Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.
Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.
Creative RF / Geber86 / Getty Images
When people hear that I am Verywell’s stress management expert, the most common response is, “Oh, wow, I need your help!” The second most common response is “What is the best way to manage stress?” which is an understandable question to ask. One question that I have heard from a few people, which I think is an equally important question that people don’t always think to ask, is, “If I’m already stressed and exhausted, how can I get to a place where I have the energy for some of those great stress management techniques that work so well?” Many people fall into bad habits when stressed because they are simply too stressed to take on a new activity.
Exercise is one of those powerful stress management techniques that fall victim to stress. Many people would like to benefit from the resilience and stress relief that they can gain from a good workout, or from a regular workout routine, but find themselves too tired and unmotivated for exercise when they need it the most. If this sounds like you, the following stress management techniques can help you to become more energized and less stressed so you can either find the motivation to exercise more easily or at least find yourself less stressed and restored to the point that you can continue with your day more easily. See what works for you.
Listen to Energetic Music
Music is a powerful tool for relaxation and stress management for many reasons. Music can be a wonderfully effective tool for relaxation, but it can also energize you. When you feel exhausted from a stressful day, simply putting on some music that makes you feel energized can give you an influx of energy. If, after a few minutes with your favorite energetic music on in the background, you don’t feel energized enough for even a quick workout, at least you should feel less stressed and more energized in general.
Take a Walk in Nature
Walking doesn't need to feel like "exercise." Often, when a trip to the gym sounds like an intimidating task, a leisurely walk can feel like the right amount of effort. After a few minutes of walking, you may feel like quickening your pace and making it a brisk walk, which can bring aerobic benefits. If not, however, you have gotten yourself moving, you've given yourself a change of scenery, and if you've brought a partner, you've most likely enjoyed some friendly conversation. And with these activities, you should feel less stressed.
Watching a Re-Run and Exercise During the Breaks
It's been shown that watching re-runs of your favorite shows when stressed can bring stress relief benefits that are unique. This is also an extremely low-effort activity. When you're overwhelmed, you can easily relax this way instead of turning to less-healthy coping habits. By the first or second commercial break, you may be in the mood for a few simple exercises between breaks. If not, you'll still feel less stressed.
Writing Down Your Goals or Your Gratitude
The act of journaling is a highly effective stress relief activity that takes less energy than exercise, but also carries cumulative benefits and engages your attention. Writing your goals can energize you in that it shifts your focus from the stress of the day to the things about which you are passionate and excited. Gratitude journaling is effective for stress relief in that it forces you to shift your attention to the things that sustain you and make your life wonderful. (There are also unique benefits that come with gratitude journaling.) Once you energize yourself with a little journaling, you may be in the mood for a workout. If you never feel like exercise after journaling, however, you’ll still be developing a stress management habit that works well for building resilience.
What About Meditation?
Meditation is another of those powerful stress management tools that can help you relieve stress quickly and build resilience over time. If you feel too stressed for a meditation session, learn about some techniques that can help you to get into a more relaxed state.
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.
Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.
Stress and frustration are connected. Both of these feelings act on each other; feeling stressed can cause you to experience frustration, and frustrating situations often generate stress.
Stress can make you feel more emotionally reactive to events that normally wouldn’t bother you, and it can reduce your tolerance for frustration. Small failures can seem much worse (and much more frustrating), and chronic stress may cause you to feel like you’re not in control of your life, leading to further frustration and even depression.
Managing your stress can help you alleviate feelings of frustration, and improving your tolerance for frustration may help you lower your stress levels.
The Link Between Frustration and Stress
Stress and frustration act on each other in a variety of ways:
- Stress may cause you to feel like you don’t have the resources to overcome challenges, and feeling unable to reach your goals is a key component of frustration.
- Frustration is a common reaction to a recurring, unresolved stressor.
- Frustration is often accompanied by aggression, hostility, impulsivity, and defensiveness—and these emotions can generate their own stress if you don’t deal with them in a healthy manner.
- Increased frustration, irritability, and sensitivity can be signs of burnout, which is often caused by chronic, unmitigated stress.
Our ability to deal with frustration is known as frustration tolerance. Having a high frustration tolerance indicates that you can cope with challenges successfully, while a low tolerance means that you may feel distressed at small inconveniences.
Feeling stressed, tired, or unsure of yourself in a new situation can reduce your frustration tolerance, as can certain conditions like borderline personality disorder (BPD), autism, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
If you have a low tolerance for frustration, there are strategies you can use to improve the way you respond. Seeking professional treatment is also a good option, especially if you’re experiencing an underlying condition or your low tolerance is causing negative consequences in your life.
Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is linked with your ability to deal with frustration. Emotional intelligence is your capacity to notice and evaluate emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to regulate the way you express your feelings.
You can improve your emotional intelligence by:
- Regulating yourself during moments of frustration and waiting for an appropriate moment to express yourself
- Practicing empathy for others, especially people who tend to frustrate you
- Remembering that all emotions are fleeting, including frustration
- Noticing your feelings so you can react appropriately
Fixating on the source of your frustration can actually worsen your feelings, but temporarily distracting yourself can give you the space you need to process. Choose an activity that you enjoy, like exercising, doing something creative, listening to music, or watching a movie.
It’s important not to let distraction become a pattern of avoidance, however. You should eventually return to the source of your frustration and determine if there are any strategies you can use to solve the problem.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully and nonjudgmentally aware of the present, noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you, as well as the feelings and sensations within you. You can practice mindfulness throughout the day or as a form of meditation.
Staying mindful is a key component of dealing with frustration and stress, as you have to be aware of what you're feeling before you can take steps to address the issue. Mindfulness also encourages you to retain an attitude of acceptance rather than resistance or judgment, and this can have a positive impact on the way you react to frustration.
If you find yourself feeling less patient, more frustrated, more emotional, and less able to handle stress, there are several things you can do to feel better. Together with improving your tolerance for frustration, managing your stress is also an important part of maintaining your health.
Act Quickly to Ease Stress
Stopping your stress response early can help you to respond more calmly, instead of behaving in a way that you might regret.
Quick stress relievers such as breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation, for example, can calm you down and help you feel less frustrated and more able to handle what comes. Be prepared with quick stress relievers to use next time you feel overwhelmed.
Change Your Attitude
Much of whether or not we see something as stressful depends on our habitual thought patterns and how we process the world around us. For example, those who see things as under their control tend to be less stressed about what happens to them, as they see that they always have options for change.
Optimism carries health benefits and can lead to an improved sense of well-being. Learning how to develop an optimistic outlook and resilient state of mind may help you feel less stressed.
Change Your Lifestyle
If you feel like you’re continually on edge, it’s possible that something needs to change in your life. If you cut down on commitments, take good care of your body, and make other healthy lifestyle changes, you’ll be dealing with less overall stress and you’ll be more effective at managing what you do encounter.
Good nutrition, proper sleep, and regular exercise can work wonders on your stress levels. Making time for leisure activities and creative expression is vital as well; downtime is not just a luxury, but a necessary aspect of a balanced lifestyle, and creative activities can be stress-relieving for artists and non-artists alike.
Try engaging in regular stress-relieving activities that fit your personality and lifestyle. Those who regularly walk, meditate, or enjoy other stress-relief activities tend to feel less stressed in general and less reactive to specific stressors that arise throughout the day.
Draw on Social Support
It’s also helpful to have the release and support of sharing your troubles with close friends, family, or loved ones. While it’s not healthy to constantly complain, talking to a trusted friend about your frustrations now and then (and returning the favor by being a good listener) can help you process what’s going on and enable you to brainstorm solutions.
If you don’t have someone you’re comfortable sharing your situation with, seeing a therapist or starting a regular journaling practice have benefits as well.
A Word From Verywell
We all feel stressed and frustrated from time to time, but you don't need to allow these feelings to take over your life. By learning to manage your response to stress and frustration, you can reduce the impact they have and improve your overall well-being.
This article was co-authored by Sari Eitches, MBE, MD. Dr. Sari Eitches is an Integrative Internist who runs Tower Integrative Health and Wellness, based in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in plant-based nutrition, weight management, women’s health, preventative medicine, and depression. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine. She received a BS from the University of California, Berkeley, an MD from SUNY Upstate Medical University, and an MBE from the University of Pennsylvania. She completed her residency at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, NY and served as an attending internist at the University of Pennsylvania.
There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
This article has been viewed 8,588 times.
Have you been feeling stressed out or exhausted due to your life and your responsibilities lately? Maybe your job calls for you to work long hours, or maybe you have family obligations that require you to spend extra time caring for others. When you are tired or burnt out, it’s easy to neglect your physical and mental well-being. However, if you don’t build regular stress management into your days, even minor problems can seem overwhelming. There are steps you can take to stay calm and centered even when life puts lots of demands on your time and energy. Adopt good sleep hygiene, take care of your mental health, and fight burnout to effectively manage stress when you’re tired.
Americans are feeling anxious—a health risk, especially for older adults. DIY strategies can help.
Last summer an American Psychological Association survey found that our overall stress levels were going down—part of an encouraging nationwide trend.
But a follow-up survey in early January showed a troubling change, according to psychologist Vaile Wright, Ph.D., director of research and special projects at the APA. “We saw the first statistically significant spike in stress in 10 years,” she says.
Whether acute or chronic, stress can affect you physically, changing your hormone levels and activating your body’s inflammatory response.
“There’s evidence that people under chronic stress are more susceptible to the common cold and flu, and are at greater risk of developing depression and coronary heart disease,” says Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Under long-term stress, many of your body’s physical systems do not respond normally.”
And though older adults usually report less stress than younger ones—thanks to years of experience in developing coping strategies—age may make us more susceptible to the negative health effects of chronic stress.
Fortunately, evidence-backed strategies can help manage stress. Whether you’re planning a budget or dealing with a sick relative, here’s how to turn down the volume on tension the healthy way:
Learn to Relax
1. Focus on the now. Research has found that practicing mindfulness—being focused on the present moment without judgment—can reduce stress. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back.
In a recent study published in the journal Psychiatry Research, people who had generalized anxiety disorder either took a lecture-type class on healthy lifestyle habits or participated in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), an eight-week course that teaches mindfulness via meditation, breathing, and yoga. When challenged with a stressful task, those who took the MBSR program showed reduced levels of stress-related hormones and inflammatory compounds, suggesting that their bodies had become physically better at handling stress.
For guidance on how to get started, check your local community college for a mindfulness meditation class. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center also offers free guided meditations online (marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations).
2. Spend time with family and friends. When stress hits, its physical symptoms could be reduced by strong interpersonal connections, a 2015 study found. Knowing that people are there for you can help—even when they don’t do anything especially helpful.
“We know that people with strong social support networks do better under stress,” Cohen says. “They protect you from the adverse effects of stressors.” Family and friends can also help you reinterpret and cope with stressful challenges.
3. Connect with nature. Exercise has been shown to relieve stress, and being out in nature while you do it could help as well.
A small study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that urban residents who walked for 90 minutes in nature had lower self-reported scores on rumination—overthinking or hyperfocusing on a negative situation—than those who walked in a city.
Even a short stroll in the woods is beneficial. A study in the journal Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that people who sat and looked at a forest for 15 minutes, then spent 15 minutes walking in it showed lower levels of salivary cortisol, a lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure—all physical indications of reduced stress—than people who did the same in an urban environment.
4. Get more (and better) sleep. “When you’re stressed you often have trouble sleeping, and when you don’t have a good night’s sleep, it’s harder to cope with daily stresses,” says Judith Turner, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. “It’s a vicious cycle.”
Chronic sleep deprivation is also associated with an increased risk of a variety of illnesses and acute infections, such as colds, Cohen says. The sweet spot for sleep seems to be between 7 and 8 hours per night. (Too little or too much can increase your risk of certain illnesses.)
If you’re having trouble nodding off or staying asleep, keep potential distractions out of the bedroom (pets, snoring, glowing screens, bright lights, an uncomfortable temperature) and make time before bed to practice deep relaxation or mindfulness to help calm your brain.
5. Breathe slowly. When you’re stressed or anxious, your breathing can become fast and shallow. This stimulates the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system, which in turn can trigger more stress. Studies have shown that controlled breathing—the kind you might do in a yoga class—can help turn on the more soothing parasympathetic system.
“The way people ordinarily breathe when stressed enhances the stress they feel,” says Richard P. Brown, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who has studied the impact of breathing techniques on those with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The average adult takes about 12 to 20 breaths per minute. He suggests slowing down your respiration for up to 20 minutes per day, with the goal of getting to five or six breaths per minute during that time. “With this kind of slow, rhythmic breathing, your heart and lungs work better and deliver more oxygen to your system,” Brown says. “This can decrease blood pressure, improve sleep, and give you both energy and relaxation.”
Deal With Bad Habits
6. Make smart choices. Coping with stress by turning to alcohol, drugs, overeating, or other tempting comforts might make you feel better temporarily. But in the long run, these can have negative health consequences, potentially leading to addiction, weight gain, and other problems.
“When we’re stressed we tend to smoke and drink more, exercise less, get poorer sleep, and eat poor diets,” Cohen says. “All of those can potentially impact disease processes—and make stress worse.” Instead, try meditating, exercising, or taking a walk outside.
7. Take technology breaks. Computer use can be a double-edged sword. Although it can help keep you engaged and connected, too much screen time can disrupt sleep and increase stress.
A report from the Pew Research Center found that women who used social media to tweet, message, or share photos reported less stress than those who didn’t use social media at all. But that connecting had a negative impact by making the women more aware of—and stressed out by—other peoples’ life challenges.
Pew calls that “the cost of caring,” and notes that such stress is normal—in moderation.
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Consumer Reports on Health.
Stress is a normal reaction to the pressures of everyday life. Worry, fear, anger, sadness and other emotions are also all normal emotional responses. They are all part of life. However, if the stress that underlies these emotions interferes with your ability to do the things you want or need to do, this stress has become unhealthy.
What are the warning signs and symptoms of emotional stress?
Symptoms of emotional stress can be both physical, mental and behavioral.
Physical symptoms include:
- Heaviness in your chest, increased heart rate or chest pain.
- Shoulder, neck or back pain; general body aches and pains.
- Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw.
- Shortness of breath.
- Feeling tired, anxious, depressed.
- Losing or gaining weight; changes in your eating habits.
- Sleeping more or less than usual.
- Gastrointestinal problems including upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation.
- Sexual difficulties.
Mental or behavioral symptoms include:
- Being more emotional than usual.
- Feeling overwhelmed or on edge.
- Trouble keeping track of things or remembering.
- Trouble making decisions, solving problems, concentrating, getting your work done.
- Using alcohol or drugs to relieve your emotional stress.
How can I better cope with emotional stress?
There are many techniques that can be tried to help you better manage your emotional stress. Try one or more of the following:
Take some time to relax: Take some time to care for yourself. Even if you can devote only five to 15 minutes a few times a day to relax, take a break from reality. What activity helps you relax? Some ideas include:
- Read a book.
- Download and listen to a “calm” app (sounds of nature, rain) on your computer or phone.
- Take a walk. Practice yoga.
- Listen to music, sing along to a song or dance to music.
- Enjoy a soothing bath.
- Sit in silence with your eyes closed.
- Light a scented candle.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is learning how to focus your attention and become more aware. You can learn to feel the physical changes in your body that happen in response to your changing emotions. Understanding this mind-body connection is the first step in learning how to better manage your stress and how emotions affect your body. Mindfulness can also help you focus your mind on the immediate – what can I do to bring my mind and body to a place of calmness. If you can figure out what helps you feel more calm and relaxed in that moment, you know you’ve figured out one of your stress triggers and what works to manage it.
Distract your mind and focus on something else: Focus your mind on something other than what’s causing your stress. Do something fun. Watch a funny movie, play a game, engage in a favorite hobby (paint, draw, take pictures of nature, play with your pet). Volunteer for an activity to help others. Do something with people you enjoy.
Try journaling: Journaling is the practice of writing down your thoughts and feelings so you can understand them more clearly. It is a method that encourages you to slow down, pay attention, and think about what is going on in your life – and your feelings and reactions to these happenings. Since journaling can reveal your innermost thoughts, it can reveal your emotional stress triggers. You can identify and then replace negative thoughts and feelings with behaviors that are more positive. Journaling is a healthy and positive way to face your emotions. When you confront your emotions, healing or change can begin.
Practice meditation: Meditation is another way to actively redirect your thoughts. By choosing what you think about, such as positive thoughts or warm, comforting memories, you can manage your emotions and reduce your emotional stress.
When should I get help for my emotional stress?
If you have any of the symptoms of emotional stress and have tried one or more of the remedies discussed in this article and haven’t found relief, seek professional help. If you feel overwhelmed and can’t manage your emotions and stresses on your own, seek the help of a professional. Don’t stay “frozen” or feeling like you’re holding your breath waiting for your feelings to be over. If you are stuck in a rut and can’t get yourself out, seek professional help.
Counselors and mental health therapists are trained professionals who can find ways to help you cope, reduce the effects of emotional stress, help you feel better and become more functional in your day-to-day activities.
If you or a loved one have thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They are available 24 hours/day, seven days a week.
What else can I do to help myself better manage emotional stress?
In terms of your general health, which affects your ability to manage and cope with stress, you need to take care of yourself the best that you can.
- Get quality sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Relax before bedtime with a soothing bath, some reading time or warm cup of chamomile tea. Learn other ways to sleep better.
- Maintain a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Connect with others. Keep in touch with people who can help support you, both practically and emotionally. Ask for help from family, friends or religious or community groups you are associated with.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/29/2020.
- American Psychological Organization. What’s the difference between stress and anxiety? (https://www.apa.org/topics/stress-anxiety-difference) Accessed 12/18/2020.
- National Institute of Mental Health. 5 Things You Should Know About Stress. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml#pub3) Accessed 12/18/2020.
- American Psychological Organization. Stress relief is within reach. (https://www.apa.org/topics/stress) Accessed 12/18/2020.
- Office on Women’s Health. Stress and your health fact sheet. (http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/stress-your-health.html) Accessed 12/18/2020.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Running on fumes? Here’s how to stop feeling so tired all the time.
You’re only as old as you feel, the saying goes. But what if you feel old, tired, and rundown?
Fatigue is a common complaint, especially after people hit middle age. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple ways to boost energy. Some even slow the aging process.
Here’s how to refill your tank when your energy levels sputter.
1. Rule out health problems.
Fatigue is a common symptom of many illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, anemia, thyroid disease, and sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor if you feel unusually tired.
Many medications can contribute to fatigue. These include some blood pressure medicines, antihistamines, diuretics, and other drugs. If you begin to experience fatigue after starting a new medication, tell your doctor.
2. Get moving.
The last thing you may feel like doing when you’re tired is exercising. But many studies show that physical activity boosts energy levels.
“Exercise has consistently been linked to improved vigor and overall quality of life,” says Kerry J. Stewart, professor of medicine and director of clinical and research exercise physiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “People who become active have a greater sense of self-confidence. But exercise also improves the working efficiency of your heart, lungs, and muscles,” Stewart says. “That’s the equivalent of improving the fuel efficiency of a car. It gives you more energy for any kind of activity.”
3. Strike a pose.
Although almost any exercise is good, yoga may be especially effective for boosting energy. After six weeks of once-a-week yoga classes, volunteers in a British study reported improvements in clear-mindedness, energy, and confidence.
It’s never too late to try, either. University of Oregon researchers offered yoga instruction to 135 men and women ages 65 to 85. At the end of six months, participants reported an increased sense of well-being and a boost in overall energy.
4. Drink plenty of water.
Dehydration zaps energy and impairs physical performance. “Our research shows that dehydration makes it harder for athletes to complete a weight lifting workout,” says Dan Judelson, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology at California State University at Fullerton. “It’s reasonable to think that dehydration causes fatigue even for people who are just doing chores.”
Dehydration has also been shown to decrease alertness and concentration.
How to know if you’re drinking enough water?“Urine should be pale yellow or straw colored,” Judelson says. “If it’s darker than that, you need to drink water.”
5. Get to bed early.
Lack of sleep increases the risk of accidents and is one of the leading causes of daytime fatigue. The solution: Get to bed early enough for a full night’s sleep.
When people enrolled in a 2004 Stanford University study were allowed to sleep as long as they wanted, they reported more vigor and less fatigue. Good sleep habits may also have important health benefits. Centenarians report better than average sleep.
If you do fall short on shut-eye, take a brief afternoon nap. Napping restores wakefulness and promotes performance and learning. A 10-minute nap is usually enough to boost energy. Don’t nap longer than 30 minutes, though, or you may have trouble sleeping that night. A nap followed by a cup of coffee may provide an even bigger energy boost, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
6. Go fish.
Good for your heart, omega-3 oils may also boost alertness. According to a 2009 study by scientists at Italy’s University of Siena, volunteers who took a fish oil capsule for 21 days demonstrated faster mental reaction times. They also reported feeling more vigorous.
7. Keep time with your body clock.
Some people get a burst of energy first thing in the morning. They’re often called morning larks. Night owls are people who are at their best at the end of the day.
These individual differences in daily energy patterns are determined by brain structure and genetics, so they can be tough to change. Instead, become aware of your own circadian rhythms. Then schedule demanding activities when your energy levels are typically at their peak.
8. Shed extra weight.
Losing extra weight can provide a powerful energy boost, says Stewart, of Johns Hopkins University. Even small reductions in body fat improve mood, vigor, and quality of life.
Most weight loss experts recommend cutting back on portion sizes, eating balanced meals, and increasing physical activity.
9. Eat more often.
Some people may benefit by eating smaller meals more frequently during the day. This may help to steady your blood sugar level.
Favor whole grains and other complex carbohydrates. These take longer than refined carbohydrates to digest, preventing fluctuations of blood sugar.
If you start eating more often, watch your portion sizes to avoid weight gain.
Kerry J. Stewart, EdD, professor of medicine; director, Clinical and Research Exercise Physiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
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One of the many wonders of your brain is how masterfully it rationalizes your behavior.
Something occurs, you react, and then your brain instantly concocts a reason for your reaction that seems to justify your behavior even if the reason makes no sense. For example, you get very angry because you can’t find a report you were working on. You blame the company for giving you insufficient space, the cleaners for moving things around on your desk, or your boss for giving you a stupid task or deadline. You ignore the reasons you are tired and your patience is thin. You suppress your unhappiness with your boss or your life.
“The ingenuity of self-deception is inexhaustible,” wrote essayist Hannah Moore in 1881. The act of rationalizing is so quick, the best you can do is to recognize when it occurs and choose to consider what else could be causing your reaction.
The first step is to accept responsibility for your reactions.
Accept yourself as powerful instead of as victim to remove the veil of self-deception. When you seek to identify what is triggering how you feel in the moment, you give yourself the chance to feel differently if you want to. You will also have more clarity on what you need to do or what you need to ask for to change your circumstances.
What would your life look like if you were in control of your reactions? How free would you feel if you lived your life by choice? If these questions inspire you to diligently practice the steps for emotional freedom, read on.
The second step is to recognize that you are having an emotional reaction as soon as it begins to appear in your body.
According to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, author of Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain, at any moment, your rate of breathing, blood flow, tension in your muscles and constriction in your gut represents a pattern you can identify as a feeling. The sooner you recognize that you are breathing quickly or not at all, that certain muscles in your body tightened, or that you feel pressure in your gut or heart, stop and ask yourself what you are feeling and why. You can download a list of emotional states and an exercise to increase your awareness of emotions on this page.
Don’t judge or fear your emotions. No matter what you learned about the evils of emotions, if you don’t recognize your feelings, you can’t change them, negatively impacting your relationships, job performance, and overall happiness.
If the emotion is related to fear, anger, or sadness, the third step is to determine what triggered the emotion.
What do you think you lost or what did you not get that you expected or desired to have?
The strengths that have helped in life are also your greatest emotional triggers when you feel someone is not honoring one of them. When your brain perceives that someone has taken or plans to take one of these important things away from you, your emotions are triggered.
The quicker you notice an emotion is triggered, the sooner you can discover if the threat is real or not.
The following list includes some of the most common emotional triggers, meaning you react when you feel as though you aren’t getting or will not get one of these needs met.
acceptance respect be liked
be understood be needed be valued
be in control be right be treated fairly
peacefulness balance consistency
order predictability love
safety feel included autonomy
fun new challenges independence
Choose three items from the list that most often set off your emotions when you don’t get these needs met. Be honest with yourself. Which three needs, when not met, will likely trigger a reaction in you? Identify the needs that you hold most dear.
Some of these needs will be important to you. Others will hold no emotional charge for you. Some seem to overlap; choose the words you feel strongly about and begin to notice when your reactions are tied to unmet needs.
Needs are not bad. You have these needs because at some point in your life, the need served you. For example, your experiences may have taught you that success in life depends on maintaining control, establishing a safe environment, and having people around you who appreciate your intelligence. However, the more you are attached to having control, safety and being seen as smart, the more your brain will be on the lookout for circumstances that deny you your needs. The unmet need or threat becomes an emotional trigger.
The fourth step is to choose what you want to feel and what you want to do.
With practice, the reaction to your emotional triggers could subside, but they may never go away. The best you can do is to quickly identify when an emotion is triggered and then choose what to say or do next.
Ask yourself: Are you really losing this need or not? Is the person actively denying your need or are you taking the situation too personally? If it’s true that someone is ignoring your need or blocking you from achieving it, can you either ask for what you need or, if it doesn’t really matter, can you let the need go for now?
Choose to ask for what you need, let it go if you honestly feel that asking for what you need will have no value, or do something else to get your need met.
The fifth step is to actively shift your emotional state.
You can practice this step at any time, even when you first notice a reaction to help you think through your triggers and responses. When you determine what you want to do next, shift into the emotion that will help you get the best results.
Relax – breathe and release the tension in your body.
Detach – clear your mind of all thoughts.
Center – drop your awareness to the center of your body just below your navel.
Focus – choose one keyword that represents how you want to feel in this moment. Breathe in the word and allow yourself to feel the shift.
Stop trying to managing your emotions. Instead, choose to feel something different when an emotion arises. This is how you gain emotional freedom.
You can learn more ways to be emotionally intelligent in Outsmart Your Brain by Marcia Reynolds, PsyD. Dr. Reynolds coaches and trains people worldwide to increase their emotional intelligence.
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.
People who are struggling to cope with workplace stress may place themselves at high risk of burnout. Burnout can leave people feeling exhausted, empty, and unable to cope with the demands of life.
Burnout may be accompanied by a variety of mental and physical health symptoms as well. If left unaddressed, burnout can make it difficult for an individual to function well in their daily life.
What Is Burnout?
The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability.
More simply put, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout.
The stress that contributes to burnout can come mainly from your job, but stress from your overall lifestyle can add to this stress. Personality traits and thought patterns, such as perfectionism and pessimism, can contribute as well.
Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working. And if you hate your job, dread going to work, and don't gain any satisfaction out of what you're doing, it can take a serious toll on your life.
Signs and Symptoms
While burnout isn’t a diagnosable psychological disorder, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously.
Here are some of the most common signs of burnout:
- Alienation from work-related activities: Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.
- Physical symptoms: Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches or intestinal issues.
- Emotional exhaustion: Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack the energy to get their work done.
- Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work—or in the home when someone's main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.
It shares some similar symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression. Individuals with depression experience negative feelings and thoughts about all aspects of life, not just at work. Depression symptoms may also include a loss of interest in things, feelings of hopelessness, cognitive and physical symptoms as well as thoughts of suicide.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Individuals experiencing burnout also may be at a higher risk of developing depression.
A high-stress job doesn't always lead to burnout. If stress is managed well, there may not be any ill-effects.
But some individuals (and those in certain occupations) are at a higher risk than others.
The 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression, and Suicide Report found that 44 percent of physicians experience burnout.
Their heavy workloads place individuals with certain personality characteristics and lifestyle features at a higher risk of burnout.
Of course, it's not just physicians who are burning out. Workers in every industry at every level are at potential risk. According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five main causes:
- Unreasonable time pressure. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70 percent less likely to experience high burnout. Individuals who are not able to gain more time, such as paramedics and firefighters, are at a higher risk of burnout.
- Lack of communication and support from a manager. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.
- Lack of role clarity. Only 60 percent of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
- Unmanageable workload. When a workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout.
- Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favoritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment from a co-worker.
Prevention and Treatment
Although the term "burnout" suggests it may be a permanent condition, it's reversible. An individual who is feeling burned out may need to make some changes to their work environment.
Approaching the human resource department about problems in the workplace or talking to a supervisor about the issues could be helpful if they are invested in creating a healthier work environment.
In some cases, a change in position or a new job altogether may be necessary to put an end to burnout.
It can also be helpful to develop clear strategies that help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies, like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercises, and engaging in healthy sleep habits may help reduce some of the effects of a high-stress job.
A vacation may offer you some temporary relief too, but a week away from the office won't be enough to help you beat burnout. Regularly scheduled breaks from work, along with daily renewal exercises, can be key to helping you combat burnout.
If you are experiencing burnout and you're having difficulty finding your way out, or you suspect that you may also have a mental health condition such as depression, seek professional treatment.
Talking to a mental health professional may help you discover the strategies you need to feel your best.