Understanding anxiety, stress, and burn-out

People talk about stress and anxiety, but don’t seem to really understand it.

Many think it has to be a single, major event that causes stressful situations and feelings, but it rarely is. More often, it's a steady build up and a relatively minor event that tips over from ongoing anxiety to full blown stress, or constant anxiety that is regularly ignored (or not recognised) that leads to burn-out.

Stress is the physiological reaction caused by a perceived threat - unconsciously, rather than reasoned conscious thought.

Anxiety is steady, ongoing stress that never quite stops and you get no relief from it. This can mean burn out after months of it, which causes damage to your body that can give rise to an intense fight or flight stress response.

What causes burn-out?

  • Never slowing or stopping, constant 'doing'. Usually both home and work pressures, demands on time and energy, constant thinking and watching, waiting for the next need or pressure, and a never-ending stream of activity, both physical and mental (not to mention emotional ups and downs that your body just cannot manage).
  • It can be an ongoing threat to well-being. Psychological watchfulness, alertness to dangers, or an insecure environment where you cannot feel safe or take care of yourself and loved ones.
  • Maybe you have a nagging worry, guilt or problem you can't find a solution for.  Debt, honesty, relationship doubts, imposter syndrome at work, or low self-esteem, that colours everything grey.

It often is the steadiness of the pressure that belies its impact on you - mind, body and soul - so beware.

Your body is made to function efficiently and quickly when necessary in any given situation. Your mind controls all of this, and stress is, really, mind over matter - your unconscious mind controls the necessary safeguards whilst your awareness is well behind, and you aren’t listening to what your body tells you it needs.

You might not feel tired because you are on high alert all the time, waiting for the next demand. Or, you might be hyper-focused so that you don’t notice the weariness, the energy lapse, and lack of sufficient food and water, until it's too late and you can no longer ignore it!

Your body will not let you off the hook, it will not 'keep going' until you're ready to stop, but when it needs to - when you need to! Feel, see, listen, and learn to understand what your body (and mind, too) is trying to tell you. If you don’t, your body - and the universe - will make you stop. For example, this could be in form of physical illness, common mental health conditions such as depression.

There can be serious consequences to missing the signs, to ignoring the aches and pains, the long hours, or never-ending demands of others (children, older parents, partners, friendships or colleagues).

Your unconscious mind that maintains your body, protection, and survival needs, is active 24/7; it never sleeps. At times it won't let 'you' sleep either, if it feels 'you' might be in danger, or need to find a solution immediately - as in the case of those niggling worries with increased heart rate, shallow breathing, closed down digestion or hunger, and muscle tension ready to run or hide.

How to deal with stress, anxiety and burn-out

  • Self-reflection on what is going on in your life, and why.
  • Take a break - enjoy your life, stop, and smell the roses - be mindful of what is going on around you.
  • Understand what your particular 'needs' are, from meals and sustenance, exercise and activities, how your mind and body work, and what you can change and manage, or what you need to adapt to rather than letting it run away with you.
  • Know where you want to be in your life, what your personal goals are, and why they might be. Maybe your past gives you ideas on this, or has influenced you in some way to feel how you do - values, beliefs, expectations, and experiences.
  • What your (life) purpose is - to inform your career and strengths, what excites and motivates you to get up and go in the morning, or maybe at night time.
  • What you are good at naturally - talents, tendencies, preferences, tastes, and interests, and use them effectively.

Self-awareness is the key to finding happiness - even to creating it. Stress is the opposite of happiness - it happens when you don’t get what you want or need!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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