Manage Stress

Are YOU Headed for Burnout?

By Dr Jill Ammon-Wexler
Executive Advisor
© 2005 All Rights Reserved.

If lately you’re finding your tasks and responsibilities at work more than you can bear, you may be approaching burnout.

Burnout is not an imaginary condition that’s all in your mind. It’s a very real mental and physiological condition caused by a stress overload.

Burnout arises when we are overworked, overtaxed emotionally, or physically exhausted — and as a result find it increasingly difficult to cope with everyday stresses.

Common signs of burnout include: A loss of enthusiasm for your job, les interest in your social life, and weakened interest in your relationship and normal personal interests. Sound familiar?

A True Burnout Story
I once had a crisis call from a CEO I was advising in Silicon Valley. He had a serious problem on his hands. I will call him Steve.

Like many CEOs of growing companies, Steve was balancing a heavy work load.

Among other things, he wanted to increase his company’s sales. He was impressed by a presentation by a representative of an outside marketing organization, and signed a binding contract for their services.

Then less that one month later after the outside company was all geared up and going out to his customers, Steve realized he had made a terrible mistake:

The contract he had signed gave the outside reps three times the commission he was paying his own in house sales staff. The immediate outcome was two lawsuits totaling millions of dollars.

Why did this happen? Because Steve was so stressed when he signed that contract that his higher brain had been shut down. (This is a common symptom of chronic stress).

He told me that at the time he could no longer understand what he read, and mental focus was extremely difficult. Steve was in the grips of a spiraling adrenalin high trap, and had not realized the consequences.

The Adrenalin High Trap

Many executives and entrepreneurs claim to thrive on stress. What they’re enjoying is the physiological excitement from an adrenalin high.

But the truth is, adrenalin highs are designed to prepare your body and mind to either fight or run. They are a key component of the stress response.

During an adrenalin high your higher thinking centers close down, and older, more primitive portions of your brain prepare you for emergency. Over a period of time this leads straight to stage 2 burnout and serious mental and physical exhaustion. And if you think YOU are immune, you’re seriously kidding yourself.

The Major Factors in Stress Overload
Stress occurs when the demands being placed on you exceed your capacity to meet them. The four major factors involved stress overload include:

Time pressures,

Excessive responsibility or accountability,

Lack of adequate support, and

Excessive expectations by yourself and/or those around you

The Stages of Burnout
Burnout is a process that progresses through stages of stress overload. With some self-monitoring, you have the opportunity to take steps to stop the process at any stage. The three stages of burnout include:

The stress arousal stage,

The low energy stage, and

The exhaustion stage.

The Stress Arousal Stage
You are experiencing this early burnout stage if you feel irritable, anxious or forgetful, or are having difficulty with your mental focus.

Some of the common signs of early burnout include:
Flare-ups of high blood pressure, bruxism (grinding teeth during sleep), insomnia, headaches, and acute gastrointestinal distress.

The Low Energy Stage
As your stress becomes more and more chronic, your body tries to compensate for your growing mental and physical exhaustion. The feeling of low energy so common with chronic stress is a sign your body is trying to compensate for exhaustion by shifting into an energy conservation mode.

Behavior consequences often include: Forgetfulness, serious inability to focus, a tendency to procrastinate, excessive time off from work, lack of interest in your work or business, loss of hope and enthusiasm, decreased desire for intimacy, and a persistent feeling of tiredness or exhaustion.

Other common signs include: Social withdrawal from friends and family, cynicism, resentment, apathy and increased substance use (nicotine, caffeine, alcohol or prescription drugs).

The Acute Exhaustion Stage
The acute exhaustion stage is where most people finally get a clear sense that something is seriously wrong.

The signs of acute stress-related exhaustion often include: Chronic sadness or depression, chronic stomach or bowel problems, chronic mental fatigue, chronic physical fatigue, chronic headaches or migraines, difficulty reading or understanding communications, and almost total inability to focus.

Other common signs may include: A desire to drop out of society, quit work, or abandon one’s business or profession — and the desire to avoid family, friends, and social situations.

Dr. Jill Ammon-Wexler is a former consultant to the Pentagon and a Presidential Commission, and personal advisor to top executives, executive teams, and individuals around the world. Her *Take Charge* ecourse is being used by thousands of serious success seekers in 117 countries around the world. For more information=>