In school, university and the world of work it is natural to go through periods where you are under high amounts of stress: deadlines, heavy workload, high expectations, short time constraints and more. This is ever the more true in the sphere of healthcare. It is important to be able to effectively deal with high levels stress to avoid experiencing burnout. Burnout is defined as a physical or mental collapse caused by overwork and stress. Here is a list of some things you can do to minimise burnout. The suggestions made are by no means exhaustive but they do present some strategies we can implement in order to be better in dealing with stress and prevent ourselves from burning out as much as possible.
First and foremost, it is crucial you understand yourself. Can you tell when you are feeling stressed? What are your stressors? Stress factors and the way in which we react to stress are unique to each individual: they vary from person to person. What you can handle someone else may find more difficult and vice versa. Are you more easily agitated? Are you struggling to get a good night’s sleep? Are feeling anxious? These are some signs that you may be feeling stressed. Knowing how you react and the way your behaviour changes when stressed is the first step to being able to face stress. In knowing yourself, you also know the limits under which you can be stressed and put under pressure, as well as when you have reached your capacity.
Once you are aware that you are experiencing high levels of stress, you can now seek the source of you having this experience: the stress factors in this situation. Stress factors are found in our environments. The way in which we react to these factors cause us to feel a certain way or, simply put, feel stressed. It is important that once we have identified that we are feeling under a large amount of pressure we ask ourselves: why? Large workload? Many responsibilities requiring your attention all at once? The expectations of yourself or others for you to perform? Faced with a decision to make with significant consequences? These are just some things that cause us to feel stressed.
Knowing the stress factors allows us to tackle them and respond to them in an effective manner. When feeling overwhelmed, it may be helpful to make a list of all the things that are required of you and reorder this list in terms of priorities. Are the things you need to do important? How urgent are these tasks at hand? Are some of the things on your to-do list necessary? Prioritising allows you to better allocate times to these tasks. Do you feel that time is short? Perhaps you should consider scheduling and timetabling. In doing so you ensure you are using the little time you have effectively — you cannot gain back the time you lose so it is best to try not to waste it! Are you able to face all of these objectives alone? It may be that you need to call on help so you are best equipped to tackle these problems. Look at the network around you: colleagues, friends, family, teachers, supervisors, etc. When seeking help, it is important that you go to the appropriate source, otherwise you may find yourself creating more problems for yourself that may even stress you out more!
Even when being under high amounts of stress, it is key that you find ways of releasing the mental/physical/emotional tension stored up inside you as a response mechanism when trying to avoid burnout. Otherwise, you may find that the tension builds up insurmountably until you crash and the only way to recover is to cease all activity for an extended period of term (ie burnout). Stress factors are unavoidable, therefore times of feeling stressed are inevitable. Taking breaks (both for short and extended periods of time), sharing with friends, exercising, taking up and continuing hobbies, doing things you enjoy and allowing yourself to rest and recharge (eg eating well and ensuring you have a good night time routine and as good a night’s sleep as possible) are some ways in which we can de-stress.
But what about if or, rather, when we do burnout? It is important to prioritise your health and wellbeing to ensure you are able to make a full recovery. Ensure you rest well, eat and sleep as you need and, as much as it is possible, surround yourself with people who are able to support you and help you reach your initial level of energy and productivity. Just as a person can burn out, they can be restored.