Written by Alice Porter
Feeling burnt out? A trending three-step method could help you deal with continual stress. Here, psychologist Dr Audrey Tang explains how it works.
Burnout is on the rise. Defined as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” it was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a phenomenon in 2019. During the pandemic, the blurring of work/life boundaries has made burnout even more ubiquitous: a recent survey from Mental Health UK found 46% of UK workers feel “more prone to extreme levels of stress” compared to a year ago.
It can be hard to anticipate when burnout will strike. People may feel varying levels of stress and tiredness, but when this heightens significantly, we often don’t notice until it’s too late. A long, gradual phenomenon, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent burnout from reaching its most intense point.
One technique recommended by psychologists to manage and prevent burnout is the ‘Three R’ approach. “Burnout happens when our stress response continues for a long period of time, which leads to exhaustion,” explains Dr Audrey Tang, a psychologist, mental health and wellness expert and author of books on mindfulness and resilience. “The three R technique helps you deal with stress responses as they arrive.”
The three Rs used in the method to prevent and deal with burnout are: recognise, reverse and resilience. Each of these three steps can help people deal with different stages of stress. “Think of your stress response like an elastic band being stretched – burnout is the band snapping,” Dr Tang says.
“Prevention is really important because we need to build up our emotional strength just as we build up our physical strength,” she continues. “Dealing with emotional issues at the point of crisis is not very effective.”
The three R method can help you deal with each stage of stress, so you can build up a toolkit to deal with burnout long term. Here, Dr Tang breaks down the method simply to help you learn how to use it.
The first step of the three R method is learning to recognise when your body is stressed. “It’s OK to feel a stress response as long as you recognise it,” Dr Tang says. By recognising your stress, you can figure out what’s triggering it and try to deal with that trigger head on.
To help you learn to recognise when you’re stressed, Dr Tang recommends doing regular body scans, either at the beginning or at the end of the day. “To do a body scan, tense and relax each part of your body one by one,” she says. This will help you understand what your body feels like when it is stressed so you can recognise that in other situations.
She also suggests doing regular breathing practices to keep track of how you’re feeling and to understand how your breathing is affected when you are stressed.
If you haven’t been able to recognise your stress and deal with it before it becomes an issue, the next step is to try and remove that stress from your life while it’s happening. “Most of us overthink while we’re stressed so trying to stop ourselves from getting carried away with our thoughts is a good way to deal with stress,” Dr Tang says.
“Ask yourself what you can do to stop yourself feeling stressed because taking action will stop your thoughts from spiraling,” she says. “Our brains and our bodies are really adaptive so unless we push them too far, you can always reverse your neuropathways.”
The action you take might be sending an email to the person who is causing you stress or putting a plan in place so you know the thing that is stressing you out won’t be a long-term issue. Figure out what it is that will allow you to calm down and find ways to try and do that, to avoid a prolonged stress response leading to burnout.
According to Dr Tang, resilience to stress is something you should try and build up all the time to prevent burnout. This is particularly important after you’ve dealt with a stressful situation. “Building resilience isn’t about how quickly or easily your stress response is triggered – it’s about how long it takes you to calm down from it,” Dr Tang says.
To help you improve the ways you deal with stress and stop you from reaching the point of burnout, Dr Tang recommends practicing mindfulness techniques, as well as meditation, affirmations and breathing techniques, so you have tools available for the next time you feel stressed.
“It’s also important to stop taking on other people’s stress and try to surround yourself with positive people who make you feel good,” Dr Tang continues. “Try to change your approach to life to one of gratitude and try some gratitude practices. You can’t feel stressed while you feel grateful.”
Images: Getty, Dr Audrey Tang
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