The third workshop in the Simplified Wellness Program – Stress, Burnout, Anxiety and Depression – focuses on the explosion of the occurrence of mental health globally and the impact that it is having in both the personal and professional arenas.
The truth is this: stress, burnout, anxiety and depression have been around for decades. The issues surrounding them are now more openly discussed and there has also been a significant increase in the number of people reporting their experience of these issues.
During this workshop you will explore the depth of stress and its impact in life. You’ll look at the difference between stress and burnout and also look at the way that stress can be related to anxiety and depression. You will also do a deep dive into the way you can understand what stress is, where your own is coming from and how you implement simple and effective steps to reduce your stress on a daily basis.
History of Stress
One of the pioneers of stress study, Hans Selye, took the word “stress” from the physics profession. In physics, stress refers to the force that causes a physical body to swell. For example, bending a piece of metal until it snaps occurs because of the force, or stress, exerted on it.
After completing his medical training at the Université of Montreal in the 1920s, Hans Selye coined the term “stress”. No matter what ailments his hospitalized patients had, he saw that they all shared this one trait: all of them appeared ill. In his opinion, they were all experiencing physical stress.
He suggested that stress was a general burden on the body brought on by deviations from normal bodily processes. Stress hormones were released as a result of this stress. A closer examination of general adaptation syndrome, our body’s short- and long-term responses to stress, led him to coin the name “General Adaptation Syndrome.”
General Adaptation Syndrome had three stages, according to Hans Selye’s theory.
Stage 1: Alarm response
This is a stressor’s instant response. Humans demonstrate a “fight or flight” response during the earliest stages of stress. This stage depletes the energy of other systems, such as the immune system, making us more susceptible to disease.
Stage 2: Resistance
The body starts to adjust to stress if alarm reactions persist. But because the energy is focused on stress reactions, this adaptation is bad for your health.
Stage 3: Exhaustion
This is the last phase following prolonged exposure to a stressor. As the immune system deteriorates, the body’s capacity to withstand stress is gradually weakened and eventually destroyed. According to Selye, long-term stressed patients may develop serious infections or heart attacks due to a weakened immune system.
The Ensuing Debate
Selye established the discipline of stress study and made compelling cases for how stress affected health. Yet not everyone shared his physiological perspective of stress as an all-encompassing condition. What about emotional strain (for example, the death of a loved one, irritation, caring for a sick child, or issues at work)? Could it be stressful in these circumstances too?
Several doctors, psychologists and scholars shared this opinion. Various research studies were undertaken to investigate the effects of stress in different situations.
In one study, carried out by Dr John Mason, two groups of monkeys were denied food for a brief length of time.
The primates in Group 1 were left alone, while those in Group 2 observed others being fed. Both groups of monkeys were observed to experienced physical hunger-related stress, but the group that witnessed others eating had higher stress hormone levels. Hence, Dr Mason demonstrated that both physical and psychological stress might trigger the body’s stress response.
As the research on stress developed, individuals claimed that since stress was a general phenomenon, everyone ought to respond uniformly to similar stressors. But for others, something about this assertion seemed off. Many also believed that everyone’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol had to be increased by some sort of universal factor.
In one intriguing study, experts in parachute jumping had their levels of stress hormones measured.
Now, there’s no doubt that jumping out of a plane is stressful. Surprisingly, the results of this experiment showed that their levels of stress hormones were normal.
Afterwards, stress hormone levels were assessed in both novice jumpers and their teachers. A notable difference was discovered! Students’ levels were typical the day before the jump, but instructors’ levels were quite high. Students’ levels were very high the day of the jump, while instructor levels were average.
The researchers came to the conclusion that because the instructors were anticipating the jump and knew what to expect, their stress hormone levels were greater 24 hours before the jump. The students had no clue what to expect and therefore their stress levels remained the same.
However, the novelty and unpredictability of the circumstance on jump day caused the pupils’ stress hormone levels to soar, while the instructors went through the same process as usual and therefore didn’t experience any change in hormone levels.
Throughout the following 30 years, various researchers carried out tests that revealed there are similar features to situations that cause stress hormone levels to rise in everyone, even though the kind of stressors causing the release of these hormones are different for everyone.
When evaluated, the results of these tests showed that the stress response is different for everyone, and hormone levels are affected by four common factors:
• Threat to the ego
• Sense of control
History of Burnout
The term “burnout syndrome” was first used in two scholarly papers written in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger and Sigmund Ginsburg. Freudenberger, a psychologist and psychotherapist who was born in Germany and later moved to the United States, popularized the phrase in later works (Freudenberger, 1975, 1977a, 1977b; Freudenberger & Richelson, 1980). As a result, he is widely regarded as the concept’s founder.
It is important to remember that Freudenberger did not coin the phrase. However, he deserves praise for methodically outlining and studying a mental state that he personally experienced and that some of his colleagues had previously described as being ‘burned out’.
In other words, even before it was recognized as a psychologically and clinically important disorder, the phrase was being used to describe a specific experience and mental state.
In his original 1974 essay, Freudenberger defined getting burned out as “being fatigued by exerting excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources”. He claimed that the physical signs of burnout included tiredness, fatigue, recurrent headaches, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia and shortness of breath. Frustration, rage, suspicion, a sense of omnipotence or overconfidence, excessive use of tranquillizers and barbiturates, cynicism and depressive symptoms were also listed as behavioral indicators.
In his essay, Freudenberger outlined personality traits that caused people to experience burnout, in addition to describing the symptoms of burnout. In more general terms, his essay indicated that he believed that burnout happens in situations that demand a lot of emotional labor, empathy, personal commitment and intrinsic motivation. It can also occur where the required labor is physically and mentally taxing – these are common working conditions in the social work, education and health care industries.
Freudenberger’s essay also offered some preventive strategies. He suggested addressing issues at an organizational rather than just an individual level, since he thought that burnout was particularly tied to specific working conditions and organizational contexts.
In particular, Freudenberger suggested reducing working hours, consistent job rotation, regular monitoring and employee training.
This pioneering work on burnout foreshadows a lot of the subsequent 50 years’ worth of research. Many psychological and medical studies were conducted after Freudenberger’s first study, beginning with work done by Christina Maslach and her associates in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Maslach, 1976; Maslach & Jackson, 1981; Pines & Maslach, 1978).
Maslach is still one of the most well-known researchers in this area and was a pioneer in the study of burnout. Maslach, a social psychologist, concentrated on measuring burnout in contrast to Freudenberger’s qualitative, nearly autoethnographic, portrayal. She created the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), which remains the most used questionnaire for measuring burnout today, based on the three components of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.
Burnout research underwent a paradigm shift as a result of the work of Maslach and her colleagues – particularly the development of the MBI, which made it simple to gauge the mental condition of various groups and professions.
In 2001, Maslach, Schaufeli and Leiter then went further to make a distinction between a pioneering and an empirical phase of burnout research. The goal of the initial phase, in the middle of the 1970s, was to define and name this new “syndrome”. The research at this time was primarily based on observations and interviews in the human services and healthcare industries.
Following the development of the MBI in the early 1980s, the focus of burnout research shifted, and the syndrome appeared in an increasing number of professions including elite soccer players, military personnel, police officers and teachers.
The relationship between burnout and well-established industrial-organizational psychology terms like job stress, job happiness and organizational commitment was also carefully defined because of Maslach’s studies.
The MBI seemed to provide a shared grasp of the idea of burnout, showed that it was a cohesive phenomenon, and allowed for its measurement without the need to consider or re-evaluate the fundamental presumptions linked to the condition and its societal ramifications.
Burnout has attracted a growing amount of interest from researchers, practitioners and the workforce during the past decade. In particular, clinical psychologists began to recognize burnout as a diagnosis and made an effort to distinguish between burnout cases and non-cases, as well as those who received therapy and those who did not.
On 28 May 2019, the World Health Organization re-defined burnout in the 11th Revision of The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) and directly linked burnout to workplace stress. Despite this change, only a relatively small number of nations, including the Netherlands and Sweden, have made burnout a recognized medical diagnosis today. In the majority of (industrialized) nations, it is still a contentious diagnostic that is frequently debated but not formally acknowledged in the healthcare system.
Stress and burnout have received significant attention in recent years with their prevalence and impact on mental health in contemporary life being seen to dramatically increase.
Globally, people are experiencing ever-increasing pressure in their daily lives – notably, in their workplaces – and they live in a world that faces significant socioeconomic issues.
As a result, managers, employees and workers across almost all industries and sectors worldwide experience work-related stress, fatigue and exhaustion, with burnout syndrome being the term used to describe the most pronounced symptoms.
Since the global COVID-19 pandemic began, some worrying statistics have emerged:
• Employees are now more than three times as likely to report mental health issues.
• Despite being under stress, employees refuse to take a vacation. In 2020, American workers wasted 33% of their paid vacation days despite working an average of 49 minutes more in a typical workweek.
• Every area of a worker’s personal and professional life is affected by burnout, which manifests as a lack of motivation, an increase in errors, bad sleeping patterns, a break from friends and family, irritation and other symptoms.
• A startling 76% of workers claim that stress at work negatively impacts their mental health, causing despair or anxiety.
• 98% of respondents to global surveys respond that they are currently experiencing one or more symptoms of burnout.
To combat these statistics and hopefully reverse them over time, every organization, in every industry will need to invest time, money and resources into the following activities:
Offering resources for mental health
One of the most significant keys to preventing burnout is eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health. Organizations need to have a conversation with their people to determine the best means of providing these resources.
However, consideration can be given to delivering mental health education and services via text, email, or phone, on-site and/or online mindfulness and meditation sessions, self-guided resilience resources, and participation in monthly mental health challenges.
Broadening access to mental health services
Professional mental health care is another option in addition to office resources. This can be offered through providing increased employee access to teletherapy or expanding benefits to cover mental health.
Checking in with staff
Showing an interest in employees is a straightforward but highly powerful way to prevent burnout and foster relationships.
To do this, you can create regular surveys to better gauge what is happening in your employees’ lives, and then create initiatives and policies that are guided by the information you gather in the surveys.
Encouraging staff to take mental rest breaks
Bursting the burnout ‘bubble’ can be accomplished by celebrating relaxation and allowing workers time to unwind and socialize.
Suggestions here include the introduction of midday mental rest breaks – also termed as lunchtime virtual happy hours – that encourage employees to take a break from their job and mingle, even if they are working remotely. You can also investigate implementing areas in the workplace where staff members can take quick naps during the day.
Reducing the number of meetings