Professionals value high performance. Sometimes we can think that success is easily in reach as so much information is available in our modern age, and so one simply needs drive. However, the driven person with a view to excellence can go into overdrive, and thus risk more stress and burnout.
How do professionals create high vitality to prevent stress from becoming burnout?
Burnout is a specific kind of stress. Physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combine with doubts about the intrinsic value of your work. To identify burnout, ask the following Mayo Clinic questions:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?
A center for the study of burnout, the Mayo Clinic says the following lead to burnout:
- Lack of control
- Unclear job expectations
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
- Mismatch in values
- Poor job fit
- Extremes of activity
- Lack of social support
- Work-life imbalance
Burnout can make you vulnerable to mental and physical disorders: excessive stress, fatigue, insomnia, a negative spillover into personal relationships or home life, depression, anxiety, alcohol or substance abuse, heart disease, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, stroke, obesity and vulnerability to illnesses.
Stress versus Vitality
Stress is a hot topic in research: stress can be positive or negative, and negative stress can cause physical damage. The Lancet identified recently that stress that makes the amygdala fire intensely can lead to greater risk of heart disease and stroke (1, 2). Studies also show that negative mood states reduce heart rate variability, which increases your chance of cardiac, or heart, illness (3).
Stress also increases the amount of glucose in the blood, called "stress hyperglycemia" which can be damaging (4).
Most of the burnout literature suggests a new approach to work-life balance and changes within organizational structure. However, the wellness world presents a wealth of creative and effective ways to increase vitality and longevity.
When we consider leaders who "walk their talk", who are the people that best embody a vital and effective practice? And by effective, I mean that they are living examples of the knowledge on vitality and longevity.
For example, how does Elle MacPherson look so amazing at age 52? How does Gwyneth Paltrow have such vitality and a fit and trim figure as a busy mother + wife + professional at age 44? Neither of these people are advanced experts in medical science; but they have found ways to increase their vitality far beyond most people their age.
Kelly Slater, still surfing at 45, has an incredible physique. Shiva Rea, is 50 years old and an absolutely gorgeous human working for world peace and living her values in a toned and athletic figure with a practice dedicated spiritually to making the world a better place for all. These people have a presence that is a testimony to high end health. They incorporate mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and surfing in their approach to health - areas that are correlated to brain enhancement, nervous system re-balancing, and healing from trauma, among other vitality benefits.
Restoring vitality. Do you want to wait for more research before you finally take that hiking trip, or go to yoga class, or try mindful meditation, or even risk the intensity and be brave enough to go surfing?
If you don't have a disease requiring medical or psychiatric treatment, and wellness is your goal, then what is holding you back? Why not adventure in new realms of physical and mental excellence? Why not create a body like Elle MacPherson's or Kelly Slater's? Why not choose to take up yoga or martial arts or pole dancing like some other people over 60 years old have done with amazing results?
We are what we think we are. In these times, with communication at rapid speeds higher than before, we have amazing access to knowledge. At the same time, we must balance this with greater discernment.
To effectively discern from the knowledge available, you may want to try several approaches to stress prevention. Try blending evidence-based techniques with emerging approaches. Observe people who live in high vitality and are walking examples of their knowledge. Read up to date literature from trusted sources. Try new areas of high end health, and notice how you respond. For example, in the book Head Strong, Dave Asprey talks about the creation of new mitochondria when you exercise more. Try exercising more! If you like it, and you have more energy, and it works for you, keep it. If you don't like it and your body gets too sore, find other techniques to balance your energy.
Professionals and physicians deal with significant levels of burnout. The long hours and high demands can reduce sleep, leading to poorer brain performance, and left unchecked, may predispose to early onset dementia. The physician role of coping with high intensity states and a habit of a drive for excellence pushing beyond the limits of balanced self care, can lead to fatigue and loss of genuine compassion.
The Mayo Clinic recommends the following for professional burnout:
- Manage the stressors that contribute to job burnout.
- Evaluate your options.
- Adjust your attitude.
- Seek support.
- Assess your interests, skills and passions.
- Get some exercise.
- Get some sleep.
For physician burnout, the Mayo Clinic suggests:
- Acknowledge and assess the problem(s).
- Recognize leader behaviors that affect burnout.
- Systems approach to improve efficiency, reduce clerical work
- Cultivate community at work
- Use rewards and incentives strategically
- Align organization actions with stated values and mission
- Implement organizational flexibility and work-life balance
- Provide resources to help individuals promote self-care
- Supporting organizational self-study
Above are some useful tools.
However, the above are very psychological and directive ideas that give re-framing techniques rather than a direct access to relaxation. We need to consider the healing potential + preventive potential from the following: mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, sleep, communication strategies, self concept and concept as a care provider, energetic exchange in the heart + brain fields, EEG changes that occur when talking with people in distress, changes in technology and health system pressures, shifting belief systems for optimal performance, the neuroscience of stress, the science of happiness, the restoration of wilderness immersion, and the possible benefits of strengthening one's own preferred spiritual beliefs. All of these areas can add to a beautiful platform to create programs for optimal wellness.
Resilience + Renewal
1/ THE INTELLIGENCE
The renewal programs start with didactic and experiential intelligence on the following:
- the neuroscience of stress: neuronal branching, brain health, activation patterns
- the pathophysiology of stress: hormones, chemicals, physiological parameters
- theories on electromagnetic effects of stress to heart and brain, including brain wave states
- common neural networks in interpersonal communication and attachment styles
- mindfulness, yoga, and meditation
- measurable benefits from nature and wilderness exposure
- current epidemiology of professional and / or physician burnout
- happiness research
2/ DESIGN + BUILD
Design and build skill development and shifts in the following:
- sleep and exercise practice: the how, the why, and the motivation
- brain training for effective problem-solving, brain health, and smart longevity
- nutrition and exercise theories to increase performance
- personalized mindfulness, yoga, and meditation action plans
- adaptive change in personal approaches to relationships and communication
- understanding your attachment style and schemas and how to proceed optimally
- communication: validation, expression, active listening, + leadership
- self-definition as a professional and healer that supports a healthy practice
- recognize triggers and signs of negative responses to stress, and how to choose otherwise
- learn adaptive responses to stress and the physiological correlates
- techniques from energy medicine + biophysics
- Dr. M.
(1) Relation between resting amygdalar activity and cardiovascular events: a longitudinal and cohort study. Tawakol et al, 2017. The Lancet 389:10071.
(2) The Lancet: study reveals how stress may increase risk of heart disease and stroke. January 2017 online article with more easy to understand language. Eureka Alert.
(3) The science behind the emWave and Inner Balance technologies. Heart Math article (theoretical)
(4) Stress hyperglycemia. Dungan et al, 2011. The Lancet 2009:373.