Feeling burnout at work and in life? Use this method to help stop stress negatively impacting your life.
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One of the worst things about burnout is that we often don’t feel it coming on. It’s normal for most people to feel varying levels of stress and tiredness, so when these feelings do start to increase significantly, we often don’t notice until it’s too late. But the road to burnout is actually a fairly long one and there are plenty of things you can do to prevent it from reaching its most intense point.
One technique recommended by psychologists uses three simple steps to help you manage burnout and stop it in its tracks. “The three R technique is a method that helps you deal with stress responses as they arrive,” explains Dr Audrey Tang, a psychologist, mental health and wellness expert and author of books on mindfulness and resilience. “Burnout happens when our stress response continues for a long period of time, which leads to exhaustion.”
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The three Rs used to prevent and deal with burnout are recognise, reverse and resilience, each of which helps you deal with different stages of your stress response. “Think of your stress response like an elastic band being stretched – burnout is the band snapping,” Dr Tang says.
“Prevention is really important because we need to build up our emotional strength just as we build up our physical strength,” she continues. “Dealing with emotional issues at the point of crisis is not very effective.”
The three R method will help you deal with each stage of stress and burnout, so you can build up a toolkit to deal with it in the long term. Here, Dr Tang breaks down the method simply to help you learn how to use it.
The first step of the three R method is learning to recognise when your body is stressed. “It’s OK to feel a stress response as long as you recognise it,” Dr Tang says. By recognising your stress, you can figure out what’s triggering it and try to deal with that trigger head on.
To help you learn to recognise when you’re stressed, Dr Tang recommends doing regular body scans, either at the beginning or at the end of the day. “To do a body scan, tense and relax each part of your body one by one,” she says. This will help you understand what your body feels like when it is stressed so you can recognise that in other situations.
She also suggests doing regular breathing practices to keep track of how you’re feeling and to understand how your breathing is affected when you are stressed.
If you haven’t been able to recognise your stress and deal with it before it becomes an issue, the next step is to try and remove that stress from your life while it’s happening. “Most of us overthink while we’re stressed so trying to stop ourselves from getting carried away with our thoughts is a good way to deal with stress,” Dr Tang says.
“Ask yourself what you can do to stop yourself feeling stressed because taking action will stop your thoughts from spiraling,” she says. “Our brains and our bodies are really adaptive so unless we push them too far, you can always reverse your neuropathways.”
The action you take might be sending an email to the person who is causing you stress or putting a plan in place so you know the thing that is stressing you out won’t be a long-term issue. Figure out what it is that will allow you to calm down and find ways to try and do that, to avoid a prolonged stress response leading to burnout.
You can’t feel stressed while you feel grateful
According to Dr Tang, resilience to stress is something you should try and build up all the time to prevent burnout. This is particularly important after you’ve dealt with a stressful situation. “Building resilience isn’t about how quickly or easily your stress response is triggered – it’s about how long it takes you to calm down from it,” Dr Tang says.
To help you improve the ways you deal with stress and stop you from reaching the point of burnout, Dr Tang recommends practicing mindfulness techniques, as well as meditation, affirmations and breathing techniques, so you have tools available for the next time you feel stressed.
“It’s also important to stop taking on other people’s stress and try to surround yourself with positive people who make you feel good,” Dr Tang continues. “Try to change your approach to life to one of gratitude and try some gratitude practices. You can’t feel stressed while you feel grateful.”
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Dr Audrey Tang
Dr Audrey Tang is a psychologist, mental health and wellness expert and author of books on mindfulness and resilience. She practices positive psychology which encourages ‘mental health maintenance’, helping people to build mental and emotional strength in the same way you build physical strength. She is a member of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) and FIRO B profiler.
Images: Getty, Dr Audrey Tang
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