I am having more conversations lately with people who are utterly overwhelmed.
I have my theories. Two of them are:
- The makeup of homelessness has changed because Covid “activated” a lot of mental illness. Consequently, there are simply more people in active episodes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder right now.
- The “labor shortage” is stressing out over-extended staff.
Are you stressed, overwhelmed or burned out?
If you are, please stick with me through this technical email. I’m writing to you!
WHAT DOES BURNOUT DO TO THE BRAIN?
Burnout (chronic stress) changes the brain in ways that are remarkably similar to PTSD:
- The Amygdala (responsible for fight or flight) enlarges.
- The Prefrontal Cortex (responsible for calm, rational thinking) thins.
- The connection between the Amygdala and Prefrontal Cortex is weakened.
The result? The person has a harder time managing negative emotions.
WHAT FACTORS IN TO BURNOUT?
According to research, there are six factors that affect burnout:
- Workload – How many hours are you working?
- Control – Do you have any control over how you do your work?
- Reward – Do you feel fairly rewarded (both appreciation and money)?
- Community – Is your workplace a supportive community?
- Fairness – Do you feel that you are treated fairly by the organization?
- Values – Do your values align with those of the organization and your co-workers?
Interestingly, the research shows that two of these factors are most important than the others:
I spend a lot of time talking about values, so let’s talk about control today.
WHY DOES A SENSE OF CONTROL AFFECT BURNOUT?
When we are stressed, our Amygdala causes a release of neurochemicals (cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline) and activates the sympathetic nervous system.
If the Amygdala does this frequently enough, the result is burnout.
Now, listen to this beautiful sentence from an article in the journal “Neurobiology of Stress”:
“Intriguingly, the [Prefrontal Cortex]
can turn off the stress response
if it considers that the subject
has control over the situation.”
If that didn’t hit you like a bucket of water in the face, read it again.
If you feel like you have control over the situation, your brain TURNS OFF THE STRESS RESPONSE!!!!
And that, my friends, is why “control” is one of the top two factors for burnout.
WHAT CAN I DO WITH THIS INFORMATION?
I want to issue you a challenge.
Pro tip: If my challenge strikes you as cheesy, go back and re-read above about how control changes your brain’s response to stress.
What is one thing that is stressing you out?
Only pick one.
Overwhelming yourself with a list of worries will not help.
Now, what is ONE THING you can do TODAY to move the needle on this one problem?
Don’t try to solve it today.
Pick one (small) step forward you can make before you leave work today.
Can you call or email someone who might be able to help?
Can you schedule a meeting to address it?
Can you take an hour with a pad of paper and a pen to brainstorm possible solutions?
For today, the important part is not that you solve the problem.
For today, the important part is that you take an active step towards solving the problem.
Seize some control…
It won’t solve all of your problems, but it’ll get your brain on the right track and make it easier to solve your problems.
Hang in there… the world needs your contributions!