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How To Manage Stress And Burnout with Sara Wegwitz
It’s going to be exciting because not only do I have the amazing Sara Wegwitz with me that is a dear friend of mine, but she’s also highly qualified in talking about stress and burnout. She is a registered nurse with a specialization in mental fitness, resiliency training and performance coaching. In the most simplistic way, if you think of her as a personal trainer of your mind, it’s a great way to portray it. She specializes in helping individuals and groups to build confidence and transform the way they think through bite-sized training experiences. She has twenty years of experience in education and fields of critical care, health science, leadership and coaching. What distinguishes Sarah’s approach is that she has the ability to take complex biology and academic theory and map it across the street level practices that are simple, easy, practical for both individuals and for teams. Sarah, I am so excited to have you here.
Thanks for having me. This is going to be a fun and educational show. It is great to be here.
The World Health Organization has declared stress a worldwide epidemic. If you ask a room of people, “Are you stressed?” you’re going to have everybody raising their hand. It seems like more than ever, people are stressed out. Do you find that as well?
Absolutely. What we know is that stress is at the root cause of almost all illnesses. What I notice is that we all have this amazing ability to adapt to stress. It’s like death by a thousand paper cuts. First, you get one or two paper cuts. Keep moving forward and you adapt. Taking on more and more stress, most people don’t realize the impact of our day-to-day lives and the stress that we have and how that impacts our minds, our emotions and our physiology as well.
The thing is it’s so unconscious. It builds. It’s a little contagious too. It’s like a sneeze. It’s everywhere.
It's almost like people have stress-off competitions, reinforcing maladaptive ways that people are dealing with stress. Click To Tweet Funny you bring that up too because I’m sure you’ve probably witnessed where it’s almost like people have stress off competitions. It continues to build those stories and reinforcing maybe maladaptive ways that people are dealing with stress.
When people are stressed over time, chronically what happens?
They get increased levels of that very harmful hormone cortisol, which can wreak havoc. When you’re under those chronic levels of stress and we’re not handling it in a good way, we start having behaviors of avoidance or we use substances to numb what’s going on, whether that’s alcohol or drugs or sex or shopping or what have you. Sometimes we try and be workaholics, “Put my head down and I keep doing this, someday things will change like this season in my life or this busy period will come to an end,” but we keep snowballing. It can lead to some harmful effects, anxieties, depressions, burnout, compassion and fatigue as well. Having all those stressors on your body can be an adaptive disease like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. If left unchecked, stress is the root cause of many cancers. It only makes sense that we need to be taking a more upstream preventative approach to nip things in the bud. Get our feet turning back towards having a healthy relationship with stress because it’s not going away. It’s something that says part of our human experience. It’s so important that people do as much as they can to help balance that and find healthier ways to handle the stress that happens in their lives.
We know that stress builds up because it’s our response. It turns into burnout. All of a sudden, where we once had energy and meaning in our life, it’s gone because it’s become chronic. I remember when I first started my IT business, it was an instinct and it’s the wrong instinct that we have, which is to work harder. I’m like, “I’ve got all these new clients that I have to manage. I felt like my hands are in everything.” The only solution that I could think of that was instinctual was I’ll work harder. Many people do that instead of, “We want to work smarter, not harder,” but our instinct is to work harder. How do we recognize that? How do we avoid that? How do we train ourselves to work smarter?
You bring up a good point in that. What came up for me as you’ve shared that is taking control, taking back the steering wheel of your mind and taking control of the stories that we attach. The meaning we attach to the everyday things that we go through. Whether it’s being at work or in other roles that we fulfill and understand that that whole notion of working harder, that’s a societal or cultural thing. In order to have this success, you need to put your head down and work hard and work crazy hours. Depending on your work, there will be time investments. If you’re not taking the time to recharge or do something every day for 30 minutes for yourself to keep that energy and connected to your motivation or the why purpose that you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re going to run into some real challenges. You’ve probably all have worked or known people who are burnt out. Coming from the hospital and working as a nurse, there were more senior nurses that I was like, “You needed to switch jobs or different units years ago.” They’ve lost meaning. They’re grouchy. They’re totally negative. That can have a huge impact on teams. What I find people happen in that case is almost like those golden handcuffs. It’s like, “I’ve got to put my head down because I’ve got more years until I get to retire.”
Immediately in their control is to start giving them space and time to do self-care activities like in the immediacy. Being able to take those holidays because oftentimes when people are working hard, maybe they’re collecting all of these vacation days, etc. It’s to take time to go on that holiday to recharge and regenerate. The other piece of that too is to reach out and get help. If people have already recognized or typically when people are in burnout, they’ve been adapting for so long. It’s generally their loved ones who live with them who are like, “Come on, you’re not enjoying a beer around. I want you to be able to get help.” For people to reach out to resources in the community, be it a psychologist or a registered counselor to help talk through those things, it’s an immediate change of environment in terms of stopping work and going for a holiday. Even going away for a weekend or a day, getting out of dodge, I call it very reinvigorating. Give that pattern interrupt in that space to shift your perspective and see things from a different viewpoint, to get support in identifying next steps on how to work through it with a professional. This is where prevention is key, is to stop. Don’t allow yourself to get down all the way downstream to that place where you’re feeling burnt out. It’s harder and harder to get back to having vitality, energy, searching for that meaning, purpose, reconnecting with why you do what you do.
I was thinking what were some of the things in some stressful times of my life, what did I do that helped me to be more resilient? Immediately it’s those self-care things. It sounds so obvious, but I purposely made sure that I got more sleep because I knew that I needed it. It was intuitive. I was more tired, but I didn’t stay up watching TV. I allowed myself to get that sleep. Two other things that I did that I think was most important that anybody can do at any stage, no matter where they are in terms of stress or burnout is I started to work in a class. I went three times a week to a workout class. Having the comradery of a class to have that accountability but also to have other people around.
I read somewhere that we, as women, need the tendon befriend. We need to nurture. We need to when we’re in that mode, it helps us more quickly to get unstressed or less stressed. That workout was so important to me. Keeping my body moving, it clears your mind. It has a total cleansing effect. The other cleansing effect that I did, which I’ve been doing for years is keeping a gratitude journal and focusing, as you said, is getting back to why things matter. Getting back to what has meaning even how small it might be, the leaves are falling and the colors are changing. The fact that I can see and that I see these beautiful colors like some people can’t even see. Things like that empowered me. Those are like to build on the things that you’re talking about. They’re concrete things that people can do.
You’re talking about important things where it’s about shifting perspective. As you said, they’re the simple and easy things. There are things that are easy to do and also easy not to do. When people are in that total stress mode, during that react, I have to react, I have to respond. You feel like you’re a little ball in a pinball machine. To take back control is to have gratitude. I love going to exercise class because getting all of those feel-good hormones going. Also having a social connection where you’re around other like-minded human beings. People Identify those things that bring them joy and to go back to them. Whether it’s a hobby picking up a paintbrush and doing painting or a dance class, which is something I’ve rediscovered for myself, which has been an unbridled joy for an hour every week. It’s like being able to find those things that light you off and replenish you in a new way, getting yields, energy, productivity, efficiency. That whole notion of work harder. It’s a misnomer because what the research shows is that when we can give ourselves a break to exercise, to do those things that fill us up makes us come back and be more clear-headed, productive and able to take on the day.
The feeling of human inadequacy is something we all experience. Click To Tweet It’s one of those things that we know, but we have to put things in place in our environment to do what we know because we don’t.
It’s that whole notion of we know what to do and yet there’s the disconnect to the doing. How do we bridge that? Women in general too, and I know it’s for men, we tend to put ourselves on the lower totem in our totem pole, putting our family or partners, spouses, other family members, ahead of ourselves. It’s important to take that time to look after you, so you can be even more present for the people that you love and care about.
The other thing that I do and that I believe is an instinct, but this is a positive instinct is where things are out of control in my life. I looked for the things that I can control. I start to clean up and clean things because it makes me feel good because I can control that or people talk about making their bed in the morning. At least they can control coming back to a made bed that makes them feel good. It’s like little things wherever you can put them in your environment to support you. Maybe it’s a sticky note or around in your environment or a song that you play at the end of the day to wind down. Those little things can make a huge difference.
We have those good tunes in the car, you can rock out. I don’t think I know anybody, at least around here, that you can’t help but sing along when Bohemian Rhapsody comes on the radio because it’s the ultimate car karaoke. Music can be such a powerful state changer in that way as well.
We have to keep those things top of mind. What else do you think is important for people who are looking for prevention? They know that they live in a hectic or could be hectic and stressful in their life. What is the last tip that you could give them to be their preventative?
Two things that came to mind, they both start with a C, so easy to remember. Number one is compassion. Many of us would say that I put my hand up if I were asked, are you a compassionate person? I’d be like, “Yes, let me supersize that.” However, I would ask people then, “When you’re home alone in the quiet with your thoughts, how compassionate is your internal dialogue or self-talk?” Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher from the University of Austin who researches self-compassion said we need three things. In order for us to create and maintain self-compassion, we have to be mindful with our emotions either repressing, suppressing our emotions or over-identifying with them being dramatic. Second of all is to understand the feeling of human inadequacy is something we all experience. When you see other people running around with their busy badge and thinking they have it all together, it’s like, “No.” At some point in their life, they’ve dealt with that. It’s to be kind in the way that you talk to yourself. Being extra compassionate and to give yourself permission to be or to do, how you would talk to your best friend.
The second thing that helps us is how we connect with one another. I know we’ve talked about that before about how often we go through our day-to-day lives and we’re not present. We don’t even pay attention or look people in the eye when we greet them in the morning. We buzz into work and we say, “So and so, how was your weekend?” but we don’t stop to hear what they have to say. We walk past. It’s being able to connect with people on a deeper level. It’s something you can do with an extra second by connecting that with them and looking them in the eye when you greet them in the morning to let them know that they’re seen and appreciated and valued. We’re losing that in our day-to-day lives and as human beings, we need that connection. It sounds so silly and it’s so small and yet how to make eye contact for one extra second in some ways that we can build a connection with the people that we live and we work with. By having that connection, those feel-good emotions of having that oxytocin being released than feeling good because we’ve been seen and we feel heard and appreciated. We can model the way for others to do that as well.
We can be the stress reliever for others as well as for ourselves. I’m thinking back to my own experiences of times when I’ve been stressed and I’ve had a lot going on. If there was a time where somebody gave me that little bit of appreciation, that I’m valued changed everything, it changed the meaning that I was giving my effort. All of a sudden, it wasn’t so heavy. The effort was appreciated. It didn’t feel as heavier or hard. I’m reviewing in my head and that is true. Everybody online can think about that. When you deliver that message to somebody who’s having a stressful time in the workplace where there are a lot of deadlines, that can go a long way and making somebody feel that they’re valued in terms of reducing their stress and yours. That’s pretty huge.
That’s being appreciated. A simple thank you can go a long way. The cool part about that is it’s not the unilateral experience. When we value and genuinely appreciate people that we live and work with, we get ahead of the good hormones as well. It’s a win-win and it cultivates more of a compassionate and understanding workplace or your home life. Easy to do and also easy not to do. Yet there we’ve talked about some quick and easy things that readers can immediately start applying in their lives and start shifting things.
Thank you so much.
Thank you, Penny.
We’ll probably have a couple of other further talks around stress and emotional intelligence and things like that in the future, which we have all the time personally. We could do that online and provide some tips for the readers here. Thank you, Sara.
Thank you. It’s great to get connected this way. Thanks for having me on your show.
Thank you for being here because you know how important it is to be able to manage your stress, to manage your emotional intelligence. With that, the topic of this show is take back time. It’s a waste of our time when we’re not managing the stress and the energy of stress can suck with it a lot of the energy that we need to do things more efficiently and more effectively. By taking a step back and working smarter, not harder is the end game. Managing our stress and understanding these very simple things to do and not understanding them, but doing them is an important part of you taking back time. Thank you so much for being here.
- Sara Wegwitz
- Dr. Kristin Neff
About Sara Wegwitz
I have over 20 years of experience and education in the fields of critical care, health sciences, leadership, and coaching and have a cool knack for getting people and organizations out of the matrix of mediocrity and transforming them into high-performance teams.
Some of the results my clients have achieved include a 40% reduction in sick and overtime costs; a consistent 3:1 ROI on health and wellness programming; gold medals at athletic World Championships; overcoming anxiety; transforming workplace cultures, and increasing productivity.
I love working with first responders, entrepreneurs, high-performance athletes and athletic teams, and leaders in corporate organizations, government, and non-profit sectors.
To learn more about what I offer I invite you to visit: www.tailormakinghealth.ca.