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Opening the Doors to Healthier and Stress-Free Living

A Column by Alice Abbott-Moore,
Content Access/Information Delivery Teams, Ekstrom Library

Overall Wellness to Avoid Burnout

During this fall's KLA/KSMA Conference I co-presented with Patrick Davison, Hazard Community College, a session called “Avoiding Burnout”. For the purpose of this article I decided to focus on one aspect that I spoke about during the session: Overall Wellness.

As time progresses, people in the workplace are expected to do more with fewer personnel. As are result, we are seeing more people experience stress problems leading to ill health and burnout. Burnout is the interaction of the combination of:

In other words, burnout affects all areas of a person's life including:

According to Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Efficient People: Restoring the character ethic, burnout is common. People can be burned out because they're under pressure to produce more. One can spend 80 hours at work and have no life. It is imperative that one renews herself/himself –mentally, physically and spiritually (Covey, 1999, p.16).

Saying “no” to extra work from those who work less than you do. Covey suggests bringing up the problem during a calm time at work as a good approach. Tell the folks about your problem in a non-accusatory way. Let them know that you are afraid that if you have to continue to work so many hours extra with out having a life outside of work, you may grow resentful and it may affect the relationships at work. Let the others express their problems and see if some solution can be reached. Such an approach tends to improve life at work and quality of time spent there (Covey, 1999, p. 16). When this cannot be accomplished, do the best you can and let the chips fall where they may. Covey writes “[s]ometimes it's easier to get forgiveness than permission,” Covey, 1999, p. 16.

"The perfect job isn't a standard of living. It's a state of mind and a state of being. In the perfect job, you're applying the talents you enjoy most to an interest you're passionate about, in an environment that fits who you are and what you value." (Leider & Shapiro, p. 94)

Overall wellness is a huge asset when dealing with burnout. If we are in good health, we are less likely to succumb to illnesses due to stress and burnout:

"Sickness is often the body's way of talking to us and getting us to stop when our minds and hearts are so overwhelmed by the challenge of too much that they can no longer get the job done" (Kundtz, D., p. 83).

The reason the topic of burnout appealed to me was because not only have I heard and read about the effects of stress and, later, burnout, but I have also witnessed it happening to others and to me. Last year when I was getting a physical, my doctor was complimenting me on my healthy status. We spoke about trying to live a healthy lifestyle and, in the course of the conversation, she mentioned that so many illnesses are stress-related. So, with some work, many illnesses can be prevented or at least, minimized.

Try to work the following into your lifestyle:

Exercise and Stretching

“One of the best ways to reduce emotional and physical stress on the job is through regular exercise. Not only does physical activity reduce such symptoms of stress as fatigue and anxiety, but studies show that the aerobically fit are better able to cope with the chronic stresses of the work place. In addition, those who exercise regularly have been shown to rate higher in overall job performance and productivity than those who do not. As an added benefit, exercise also improves general fitness by lowering blood pressure, reducing resting heart rate and contributing to weight loss” (Time-Life, p. 56).

One can fit in exercise at lunch, such as lunchtime aerobics, or at the end of the workday. Both really help expend stress and energy built up from the hectic workday. If one isn't into hard exercise, due to one reason or another, one can find other exercises mild to moderate that will greatly reduce stress. Stretching routines also help at work. As much as we must sit in front of computers, we need to do a lot of stretching to improve circulation, posture, mental power, and flexibility.


What one eats really does have an effect with regard to stress and burnout. Too much caffeine can make a person nervous and irritable and can cause sleeping problems at night. Fatty foods and heavy lunches can make a person lethargic at work, and do not provide the brain and muscle power necessary to function at work.

Try these tips to avoid the Afternoon Slump:

Time Allowance

Many of us do not allow enough time to fulfill tasks and for traveling. Allowing for a “cushion” between events reduces stress should something unforeseen occur. For example, when going to work, allow an extra 20 minutes for a trip that usually takes 30-60 minutes. Should there be a delay, you'll be less stressed due to having a little more time.


Another technique to aid in the reduction of stress and burnout is to focus on getting more rest. Most people do not get enough rest.


Spirituality can help reduce stress. Spirituality is not religion—it is how we live our lives everyday. One of the most fulfilling things a person can do is to seek his or her spiritual path.

"Spiritually is the ultimate meanings and values by which we live our lives, both on the peaks and in the vales." (Kundtz, D. p. 114).

Having Pets and Getting Out in Nature

There is evidence that having pets can reduce stress. “Caring for a pet, researchers theorize, can provide a sense of belonging, opportunities for play and entertainment,” (Time-Life, p. 85). Having animals around also helps lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. My experience is that I surround myself in my cubicle with pictures of critters. When I am in a stressed situation and I look at the pictures, I calm down. I can feel my blood pressure drop, my heart rate slow, and calmness comes back to me.

Getting out in nature is another way to reduce anxiety, at least for some of us. If one is fearful of the outdoors due to wild animals or other things, a walk in the woods isn't so calming. But for those of us who do find respite in the woods and other places outdoors, nature can really help clear one's head.

In closing

"No one will create change for us. No amount of money, no career or job, not even great success, not even the greatest discovery in the world will bring us the lasting joy, peace and fulfillment we long for" (Patenaude, p. 212).

Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly efficient people: Restoring the character ethic. Simon and Schuster: New York, N.Y.
Feldman, R. S. (1992). Understanding stress. Venture Book, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney.
Fishkin, G. L. (1988). Police burnout: Signs, symptoms and solutions. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Gardena, CA.
Kundtz, D. (1998). Stopping: How to be still when you have to keep going. Cornari Press : Berkeley, CA.
Leider, R. J, & Shapiro, D. A. (1996.) Repacking your bags: Lighten your lead for the rest of your life. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, Publishers.
McGrath, M. Z. (1995). Teachers today: A guide to surviving creatively. Corwin Press, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California.
Meichenbaum, D. (1983). Coping with Stress. Facts on File Publications, New York, N.Y., Oxford England.
Patenaude, J. N. (1998). Too tired to keep running, too scared to stop: Change your believes, change your life. Element: Boston, MA.
Time-Life Books. (1987). Managing stress from morning to night. Time-Life Books, Alexandra, Virginia.

Web links
International Stress Management Association.
The Stress Doc
Dr. Koop

Other Reading
Bassett, L. (1997). From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You in Control of Your Life
Blumenfield, L., et al. (1994). The Big Book of Relaxation: Simple Techniques to Control the Excess Stress in Your Life
Covey, S. R. (1999). "Worries at Work? Stephen Covey has solutions", WorkPlace, USA Weekend, Oct. 29-31, 1999, p. 16.
Goliszek, A. (1992). 60 Second Stress Management: The Quickest Way to Relax and Ease Anxiety
Hart, A. D. (1995). Adrenaline and Stress/the Exciting New Breakthrough that Helps You Overcome Stress Damage
Herbert, M. D., B. et al. (1993). The Wellness Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Maintaining Health and Treating Stress-Related Illness
Kirsta, A. (1986). The Book of Stress Survival - How to Relax and Live Positively
McKay, M., et al. (1995). Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook
Shivapremananda, Swami. (1999). Yoga for Stress Relief
Wilson, P. (1995). Instant Calm: Over 100 Easy-To-Use Techniques for relaxing Mind and Body