adapt to, or cope with, the stressor. This phrase lasts for as long as people can support their heightened resistance.
Finally, when resistance is exhausted, people enter the Exhaustion Phase, and their ability to resist declines substantially. And if this happens to you, so does your enjoyment of life.
As Mindtools.com notes, “Burnout occurs when passionate, committed people become deeply disillusioned with a job or career from which they have previously derived much of their identity and meaning. It comes as the things that inspire passion and enthusiasm are stripped away, and tedious or unpleasant things crowd in.”
Smart and successful people invest time and energy in holistic approaches to health like meditation, mindfulness, massage, exercise, eating well, reducing alcohol and foods that are low in nutritional value. Also avoiding toxic people and situations, are among other simple and savvy strategies. By increasing the body’s coping resources and reducing the likelihood of triggering the stress response, they are better able to avoid overload and are better positioned to blitz burnout.
Meditation, for example, is not just about distracting yourself from stress and pain; it literally changes you at the genetic level, writes Arianna Huffington in her best-selling book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life. “It’s the Swiss army knife of medical tools, for conditions both small and large.”
Ridding yourself of self-limiting thoughts, controlling your reactions, discovering an inner contact with a creative source, and having more creative insights are just a few of the benefits that can flow from meditation. The whole experience is primarily an experience of wholeness, rightness, and power.
However, you still need to maintain vigilance. You can put in a variety of self-care measures; but unless you take significant steps to reduce stressors you may wake up one day so exhausted you literally cannot move.
The road back to health for Clive, a man in his 60’s who suffered burnout, took over three years. He told me that during this time he was unable to work and was forced to rely on the generosity of friends. Clive later found meaning and purpose from his experience after training with Cassandra Gaisford to become a Worklife Solutions Certified Career and Life Coach. He started his own business as a wellness coach supporting other stressed workers.
When you are your own boss, unless you have cash reserves, or a supportive other, there is no paid sick leave. There may not be anyone urging you to take good care of yourself. This is where your own self-discipline and ability to self-regulate comes in.
Remember—you’re in control. You’re in charge of yourself and your business. And you’re the one that has to be proactive about your own self-care.
You may opt not to take on more and more work when you already feel overloaded, or learn to delegate or outsource responsibilities, or turn down clients who are not aligned with your values, or turn the phone off and go bush for a week!
Whatever you do, know that self-care is an investment in the business of being you. The mental, spiritual, financial, physical and emotional impact of stress and burnout are too costly to ignore.
Heed the early warning signs and you’ll be safe. Ignore them and they could cost you dearly.
There’s no doubt modern life has become increasingly stressful. Many people agree that the effect of stress is becoming harder for most to handle.
There are two reasons:
1.) Too many demands. Most people have way too many demands in their life. They’re working too many hours and/or too many jobs, have too many activities, or are juggling several high stress jobs while raising a family.
They’re spending too much time in traffic, have too many stimuli in their environment (including social media virtually hardwired to their palms, which can lead to information overload—or what I call information obesity).
As author, illustrator and public speaker Mathew Johnstone poignantly notes, “Our brains never get a break and the results can be increased stress, anxiety, insomnia and, if left unchecked, even depression. But there is something you can do—nothing.”
In 2005 he published I Had a Black Dog—an illustrated book on what it is to suffer depression and what can be learnt from it.
He also wrote, Quiet the Mind—an illustrated guide on how to meditate that came out in March 2012 and went to number 1 in the UK book sales.
I highly recommend Mathew’s books. You’ll find them via his website www.matthewjohnstone.com.au
2.) Environmental toxins and poor diet. Environmental toxins and poor diet are exhausting the endocrine system—particularly the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are one of the main organs involved in the fight or flight stress response.
Diets that are high in sugar, white flour, refined foods, pesticides, and additives and low in nutrients lead to many health conditions including a malfunctioning endocrine system and depleted adrenal glands.
Your body is not designed to handle the onslaught of environmental toxins you live with daily and this puts excessive burden on the endocrine organs.
When your endocrine system is not functioning properly, you can’t cope with stress effectively. This results in a vicious cycle where the weakened endocrine system creates more stress, and the higher levels of stress continuously weaken the endocrine system even more.
Life is stressful, there’s no doubt about it. It’s impossible to completely eradicate stress, nor would you want to. A certain amount of stress is necessary and healthy.
The solution is to reduce as many stressors as possible and then find ways to cope with and manage any stress that can’t be removed.
Some of the strategies in this chapter and those shared earlier in this book will help you avoid too much “bad stress,” and build greater resilience so you don’t become ill, or burnout and melt-down completely.
If you’ve read my first book in the Mid-Life Career Rescue series, The Call For Change you’ll know that the key to managing stress successfully is to heed the early warning signs.
By nipping your stressors in the bud before they go to seed, you will avoid wreaking havoc with your body, mind, spirit relationships and your business!
Your Body Barometer Test
How stressed are you?
Take the following body barometer test by taking note of any symptoms you’re currently experiencing. Refer to this list again if you feel overwhelm sneaking up on you.
Physical Signs of Stress
• Increased heart rate/Pounding heart
• Sweaty palms
• Elevated blood pressure
• Tightness of the chest, neck, jaw and back muscles
• Unable to pass urine or incontinence
• Stuttering and other speech difficulties
• Sleep disturbances
• Being easily startled
• Shallow, rapid breathing
• Dryness of mouth or throat
• Cold hands
• Susceptibility to minor illnesses
• Chronic pain
Emotional Signs of Stress
• Highs and lows
• Feeling of loss
• Errors in judging distance/space
• Reduced creativity/creative thinking
• Lack of concentration
• Diminished productivity
• Lack of attention to detail
• Orientation to the past
• Diminished reaction time
• Disorganisation of thought
• Negative self-esteem
• Negative self-statements
• Diminished sense of meaning in life
• Lack of control/Need for too much control
• Negative evaluation of experiences
• Negative thinking
Behavioural Signs of Stress
• Carelessness/Accident prone
• Increased smoking/Starting smoking
• Increased alcohol or drug use
• Nervous laughter
• Compulsive behavior
Social signs of stress
• Relationship difficulties
• Increased conflicts
• Marital issues
• Domestic violence
Spiritual signs of stress
• Doubting of values and beliefs
• Withdrawing from fellowship or group support
• Decreased spiritual practices (i.e. prayer, meditation, yoga etc.)
• Becoming angry or bitter at a higher power or God
• Loss of compassion for self and others
Increasing your coping skills can also be a wonder cure for dissatisfaction with any aspect of your life.
If stress is taking a toll in your life you may want to revisit the first book in the Mid-Life Career Rescue series, The Call For Change.
The strategies and tips in the book will help you restore the balance and get your mojo back. Available on in paperback and eBook and audio from all good online bookstores.
When you are building a business proactive self-care is even more vital. It’s likely you’ll be juggling many competing demands and calls on your time and energy.
Like many start-up entrepreneurs you may still be holding down a salaried job, and working nights and weekends. Your business may be global, necessitating you to be alert across multiple time zones.
And change itself can add to stress levels. Even positive change like the excitement of making a living from your passion and the anticipation of being your own boss
Your health is your wealth. It’s time to take it seriously. Vesna’s story will reaffirm why.
To enjoy your copy from Amazon, click here: getBook.at/EmployYourself
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To enjoy your copy from Kobo, click here: https://www.kobo.com/nz/en/ebook/mid-life-career-rescue-employ-yourself
“Makes you think and offers strategies to make it work! I met Cassandra about 17 years ago after being made redundant—the advice she gave me and the challenges she threw at me even then have remained in my psyche and continue to give me motivation. So reading her books it’s easy to hear her voice, continuing on with that motivation. I usually skip reading other people’s stories as many of them don’t translate to real-life for me. But many in this book resonated, in particular, the opportunity that I have to follow not just one passion, but I can follow all three, and make them work! With ageism alive and well, I’ve had so many rejections for job opportunities that it’s a matter of survival that you have to tread your own path—find opportunities for yourself. This book has given me the confidence that I CAN make it work.”
~ L.A. Brown, 5-Star Review
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I am an artist, storyteller, intuitive guide, mentor and Reiki master. All my creations are infused with positive energy , inspiration, and light. I believe in magic and the power of beauty, joy, love, purpose, and creativity to transform your life. My greatest joy is helping your realize your dreams. That makes my soul sing!
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