The word burnout seems to be increasingly prevalent these days. In the corporate world, the lines between work time and leisure time have become blurred, especially since the pandemic. And even during business hours, people are finding themselves increasingly tired and disenfranchised with their work. Suggesting that someone feeling this way try to calm their mind may be met with derision, but there’s meaningful benefit to it.
I recently sat down with Chris Bailey, productivity consultant, public speaker and the author of the new book, How to Calm Your Mind. The book was full of well-researched theories on how to achieve a relaxed and present state of mind, and I like to implement his ideas when working with clients. Bailey shares that “to develop our capacity for healthy productivity, we must invest in calm.” But what does “calm” even mean? And how is it possibly achieved amid feelings of anxiety and stress? Bailey has a whole host of ideas he’s developed after years of researching the topic—and implementing the practices himself.
“Calm,” says Bailey, “is a subjectively positive state with a low level of mental arousal and an accompanying absence of anxiety.” Realizing that calm exists on a spectrum, rather than as a destination or end point, can help with visualization. If complete calm is all the way to one end of the spectrum, and severe anxiety at the other end, then it’s possible to be slightly stressed or relatively calm, rather than experiencing extreme emotions. Bailey makes it clear that the point is not to entirely get rid of anxiety—in fact, anxiety is and has been our survival mechanism. The body’s response to stress includes physiological changes like the tensing of muscles and elevated heart rate, which kicks in so we can protect ourselves when threatened. We aren’t, however, being continuously threatened throughout our day, so it’s important to learn how to reduce anxiety, just not completely do away with it. “The point is not to live life devoid of excitement and stimulation,” Bailey says, “but rather develop a capacity to deal with situations that are stressful and stimulating.”
So what kind of stressful situations are we dealing with? In our conversation, Bailey pointed out the difference between acute and chronic stressors. There are different management techniques associated with each, but practicing mindfulness is always helpful.
Acute stressors are one-off anxiety triggers, like being caught in a traffic jam on your way to catch a flight.
Chronic stressors are experienced repeatedly without an end in sight, like the traffic jams we’re caught in twice a day, every day, on the way to work.
“Acute stress isn’t fun to experience,” Bailey says, but points out that it’s what challenges and compels us to grow. And when it’s over, you’re often grateful to have experienced it—or at the very least, better able to shake it off. Chronic stress, on the other hand, can have a truly negative impact on health and is one of the primary factors in developing burnout. This is because after prolonged, repeated exposure to stress and anxiety, the body eventually refuses to mobilize to respond to the stressor. In other words, burnout emerges when the demands of a job outstrip a person’s ability to cope with the accompanying stress. It is in this situation that I tend to counsel my clients to try mindfulness exercises, one of the best ways to improve our physical and mental well-being. Chronically stressed people develop what Bailey identifies as the three attributes of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, none of which are healthy or useful in daily life.
How to Calm Your Mind identified six areas of our workload that can lead to burnout from chronic stress.
Bailey suggests this technique whenever you start to notice any of the three symptoms of burnout: Take each of the six workload areas bulleted above and rank them out of 10 based on how well you feel each is going. If some of the areas are consistently ranking low on your list, it can help to specifically address them in your work life. With a proactive approach like this, not only do you protect yourself against burnout, “but you preserve your future capacity for accomplishment,” says Bailey.
Try these three tips to achieve calm
With calm being such a healthy, happy alternative to anxiety, stress, and burnout, how can you achieve a calm and present state? Bailey suggests the following:
Want to embrace your inner calm, but could use some help? Arrange a consultation with a Medcan psychologist to see how we can kickstart your mental wellness journey.