During the recent Christmas season I found myself feeling a bit depressed. Supposedly that is not a rare thing to happen to people, as we all tend to feel a lot of pressure and stress at this time of year. But still, I was surprised and bothered by the way I was feeling. I had made efforts to simplify the season for our family, and my husband had been extra helpful this year, so I really did not have reason to feel a lot of extra stress. And there wasn’t anything going particularly wrong that would warrant feeling depressed. But, I had been feeling down off and on for a while for a few months, so I decided to talk to my husband about it. My husband, who majored in Psychology in college and is now a Special Education teacher (specializing in emotional disturbance) pulled out his Psychology* textbook and asked if he could read some of it to me. He started reading under the heading “Stress.” This is what the book said:
Richard Lazarus and his colleagues argued that rather than major life change events, much stress is produced from the daily hassles that routinely annoy us. Lazarus defined hassles as petty routine annoyances, aggravations, or frustrations such as driving in traffic, preparing meals, the pressure of time, financial problems, communications problems, and making decisions.
According to Lazarus, the major life events themselves do not directly cause stress as much as they create numerous minor hassles that contribute to the overall stress level. . . .
Hmm . . . daily hassles that routinely annoy us equals stress. Ok, I realize that this is almost “like, duh!” but when I heard it I felt validated. For a very long time I’ve identified as a major source of stress, both meal preparation and the pressure of time. I mean, I complain over and over again to anyone who will be nice enough to listen, and to the point of sounding like a broken record. So to have these listed in a Psychology Textbook was validating to me. I wanted to say to everyone, “See? These are real stressors! I’m not just being a crazy complainer!”
Next my husband started reading in the section titled “Burnout” and read this:
We live in a society that constantly places demands on us. While most of us feel that we are able to deal with stress adequately, many people are not aware that they are burning energy too fast. Burnout is the depletion of our physical and mental resources. It occurs when we have more energy going out than we do coming in.
The book went on to list several symptoms of burnout:
- Impatience (with others who can’t keep up)
- Sense of omnipotence
- Feeling unappreciated
- Psychophysiological problems (such as ulcers, asthma, or heart problems)
So I started thinking, “maybe I am experiencing a mild case of burnout,” which could explain some of the depression I had been feeling. I could definitely identify with some of the symptoms. This was a new thought to me because I always had felt like burnout was a result of doing too much. Once when I was in college, I felt like I experienced burnout, and everyone told me that I was “doing too much.” So in my married life I’ve tried to be careful not to “overdo” (as much as feasibly possible), but I haven’t been so careful not to “over-stress.” And this book says that “burnout” is a depletion of both physical and mental resources. In other words, stress uses energy just like work does. If more goes out than comes in, there is going to be a problem.
So, what to do? Well, for me, in my New Year’s Resolutions, I have identified some important things.
- Taking better care of my health is a good place to start, because that’s how we put energy into our bodies. Proper sleep, diet, and exercise all perform that function. Just like a bank account, if I deposit more energy, then I have more energy available to “spend!”
- Reducing stress is another good plan, but the texbook also reminds people that stress is a fact of life and we cannot get rid of all of it. I know there are some things I can do to manage my time and meal preparation a little better. Procrastination and clutter are both common sources of stress for people, and if I succeed at improving in both of these areas this year, that should help.
- Including activities that make me happy in my days can help too. The book says, “It should be pointed out that Lazarus also found people had daily “uplifts” or satisfactions such as relating well with others, visiting, having enough money for something desired, listening to music, [etc]. Some research suggests that these uplifts might be able to counteract some of the effects of stress.”
- Also focusing on my blessings can help. This is similar to “including activities that make me happy,” but instead of seeking for happy things, I’m just taking the time to appreciate the good that I’m already experiencing. So often good things happen to us, but in the day to day stress we don’t take the time to acknowledge or appreciate them. Taking the time to focus on these positives can be another way to provide the daily uplifts that counteract stress.
These are a few ideas that I have. What about you? What do you do to handle stress and keep yourself from burning out?