Health and Harmony in the Workplace: Manage Stress To Prevent Burnout

Grace Marks
June 05, 2013

While the economy may be slowly improving, studies show more workers feel stressed and burned out. ComPsych, a global provider of employee assistance programs, reported that companies continue to be slow to hire thus creating more work for employees, which inevitably turns into decreased performance. About two in three workers reported high levels of stress with extreme fatigue and feeling out of control. Those most likely to burn out are those who work excessively without breaks or outlets for their stress. Harris Interactive found that Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012, which is up from 6.2 days in 2011.

Stress and burnout need be addressed by more businesses not only to control their health care costs, but to address the well-being of their workforce. One study found that every $1 spent on employee wellness programs saves $1.65 in healthcare expenses. Even as more companies investment in employee health, workers need to take responsibility to stay healthy. Just a few simple steps can make a significant difference in overall health and well-being.

Take Breaks Every 90 Minutes

Athletes understand this concept well. The greater the performance demand, the greater the need for rest and recovery. We progressively move from a state of alertness into physiological fatigue every 90 minutes. Our bodies signal the need for a break, but it’s often ignored with the drive to keep going or to pump ourselves up with caffeine or sugar. Those choices promote the stress response further.

One key step is to take a break at least every 90 minutes. Just taking five to 10 minutes to walk around, go outside, make a quick call, eat a healthy snack, or listen to music, can feel restorative. Another incentive to get up and move is the link between sitting for long periods of time and health concerns such as obesity and metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Setting a phone or computer timer can serve as a reminder to move.

Avoid the Quick Fix

Another step is to avoid unhealthy quick fixes. When people are stressed they gravitate towards comfort or junk food. These foods are usually full of processed sugar, salt, and fats that temporarily satisfy the taste buds but directly increase cortisol, the stress hormone. To stay clear of the vending machine, plan ahead and have a stash of healthy alternatives that tame the stress response. A handful of nuts, fruit, cut up vegetables, or low-fat cheese or complex carbohydrates such as whole grain crackers or oatmeal raise serotonin levels which boost mood and promote relaxation.

Re-Think What You Drink

Re-think beverage choices. Energy and sugary coffee drinks, and caffeinated sodas can cause jitters and a sugar crash. Most energy drinks contain as much caffeine as three cups of coffee which can lead to insomnia, an aggravator of stress. Sleep deprivation is one of the best predicators of on-the-job burnout and costs American companies billions in lost productivity. Choose green or chamomile tea for their relaxing effect, or drink more water.

Commit to Self-Care

Putting in chronic overtime, avoiding breaks or time out for lunch won’t do a career or health any favors. By managing energy more consciously, it’s possible to get more done in less time. Employers need to encourage employees to take regular breaks, move their body, choose healthy snacks, and create alternative outlets for stress relief. Everyone needs to do their share to promote self-care.

Grace Marks, MPH, CPC, is a certified life coach, motivational speaker, and workplace makeover specialist with Native Empowerment: Solutions for Health and Harmony providing customized training programs for tribal organizations and businesses. If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to [email protected] or visit