The authors present a systems thinking approach to dealing with Stress.
Stressors create stress which accumulates until the Stress Cycle is completed. If left to continuously grow over time, stress results in Burnout - defined by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment.
Approaches to completing the stress cycle: Physical activity of 20-60m per day (most effective), deep breathing, positive social interaction, and creative expression.
Approaches to reducing stressors: planful problem solving, positive reappraisal, redefining winning and failing, and finding meaning.
The definition of Burnout according to Herbert Freudenberger in 1975, is a state of:
- Emotional exhaustion charachterized by fatigue.
- Depersonalization resulting in a depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion.
- Decreased sense of accomplishment leading to a deep sense of futility.
Stress vs. Stressors
- Stressors activate the stress response.
- Stress is the neurological and physiological shift that happens in your body when you encounter a stressor. For example: Being chased by a hippo (stressor) generates neurochemicals that initiate a physiological response to aid survival (stress response).
According to the authors, we focus too much on controlling our stressors, and not enough on completing the stress cycle. The lack of completion of the stress cycle results in stress accumulation, eventually resulting in burnout.
Completing the Stress Cycle
- Physical activity - 20 to 60 minutes per days is the most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle.
- Breathing - slow breaths with long exhalation. Most effective when the stress isn’t that high.
- Positive social interaction - external sign that the world is a safe place.
- Creative Expression - engaging in creative activities that lead to more energy, excitement, and enthusiasm.
Dealing with Stressors
- Planful problem solving - analyze the problem, make a plan based on your analysis, then execute the plan. Works for people who naturally make lists and follow calendars.
- Positive reappraisal - post-hoc rationalization that things are actually worth it. Look at the positive side and realize the opportunity hidden in the stress.
- Redefining winning and failing - winning can often be defined in binary terms eg. Climb Mt Everest, which is incredibly hard and subject to failure. Instead, it could be defined as a shorter goal - making it to base camp, making it to the next stage, and so on. Redefined goals should be:
- Finding Meaning or Something Larger
- Meaning offers a positive, final value, than an individual’s life can exhibit. It isn’t always fun, and not all activities are meaningful. But meaning is invariably good for you.
- Three kinds of sources
- Pursuit and achievement of ambitious goals that leave a legacy.
- Service to the divine or other spiritual calling.
- Loving, emotionally intimate connection with others.