Stress busting and preventing burnout – Get ahead, make a list.

I am not necessarily advocating more sleep, less alcohol or mindfulness to combat stress and burnout, but recognising what we can and cannot influence is a start.

As someone who delivers face to face learning programmes, I’ve had my fair share of ‘disasters’ over the years. ‘Why don’t these people like me? Why is that person being so obstructive? Why aren’t they ‘getting it’?’ I remember running one programme, where although I agreed with the messages and content, it was not designed to be presented to the sixty people in front of me.

I could feel during the day that I was losing control, that I was delivering a half-assed session. I came away feeling dejected, but having thought about it, a lot of people attending just didn’t want to be there. They were being half-assed too. The result of two half-asses or in mathematical terms, two negatives, did not produce a positive.

What could I do, what should I have done? I was due to meet them again a month later and I was dreading it, losing sleep and imagining ever more disastrous scenarios. I made some changes, but I could not change the fact that a significant number of people did not want to be there. In speaking to a wise colleague, she counselled that there are some things we have no control over, we can only do what we are capable of and sometimes we just have to get through it. I was pretty sure that no-one was going to use physical violence against me in the next session and that actually helped!

At that time, I had no control of the content of the programme and the number of people attending. It was set. My line manager never addressed it with me and neither did I. I was too ashamed. Key to some of the problems experienced was a lack of planning, accountability and communication. These are now central to how I approach learning and development.

As human beings we are wired to see potential threats, it’s one of the reasons we got this far. However, all the things that can and may threaten our well-being often seem to pile up in front of us as a barrier to which there seems no way round.

The only contribution I can make here in relation to stress busting and burn out is from my Partner. She is very good at making lists (I was not), but the power of writing things down can be very revealing. I knew this from the activities we do in learning sessions, but never applied it to myself. It almost acts as a call to action, even if you do not have a plan yet.

What control do you have over the things in your life at home and at work? Is there one thing in your life that causes you worry and distress that you do have some control over. How can you use your control and influence to remove that from your life? Also, is there something you have little control over, that you just need to let go of?

Go down the list, you’ll find something.

I also made a list of the things that give me pleasure. Writing this list was also revealing, seeing the balance between the positives and negatives and realising what I needed to focus upon for the sake of my health and well-being.

Many years ago, I took dramatic action to change my life. I just wasn’t happy, but I felt stuck and overwhelmed at the changes I needed to make. I remember sitting in the park, mulling it over and slowly a plan emerged. It was going to be hard, but I had (without realising it) inserted things into it that I would enjoy. I got out. I was never happier a year later.

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Make a list, get a plan.

Consultant Learning and Development Manager
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