The Stress continuum
We all operate somewhere along the continuum of stress. We all have optimum stress levels. Some days we cope better than others, and in some situations we cope better than others. It all depends on a number of stress factors.
Optimum Stress ……. Healthy Stress ….. Unhealthy Stress
We each need a specific amount of stress to operate at our best. One person may operate optimally when placed under a level of stress that another may find distressing, while a third may experience this level of stress as the ‘last straw’. The amount of stress we can handle depends on our stress tolerance which fluctuates constantly depending on where we are in life and how we’re feeling.
A situation with too little stress won’t challenge us enough to feel a sense of accomplishment. It can also lead to lack of motivation and boredom. No stress and we might just never get anything done! So a stress-free life is like a pipe dream – not advisable or desirable.
Enough stress is comfortably manageable despite all its ups, downs and daily challenges and leaves us feeling fairly satisfied and content at the end of a day.
Too much stress could be the result of too much to do and too little time, or at least, the perception of that. It could also mean that the tasks are too complex, that there are too many interruptions, too many changes of plan without completion, a huge backlog with no end in sight and having to deal with toxic, abusive or trying relationships. It leaves us feeling as though we are going at warp speed and turning ourselves inside out to cope, but with unsatisfactory results and a feeling of exhaustion. We may feel there is no time for rest, not to mention fun, games and pleasure.
Dealing with toxic, abusive or trying relationships can raise our stress levels, as can an unsatisfactory relationship with our boss, the threat of dismissal, being compromised in other ways, like sexual exploitation /innuendos, or being forced to do things that are illegal or go against our morals, ethics, or customs.
Distress is when things are totally out of whack. Psychosomatic illnesses, excessive smoking, drinking and other obsessive behaviours may result from a lack of stress management. If we don’t sleep well we can become dependent on sleeping pills and deterioration in relationships is likely. We are more prone to accidents and forgetfulness. We may get into the blame game, withdraw into our shells, become anti-social or asocial, or lose our tempers, often inappropriately. We may feel exhausted, anxious, aggressive, or defensive and start acting up or blowing up as we get closer and closer to the limits of our endurance or the capacity of our tolerance levels, and burnout is a possibility.
The difference between stress and burnout
|Primarily physical damage
Over-engaged, over-reactive, hyperactive
|Primarily emotional damage
Don’t care, helpless, hopeless, not interested
Lose ideals, motivation, hope
Depression, life is not worth living, suicidal
Breakdown & burnout
If one continues past the point of exhaustion, physical, emotional, or mental breakdown is almost a given. Severe depression, nervous breakdown or a heart attack may result.
If you see these warning signs and stress symptoms in any of your colleagues, please find ways of assisting, as they may be so involved with, or caught up in their problems, that they may not be aware of what is happening. Save a life! Prevent burnout!