Burned out employee – how to lower cortisol levels to beat stress

We live in a world where we are bombarded by stressors every day. Whether its overwhelming workloads, hounding emails that never cease or toxic work practices, more and more people are burning out.

The burned out employee

If you are a Burned Out Employee, you may display the following symptoms:

  • You have difficulty focusing on tasks.
  • You fail to meet deadlines.
  • You are skipping work.
  • You feel apathetic toward work and coworkers.
  • You go to bed exhausted and wake up tired.
  • You think about quitting every day.

What is emotional burnout?

Think of emotional burnout as the express train to Burn Out Town. It is what happens when excessive and prolonged stress accumulates to the point of breakdown.

When emotional burnout happens, we lose the ability to care for ourselves and function normally.

You may have emotional burnout if you experience these emotional symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation

Emotional burnout is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite changes
  • Sore or tense muscles

Less cortisol = less stress

Whether you are fending off a lion or the possibility that you may have screwed up at work, the stress physiological response is similar: your breath and heart rate quicken, your muscles tense up and you start to sweat.

This involuntary reaction, also known as the “fight-or-flight” response, is caused by the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is triggered by actual and perceived threats, and while it may save our lives, too much cortisol is harmful.

Research has shown that chronically high cortisol levels contribute to obesity, insomnia, heart disease, anxiety and inflammation.

How to lower cortisol levels

Lowering your cortisol levels can be achieved by:

  1. Getting enough sleep and rest. Sleep deprivation increases cortisol levels. If you are not getting enough sleep, try improving your sleep hygiene. If the thought of work and life responsibilities are keeping you up, emptying your mind through journaling will reduce stress and help you fall asleep.
  2. Exercising, especially in nature. Research has shown that exercise is especially useful for reducing cortisol levels in people with depression. Exercising in nature has the added benefit of reducing cortisol levels.
  3. Clearing your mind. Meditation, yoga, tai chi and journaling are all proven ways to clear your mind and reduce stress.

Getting off the burnout train

Use the following strategies to know when you are on the Burnout Train.

  1. Check your mental state regularly. Ask yourself: what is stressing me out at this moment? What actions can I take to relieve that pressure? Do I feel motivated and focused?
  2. Journal to track your mental health symptoms. Journaling is a powerful way to express your emotions and reduce stress. Use it to prioritize your problems and fears, and pinpoint your triggers. Research has shown that journaling, also known as expressive writing, can improve psychological well-being and reduce anxiety.
  3. Recognize when your mental fuel tank is low. Your mind runs on mental energy and when you find yourself lagging at work or stuck on a problem, that’s a sign that your mental fuel tank needs to be topped up. Recharge by taking breaks, socializing, playing with a pet or going for a walk. Research shows that breaks are essential for improving job performance.
  4. Feed your brain. Cognitive decline for a knowledge worker is like shin splits for a marathon runner – you can’t perform if your most vital tool isn’t functioning. Protect against cognitive decline by eating well and avoiding ultra-processed food. Eating well can be as simple as eating an apple daily, snacking on nuts and drinking only water and/or unsweetened beverages.

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