Research shows that some stress is important in our lives. It keeps us on our toes, helps to strive toward goals, and makes us feel alive. The hormones related to feeling stressed are designed to get us out of danger – like a fire or enemy attack. Yet the body will also surge adrenaline when driving down the highway and some jerk cuts you off. Stress hormones are not selective- they activate whether the threat is perceived or real. We are not meant to be living with the pedal to the metal 24/7- and we are pushing our proverbial panic buttons far more than is healthy to maintain.
Some of the physical symptoms of burnout are: low energy, muscle tension, headaches, digestive disorders, frequent colds, or changes in sleep patterns. Mentally, symptoms include feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, loss of meaning, bored, frustrated, sad, irritable, unappreciated or trapped. The outcomes of these symptoms can include withdrawal, increased sick days, accidents, crying or increased used of alcohol or food to self soothe. Burnout is a cycle of negative emotions, withdrawal and paralysis. Getting out of a crash course with burnout requires putting your hands back on the steering wheel, realigning with your personal vision, surrounding yourself with support, and making time for humor.
Here are a few tips for reducing burnout:
Stop Eating Crap- Believe me, when I am stressed out, Snickers bars and Starbucks are my best friend. It is hard to cozy up to a chopped salad and lemon water, but your body will thank you for it later.
Walk- How many of us take about 15 minutes to park at the grocery store circling round and round to get a spot right up front? Jeez. Park in the back, walk a bit during lunch, get up a few minutes early and walk around the block. Nothing strenuous, just breathe some fresh air and clear the mental cobwebs.
Take a One Minute Vacation!- This is one of my favorites as a stress management tool that can be done literally anywhere- in your car at the beginning and end of each day, in the elevator before meeting the boss, or at your desk before answering a rousing email. Here’s how it works: close your eyes and think of your absolute most favorite vacation spot- it can be a lovely white sand beach, a gorgeous mountain path by a stream, or rocking on a chair at the family’s cabin in the woods. Choose a spot and sharpen it’s image in your mind’s eye. Check out all the details you may not have remembered. Now turn on the sound: notice what background noises are present in this place. How about the sensation of the temperature on your skin? How does it feel to fully surround yourself with a favorite place?
Once all the “dials” have been set, give yourself a full 60 seconds to enjoy it- literally set a timer on your watch or cell phone! I guarantee if you try this exercise at home, you will be amazed at how LONG one minute actually feels. I have taught this many times, and afterwards, everyone blinks their eyes as if they had a long sleep, yawns, stretches and have a softness to their faces- it works!
Burnout Management for the Girls vs. the Boys: new research in brain development show that men and women react to stress differently. Men usually respond with the classic “fight or flight” response, and can reduce stress by engaging in some sort of activity. Cleaning out the garage, fixing a broken appliance or taking a long bike ride are classic examples of letting off some steam.
For women, finding ways to trigger oxytocin is the fastest way to reduce symptoms of stress, rather than the “fight or flight” tricks, they need more of the “tend and befriend.” Women often need to talk, sort, clean, cook, or nurture in some way to feel balanced and calm.
If you have a friend who appears to be on the fast track to burnout- be compassionate. Lend a hand, offer to help. We’re all in this together and our country has too much on the line to lose momentum, or hope.”
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