What Happens When Stress Gets the Better of You

Rush HourWhile much research has been done on the health effects of stress, surprisingly little is known about what happens when people are no longer able to cope with the challenges life throws at them. Yet, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a phenomenon commonly known as ‘burnout’ affects ever-growing parts of the population.

Burnout Is a Growing Concern
In Our Ever Busier Lives

Burnout is defined as a physical and emotional collapse or meltdown due to persistently high levels of stress and anxiety. Symptoms include frequent bouts of exhaustion, irritability, hopelessness, depression, social detachment, and low self-esteem.

According to surveys, financial concerns are the most common cause of burnout among American adults, closely followed by worries about job security and excessive workloads. Well over 60 percent of respondents reported suffering from these stressors on a regular basis.

Burnout is a growing concern especially for people with ever busier lifestyles. It’s the pace of our lives that creates this problem, says Dr. Frank Lipman, a physician and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City who specializes in integrative and functional medicine. There are countless stress-inducing elements in our culture and our environment that add up to what he calls the “total load” of what a person is able to tolerate before things go haywire. Over time, keeping this from happening can become increasingly difficult.

“We never turn off – we’re on our phones and computers and televisions all the time. Apart from the normal stresses we may have been under for years, we have this added layer of technology that is making everything worse,” he warns.

And it is not just the constant exposure to our surroundings that affects our well-being but also the toxins we put in our bodies, knowingly or unknowingly, he says. Chemicals in our food and personal care products, pollutants in the air and water, nutritional imbalances and deficiencies – you name it, they all contribute to the problem.

Experts advise that the best way to prevent burnout from happening is to manage stressors from early on, so their damaging effects don’t manifest themselves long-term.

For example, if your job is a main stress source, you should focus on finding better ways to handle your daily tasks. See what options you have to ease your workload or become more efficient in dealing with it. This will also give you a greater sense of control and empowerment, which in itself can be stress-reducing.

If your confidence and self-esteem suffer, making a few adjustments to your outlook might be in order, although that may be easier said than done. Still, unless you are in a position where you can leave or alter your work environment, it may be your only way to improve your situation.

Much more feasible seem changes you can make in your personal lifestyle, starting with improving your diet and exercise habits. Nothing fights stress better than eating healthily and working on your fitness. Getting enough sleep is also an essential component.

The most important part, however, is to reflect on how you see yourself in life. A persistent sense of hopelessness and lack of control is a clear indicator for burnout in the making. For some, this can mean seeking professional help or otherwise finding outside support. Ultimately, it means giving your life meaning beyond the here and now, and for this, there are many paths to follow.

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