How to Overcome Burnout in the Most Stressful Occupations

Are you experiencing frequent headaches?  Restless sleep?  Have you been tempted to call in sick just to get away from work?

According to a 2012 study by the American Psychological Association, 3 out of 4 workers regularly experience these physical symptoms caused by stress.  Nearly half (48%) say work-related stress has a negative impact on their life.

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The 5 Most Stressful Aspects of a Job

  1. Making important decisions. Holding someone else’s future in your hands is an incredible responsibility. So if you are in charge of others’ lives – physically, financially, emotionally – this can significantly increase your stress at work.
  1. Constant exchange of information with others. If you never get a minute to yourself during the workday, it’s hard to get anything accomplished.  Jobs that require constant interaction with others are more stressful.
  1. Unstructured/unpredictable days. If you show up to work and have no idea what’s in store for you, you have a high-stress job. When each day is different, it’s hard to settle into a familiar routine. The job feels chaotic.
  1. Unpleasant physical conditions. Your job is challenging if it’s loud, extremely hot, or really dirty. These difficult working conditions increase stress levels, whether you are conscious of it or not.  Even common office noises (e.g., the photocopy machine, drawers closing, phones ringing, etc.) have been found to increase cortisol, a stress hormone.
  1. Vigilance. Watching and waiting, and watching and waiting some more…requires vigilance. There are a number of jobs that require workers to be vigilant – constantly alert and on guard.  Most of the time everything is fine, but you don’t want to be caught napping the one time something goes wrong.

The Most Stressful Occupations

  • Management – making decisions, constant exchange of information, unstructured/unpredictable days, vigilance
  • “Protect and serve” professions (military, police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, doctors/nurses)  – constant exchange of information, unstructured/unpredictable days, making decisions that have ‘life or death’ consequences, unpleasant physical conditions, vigilance
  • Airline pilots or air traffic controllers – constant exchange of information, vigilance, making decisions with ‘life or death’ consequences
  • Customer service – constant exchange of information, unstructured/unpredictable days, making decisions

How to Overcome Burnout in Stressful Occupations

1.  Get plenty of sleep – Make sure you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all affected when you don’t get enough (or the right kind of) sleep. Consistent fatigue and overload will be detrimental to your ability to manage stress.

2. Exercise regularly – Be sure to exercise at least 30 minutes twice a week. The release of endorphins into your bloodstream will help you think more clearly.

3. Limit Caffeine – Caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. When caffeine puts your brain and body into a hyper-aroused state of stress, your emotions will override logical behavior. 

4.  Avoid negative self-talk – Force yourself to anticipate positive outcomes instead of negative ones; optimism has been shown to buffer the effects of stress.

5.  Delegate more of your responsibility – Say no to excessive demands of your time. Know your limits.

6.  Maintain important relationships outside of work – Talk things through with others instead of ruminating about them on your own. Allow friends and family to help you “process” what you experience at work.

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