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How to Manage Stress to Avoid (or Escape) Burnout ... Even if you're a Workaholic




I looked up from the glare of my computer screen and stared at the dark sky and deep shadows outside my window. Then, glancing at the clock… It was 3:02am. I’d woken up in the middle of the night again and couldn’t fall back asleep. I was worried about not making enough money in my business. I felt overwhelmed by the long list of things I had to do.

I wondered how I’d do it all with a toddler in tow. But isn’t this what entrepreneurs do? I asked myself. Aren’t we supposed to hustle 24/7? With my thoughts and feelings swirling around faster and faster inside my head, I became more and more awake.


I worked at my computer until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and then collapsed onto my bed, only to catch two or three more hours of restless sleep. I worked like this for the first four years of my business. I was tired and stressed out. I hated my boss – and my boss was me. Sound familiar?


It wasn’t until I discovered scientifically proven ways of managing stress and building personal resilience that I turned myself around. I went from being a walking zombie to being a happier, more balanced person. Nowadays, although I have several chronic illnesses that significantly impact my daily life, I experience greater inner peace, higher productivity, and better quality time for myself and my family than I used to. Let me show you how - not only as a coach who makes a living by helping business professionals recover from burnout but also as someone who went on that journey herself.


THREE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT MANAGING STRESS AND RESILIENCE

Before I reveal two highly effective ways to manage stress, allow me to address people’s three common misconceptions about personal resilience.


Misconception No.1

The first misconception is that people think resilience is a trait or ability you either have or don’t have. The truth is that everyone is resilient. Although levels of resilience differ from person to person, everyone is resilient and can improve in this area. It is a skill you can learn and develop over time.


Misconception No.2

The second misconception is that being resilient is about having grit. This sentiment is characterised by phrases such as “hang in there,” “tough it out”, or “suck it up and deal.” However, being resilient is not about enduring or suffering. Resiliency is a person’s ability to adapt to stress and adversity. Your level of resilience is defined as your capacity to bounce back from a negative experience to your normal state of functioning. It’s worth emphasising the core concept is your ability to return to normal. Resilience is not being stuck in a rut of unhealthy behaviours like I was.


Misconception No.3

The third misconception is that resilient people are happy-go-lucky, glass-half-full types who are always positive. On the contrary, highly resilient people experience negative emotions; they are not always optimistic. They are, however, able to effectively balance negative emotions with positive ones and make appropriate responses to the different feelings they have.


TWO WAYS TO MANAGE STRESS TO AVOID (OR ESCAPE) BURNOUT


After personally teaching and coaching more than 3,000 business professionals from 23 countries, I’ve noticed that two categories of activities are particularly useful in enhancing personal resilience and, therefore, one’s ability to deal with stress. So here are two case studies to illustrate how powerful they can be.


Physical Activity

A senior executive leading a team of over 50 people across Asia hired me while he was on sabbatical because he was burned out. He decided to hire a personal fitness trainer to exercise twice a week. For lunch, he ate plant-based foods instead of the carb-heavy restaurant meals, and as a result, he slept better, had more energy, less muscle tension, and greater mental clarity. As his physical health improved, he could tackle the mentally and emotionally challenging aspects of his job with verve. Within six weeks, he was back in the office, and within six months, he was fully engaged and feeling inspired and effective at work again.


Thinking Patterns

A senior executive of a listed company was ready to quit her prestigious, high-paying job because she didn’t have a life anymore. Her calendar was full of meetings, and she was “on” all the time, constantly switching her attention between firefighting and managing people. She was mentally exhausted from working nights and weekends and coping with the pressure of reporting to a demanding CEO. The strategy that helped her most was practising mindfulness. Mindfulness activates a neural network that we naturally don’t often use, which gives our brains a break from the relentless pace of planning and problem-solving in today’s busy workplace. In her case, mindfulness also enabled her to redirect negative thoughts into more positive, productive ones.


Although there are other evidence-based strategies for stress management and resilience-building, these are the most impactful ones for my clients. Therefore, I encourage you to incorporate them into your daily routine.


SYSTEMATICALLY DEVELOPING MY RESILIENCE LED TO A MORE PROSPEROUS LIFE


When I started my business, I measured my prosperity solely in financial terms. Unfortunately,

I ran myself into the ground with my workaholic tendencies. Because of my declining health, I had to reframe my idea of prosperity over the years. Luckily, pursuing the best stress management techniques helped me do exactly that. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I listen to mindfulness recordings and do deep breathing exercises until I fall back into a deep sleep. When I worry pointlessly, I can stop myself from ruminating and move forward instead. When I feel tired or overwhelmed, I lift my spirits with light exercise, listening to my favourite music, having a good laugh with my son, or talking to a friend.


These activities have reduced my stress and have given me renewed energy to do my work. But, more importantly, they’ve brought fun, fitness and rich personal relationships back into my life. I love my boss now! It’s because I take care of myself. And I hope you’ll take care of yourself, too.


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