Stress seems to be an accepted part of modern life. We have so many demands placed on us by work, family, and circumstance — unreasonable deadlines, overbearing bosses, questioning relatives, a never-ending to do list, money problems, the emotional needs of others, and more.
It’s no surprise that almost 80% of Americans feel stressed regularly, with a third reporting very high-stress levels. It’s not healthy — too much stress leads to anger, fatigue, headaches, depression, tension, and stress-related illnesses. Half of us believe that stress has a negative impact on our personal and professional life.
Against this background, you might be wondering what you can do to deal with stress and burnout in your life. The good news is that with a little reflection, some objectivity, and a willingness to do things differently, you can significantly reduce your stress levels.
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The Difference Between Stress and Burnout
Before we go on, it’s important to discuss how stress and burnout differ. Stress is about being overwhelmed, not having enough time to do everything, and feeling constant pressure and demands, from yourself or others.
Burnout is what happens as the result of prolonged exposure to too much stress. There are a couple of good definitions of burnout:
“A state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.” – Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson.
“A state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.” – Herbert J. Freudenberger.
You may be suffering from burnout if you feel a sense of hopelessness, believe that no day is a good day, feel that caring is a waste of energy, believe that you don’t make a difference, are exhausted, are cynical, use drugs or alcohol to cope, or that everything in life is dull or makes you feel numb.
Stress is generally a short-term condition based on circumstance. In most cases, stress is not constant, there are still times of relief and relaxation. In contrast, burnout is a continual, long-term problem. The important thing to remember here is that burnout is generally caused by stress that mounts up over time. By dealing with the stress, you can help to avoid burnout.
Dealing with Stress and Burnout — Personality Types
We all have unique ways of seeing the world, acting, reacting, and processing our experiences. We all respond differently to requests, pressure, and demands. Our personalities from our inner world, and they are fundamental in shaping how we experience stress. That means a “one size fits all” approach to dealing with stress simply doesn’t work.
Despite these differences, many of us fall into overall “personality types.” If we want to avoid burnout at home or work, we need to understand what type we fall into. Only through doing that can we learn what triggers stress, and take effective steps to deal with it.
Introducing the Clifton StrengthsFinder
One popular way to measure personality types is the “Clifton StrengthsFinder.” This is a personality test used by Gallup, employers, and others to understand the key characteristics of people. We’re going to explore the main personality types this test identifies, and you will probably find one of them matches you pretty closely.
It’s important to note these are not “cut and dried” personality types. Each of us is infinitely complex and has a variety of strengths in their personality. This is simply a broad-brush approach to understanding our main drives and how we can use that to avoid burnout and stress.
Achiever Personalities and Avoiding Burnout
“People strong in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.”
Achievers experience stress and burnout through:
Taking on too much work in the belief they can do everything.
Wanting to be the “point man” on every project.
Not knowing when to say “no” to work or opportunities.
Expecting team members and others to work as hard as they do
Achievers can reduce stress and avoid the risk of burnout through:
Understanding exactly how fast they work and not taking on more than they can achieve before a deadline.
Taking a step back occasionally and letting others take the lead.
Learning how to say “No” and not fear they are missing out.
Understanding that others have different working styles and adapting to that.
Competition Personalities and Avoiding Burnout
“People strong in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.”
Competitors experience stress and burnout through:
Putting lots of time, energy, and resources into coming first.
Basing their self-worth on how they do versus others.
Always expecting to be among the top performers, no matter how hard others are trying.
Competitors can reduce stress and avoid the risk of burnout through:
Learning that it’s not always essential to come first just to feel valued.
Enjoying work for its own sake, rather than the rewards it provides.
Understanding that others don’t have the same competitive instinct as you, and they are driven by different needs.
Not beating themselves up of their performance is just “good” rather than “excellent.”
Relator Personalities and Avoiding Burnout
“People who are strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.”
Relators experience stress and burnout through:
Isolation at home or work and not having others to share ideas with.
Negative relationships and conflict, especially with other team members.
Not having a clear goal where everyone can contribute.
Working by themselves.
Relators can reduce stress and avoid the risk of burnout through:
Finding opportunities to work collaboratively with others on mutually beneficial tasks and projects.
Resolving potential conflicts as quickly as possible by removing emotion and finding common ground.
Working with others to establish a clear path forward and destination.
Working in an environment which supports the sharing of ideas and actions.
Maximizer Personalities and Avoiding Burnout
“People strong in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.”
Maximizers experience stress and burnout through:
Other people not realizing and acting on their own strength.
Others being out of their depth.
Wanting to do work on behalf of other people.
The inability to achieve significant change.
Maximizers can reduce stress and avoid the risk of burnout through:
Coaching and supporting others to help them appreciate their talents.
Ensuring everyone is up to speed and has the resources and training they need to perform well.
Trusting others to be able to accomplish good work through their own effort.
Realizing that some change is evolutionary, not revolutionary and that it takes time.
Strategic Personalities and Avoiding Burnout
“People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.”
Strategists experience stress and burnout through:
Being forced to work in a particular way.
Not having the flexibility and adaptability they need to thrive.
Not being listened to when they present a more effective way of doing something.
Strategists can reduce stress and avoid the risk of burnout through:
Understanding and accepting that sometimes they need to follow the status quo and the established way of doing things.
Creating systems to enhance their way of working within the overall restrictions on their job role.
Being content to accept small wins when it comes to alternative approaches.
Adaptability Personalities and Avoiding Burnout
“People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.”
Adaptable personalities experience stress and burnout through:
Being forced to work to distant goals and objectives not aligned to the here and now.
Having to do work that goes against their deep instincts.
Thinking too much about the impact of unknown changes on their current activities.
Adaptable personalities can reduce stress and avoid the risk of burnout through:
Figuring out how longer-term timescales directly relate to day-to-day activities and making changes accordingly.
Realizing that there are ways to work other than through intuition and experimenting with those.
Not worrying about the unknown and realizing one of their strengths is adapting to change.
Arranger Personalities and Avoiding Burnout
“People strong in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability. They like to figure out how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.”
Arranger personalities experience stress and burnout through:
Having to act before they have all the information needed to make an informed decision.
Following other people’s’ plans when the arranger already has everything figured out.
Inefficiency in any form.
Arranger personalities can reduce stress and avoid the risk of burnout through:
Realizing it’s almost impossible to make a “perfect” decision and being content to act before everything is known.
Collaborating with other planners to tweak an existing plan to make it more effective.
Understanding that inefficiency and waste is a fact of life.
As you can see, there are many different areas that can cause stress and as many different ways to learn to deal with it. The seven personality types we’ve discussed above just scratch the surface of the Clifton StrengthsFinder. Understanding the areas that cause you to feel stress means you can take active steps now before it becomes too much of an issue and burns you out. Good luck!