World Partners Insurance Brokers, Inc.

World Partners Insurance Brokers, Inc.

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How to Identify Burnout and Manage Stress

A career in claims virtually guarantees stress. High claim counts, understaffed departments and changing laws are but a few of the constant vexing issues affecting claims staff.

However, much of the stress that occurs in daily life is the result of conflicted relationships. Whether it’s with a boss, coworker, spouse or child doesn’t make any difference says Dr. David Price, a forensic clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist.

Managing relationships can be stressful and coping mechanisms vary widely from individual to individual; however, the more quickly a stressor is identified and managed, the more likely the negative physical effects of stress can be averted.

Not surprisingly for those who have planned a wedding, purchased a home, or received a promotion, Dr. Price explains that even positive changes in life can be stressful. Along with the pride felt with a promotion to a senior level position in the claims department, a feeling of trepidation could follow as the realization sets in that expectations will be greater.

“People don’t often realize this, but significant change is stressful, whether it is positive change stress, that’s eustress, or what we perceive as negative stress, which would be distress. We all know what distress can be. It could be divorce, major health problems, losing a job, something like that,” Dr. Price states.

“There are a number of positive things like getting married or having a child or taking out a new mortgage, which we would consider signs of moving forward with one’s life, that actually have a very high level of stress on the body, on the individual, whether they realize it or not. And those are the things we’re talking about with eustress.”

The Body’s Reaction to Stress

The human body responds to stress in three ways, which combined are known as General Adaptation Syndrome. This syndrome was first identified by Dr. Hans Selye in 1926 when he discovered that the body reacted the same way no matter what type of stress the body was under, physical or emotional.

“We have an alarm reaction. We are focused on something, we’ll respond to something, and the body prepares itself for fight or flight,” emphasizes Dr. Price.

As an example, imagine being summoned to a supervisor’s office on a Friday afternoon, after a series of company layoffs have taken place.

What is interesting is that there’s not a significant difference in the physiological response to either one of those. “It’s how we interpret the situation that causes us to perceive it as fearful or frightening. And actually, we seek out stimulation that could be fearful to many people, like skydiving, for example, or bungee jumping. And so the body mobilizes itself. The body really can’t tell whether you’re really fearful or really excited. It’s your interpretation of the event that has that,” Dr. Price continues.

As the stressor continues, the body prepares for either resistance to that stressor or to adapt to it. “As human beings, we’re remarkably adaptive and can get used to many situations, which, as oddly as it seems, is what happens to people, like when they’re incarcerated,” he says.

Dr. Price explains that the third response happens when the situation doesn’t change and the individual remains unable to deal with the stress; the body moves into the exhaustion phase.

Risk of Burnout

Exhaustion has its consequences.

“When we talk about people burning out, we talk about people that start feeling emotionally exhausted and depleted. They start changing their interpersonal relationships. As a result of being exhausted and depleted, they lose interest in their job or doing things with their significant others.” Dr. Price continues. “They may have a negative attitude. That negative attitude becomes pervasive and taints their whole perception about life. They feel less confident, and they just are tired and fatigued and don’t have any get up and go.”

There are warning signs that burnout is imminent. They include: depression, boredom, apathy, headaches, insomnia, irritability, behavioral changes, poor concentration, procrastination, and indecisiveness.

Managing Stress through the Three A’s

Dr. Price emphasizes awareness, attitude, and action as important ways to identify and manage stress.
Awareness is identifying where the stress is coming from and how it affects the individual.

“People can experience the same thing and have remarkably different perceptions of it. The thing about attitude is, if you think you can or you think you cannot, you’re right. It’s all about that perception. And part of learning to manage stress is the acceptance of, it’s okay for you to be different, it’s okay for you to have these feelings, it’s okay for you to not to like that,” explains Dr. Price in his analysis of attitude.

Taking action means taking control of one’s life. Since stress is a reaction to events and not the event itself, action equates to controlling behavior or situations.

The three A’s can be applied to a common occurrence in claims, the abusive caller. Awareness is identifying the abusive caller as the stressor and noting the resulting feelings which may be anger, frustration and/or sadness. Attitude is the ability to counteract the abuse with the knowledge that experiencing those feelings is okay and action is listening to the caller as a way to address the behavior and situation.

Deeply conflicted relationships that are the result of rigid perception can be managed with flexibility.
“If you tend to see things black and white, that will increase your stress…There is some strength in being flexible, in being open minded. Rather than be conflicted and going in with your armor on every time you’re around that person, maybe trying to change your perception of that person and the perception of what’s influencing that person will be of benefit to you,” says Dr. Price.

In addition, stress that is not properly managed will have a cumulative effect. An important factor in managing stress is developing healthy habits to counteract the cumulative effect.

He emphasizes the importance of breaks throughout the workday. He points out this happens frequently with individuals who skip lunch and work at their desk without taking a break, a common scenario in claims departments nationwide.

“One of the problems that leads to burnout are these people that do not take breaks, continue to work, and then eat their lunch at their desk as well. These are things that will contribute to burnout. It also negatively affects their creativity and problem solving ability,” Dr. Price explains.

Managing Stress through Exercise and Good Nutrition

Exercise is another good stress management tool because it increases the release of endorphins, more commonly known as the “runner’s high”. A simple walk taken every day may be all an individual needs to maintain a healthy outlook.

In addition, nutrition plays a role in stress. “Fat, sodium, and caffeine are stressful on the body. There are other things that you can eat that would be better for your overall health and would help you manage stress. The thing is not to be eating things that cause you to gain weight, heighten your blood pressure, or can cause anxiety.”
In fact, the effects of poor nutrition can appear similar to a well-known stress disorder.

“For some people, the caffeine in a 12 ounce soft drink, some type of cola, is enough to cause hypervigilance that we would see in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Caffeine is not necessarily a good thing if you’re in a stress management program. And if you sit in a cubicle all morning and you drink eight cups of coffee, that’s not managing your stress well. You can’t change your situation… but you can change your behavior, and that is by what you consume while you’re in that cubicle,” says Dr. Price.

Other Factors in Managing Stress

Realistic goal setting is an important factor in managing stress.

“A lot of times people don’t have realistic goals. They think they should be perfect, or they’re a bust. And that’s not true… if you set out a life plan for yourself, with manageable goals that can be reached steadily over time, it increases your self esteem as you’re successful meeting those goals,” according to Dr. Price. He adds “If you set an unrealistic goal, you’re going to have poor self esteem because you’re always going to fail. You should really devise a program that helps you achieve.”

Taking responsibility is equally important to managing stress and increasing self-esteem.

“You’re only going to get better in life if you focus on what you can control and try to get better at that,” he says.
Remember that class clown in school? Well, having a good sense of humor is a particularly important factor to managing stress. “Humor makes us feel more positive, changes our perception. And so getting some fun in life and developing a sense of humor, particularly as you look at yourself, is a very therapeutic thing to do,” says Dr. Price.

Gaining perspective may be one of the most important ways of dealing with stress. He highlights the value of relaxation and quality time spent with family and friends. Balancing family and a professional life is challenging, but not impossible.

“Not everything in your life requires the same amount of priority or the same amount of emphasis. 20 percent of the things in your life probably should take 80 percent of your attention, whether it’s at work or whether it’s at home. You can’t have a list of 100 things, all of them with equal priority,” he adds.

Dr. Price recommends being unafraid of change because it can be stimulating.

“You don’t have to travel abroad to try something new. But you can go to a different restaurant. You can take an afternoon off with your spouse and go do something new, go to another town antique shopping or go play golf, or whatever you like to do, but go do it in a different environment and with different people,” Dr. Price emphasizes.

Dr. Price presented on the subject at the recent PLRB Conference held this in Nashville, Tennessee.

 


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