By Amanda N. Wegner
Without a doubt, today’s work environments can be stressful. The “do more, with less” philosophy is one that permeates every type of business and with so much to do, it can be difficult to take time away. Yet left unchecked, stress can kick off a dangerous downward spiral that can affect your health, your relationships and how you do your job.
“For those that own or manage a business it’s especially stressful and it can feel like a 24-hour work world with more things arising during a work day than we have time to address,” says Dr. Shilagh A. Mirgain, Ph.D., a senior psychologist with UW Health. “Constant interruptions, managing difficult personalities, responding to e-mails and juggling deadlines can leave us feeling overextended and exhausted by the end of the day. And, we might bring this stress home, affecting everyone in our family life. These are warning signs that it’s time to take a break.”
Adds Todd Ruedt, a certified business coach with ActionCOACH of Elm Grove: “Burnout is a huge challenge for business owners as well as employees. It’s why I sought out business coaching and counseling in the first place.”
One way business owners, managers or those in high-stress jobs can combat burnout is by taking time for themselves and time away from day-to-day work responsibilities. Yes, it is OK to get away.
MORE THAN CHRONIC STRESS
Burnout occurs when we are under chronic stress, says Mirgain. People are susceptible to burnout when they experience a prolonged period of having too much to do with not enough time, energy or resources available. “We feel overextended, frazzled, exhausted and even helpless,” says Mirgain. “We don’t do our best work when we reach this point. We begin to lose interest and become less productive at work with less energy and motivation. Our personal lives also suffer. We can start to feel as if we are going through the motions, getting by through the day in perpetual overwhelm.”
Burnout is different than just being stressed, she adds; it involves a sense of disengagement, withdrawal, helpless and hopelessness, lower mood, detachment and a loss of motivation from work, relationships and life.
Burnout has many symptoms. From a physical perspective, burnout causes muscle tension, lower immune system functioning, less energy, disturbance in appetite and sleep patterns, and frequent headaches or other bodily pain and discomfort. Emotionally, it can increase agitation, anxiety, sadness, irritation. It can cause a negative outlook, a loss of motivation and sense of accomplishment, fear of failure and self-doubt. It can ultimately lead to using substances to cope, social isolation, trouble focusing, procrastination, making mistakes, lashing out at others, missing work days or arriving late or leaving early.
Ruedt has seen what high stress and burnout can do to employees and business owners firsthand. “Burnout is extremely detrimental to one’s health; it’s extreme, but I’ve seen business owners who have died from it. It can cause ulcers, heart issues, mental health issues … it’s a much bigger issue than just being exhausted,” he says. “If you travel down this path without any change, it can cause larger problems in the future.”
The physical, mental and emotional symptoms can also have consequences for the business you own or the one you work for, he adds. “Within a business, burnout can cause confusion, difficulty figuring out what’s right and what’s wrong. It can cause problems with your team, including difficulty keeping staff and finding the right staff. It can also lead to incomplete projects, losing business, financial challenges, payroll getting out of hand. It’s not a pretty picture.”
Despite the frenetic pace of the business world today, build some brief pauses into your workday to recharge, says Mirgain; these small breaks are protective against burnout. “I recommend people stop every hour and do three deep breaths, or one minute of focused breathing. This practice can be especially useful when you feel yourself becoming frazzled; use the simple breathing exercise to help you pause. When you do, you’ll make better decisions and will be better able to think through your response to situations and people.”
It’s also good to pause as you are transitioning from some set of tasks to another, arriving at a meeting, answering a phone call or heading home, serving as a natural break from one activity to another.
Ruedt wholeheartedly agrees with taking time to de-stress. “Plan time for your own well-being. Each day, take 30 minutes to an hour for yourself, whether that’s gym time, meditation or just quiet time alone,” he says. “Building that time into your day, personally taking time away from your business and family, is important.”
Getting outdoors is also key, so prioritize spending time with Mother Nature. “Time in the outdoors is restorative in many ways, from improving well-being, enhancing the ability to cope, improving quality of sleep, increasing a sense of vitality and helping you have a more positive outlook on life,” says Mirgain.
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek outside help if the stress of running a business or a high stress job is catapulting you down the wrong path: “Seek outside help,” says Ruedt. “There are many resources to help you through these challenges.”
Sometimes, however, you have to get away. “Taking a trip to a new destination, having a weekend getaway when you unplug from work or just experiencing something new in your town can offer benefits to your health and physical and emotional well-being,” says Mirgain.
In fact, several different studies have shown that vacation and leisure activities help individuals reduce their stress levels and improve their emotional and mental health. And the benefits are almost immediate; after only a day or two, an overwhelming percentage of people experienced a significant drop in stress. “This change in scenery can recharge your batteries, put things into perspective and strengthen your relationship with loved ones,” Mirgain adds.
Karen Schinke knows a thing or two about how a change in scenery can recharge one’s batteries. And as the owner of Chocolate City Travel and Lake Geneva Travel, she can offer numerous places around the globe to relax and recharge.
In the category of affordable getaways, Schinke recommends resorts in Cancún, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. “Cancun is the least expensive. There are a lot of direct flights from Milwaukee and Chicago. Plus it’s just a 3-hour flight – you don’t spend all your time getting there, so it’s perfect for a three- or four-day getaway to unwind and de-stress.” Schinke adds that all-inclusive packages, where food and drinks are included also make these quick getaways really affordable.
If you have a bit more time, Schinke says, you should consider a river cruise through Europe. “These trips have become really popular in the last few years,” she explains. “Many people have cruised the Caribbean and they’re ready to try something else. This is much different. The ships only accommodate about 160 people and the cabins are beautiful with a full wall of patio doors that open for a view of the river and countryside.”
Schinke recommends a trip she took earlier this year. “We cruised the Seine from Paris to Normandy. We started with a few days in Paris and then boarded the ship and stopped at quaint towns along the way.” Another river cruise she recommends is one that departs in April or May that begins in Amsterdam at Keukenhof Gardens, where you’ll see over seven million tulips in bloom, then cruise the Rhine River to Cologne or Frankfurt, Germany.
Getting away from day-to-day routines and experiencing things outside the world of work can be good for your soul as well as your attitude toward your job, says Schinke. “You’ll be amazed at how you feel if you begin to get away more often and explore new places,” she says. “I was once told you’ll never be able to find another favorite place unless you go someplace different. I was skeptical, but it’s so true!”
Why Use a Travel Agent?
Using a travel agent, says Karen Schinke, owner of Chocolate City Travel and Lake Geneva Travel, ensures your travel experience will be a good one for so many reasons:
- They’re the experts: “Our agency has been in business for 25 years and I always say, ‘ We’ve been to where you want to go.’ I have 10 agents that work for me and between all of us, you probably can’t name a place that we haven’t been to.”
- Great purchasing power: “We belong to a travel agent consortium of 200 Midwest travel agents, which gives us great purchasing power. We can match anything on the Internet and give you extras you probably didn’t think about. For example, if you’re looking at prices of Royal Caribbean cruises on the Internet, I have the same pricing but I also have shipboard credits to give you.”
- No service fees: “If I’m booking your cruise or your Apple Vacation, we don’t charge you a fee. We get paid by those companies to book these trips. The only service fee you’ll receive from me is if I book your airfare from point A to point B, and that’s $20 a ticket.”
- Budget-conscious: “We know how to tailor each trip to stay within a client’s budget, yet give them a really good experience.”
- Personal service: “You can call my cell 24/7 with questions; we offer personal service with no added fees. If purchasing a trip on the Internet, chances are it will be difficult to find someone to speak to if you have a problem.”