Guarding Against The Stress Of Success

Recognize the early signs of burnout -- and take proactive steps to prevent it

Lifestyle coach Cheryl Richardson has noticed a recent phenomenon. Whenever she leads her Life Makeover seminars and lists the classic signs of burnout, the audience lets out an audible gasp. Some people raise their hands, while others actually rise to their feet to say, “Oh my God, I have all of those!”

Sleep loss, hair loss, chronic exhaustion, and feeling hopeless and overwhelmed are all signs of burnout. Other symptoms include poor concentration, general irritability, unprovoked anger, resentment toward others, prolonged bouts of insomnia, and a lack of, or marked increase in, appetite. If not addressed, these warning signals can hasten the deterioration of your emotional and physical health.

“A lot of us are sleepwalking through life, feeling poorly [and] sleep deprived. [We're] exhibiting all the signs of classic adrenal burnout and believing this is just the way life is,” says Richardson. “Most of us are trying to balance work, home, and family life. We tend to accept these symptoms as just part of the package. But we’re wrong. It’s not the way life is supposed to be. If you ignore the signs, you’ll become seriously ill and your life could be at stake. It really is that dramatic.”

So are the modern day forces shaping our lives and psyches. Technology, which was supposed to increase our efficiency and shorten our workweek, has, in many cases, increased our workloads and shortened our tempers. Add to that the traditional stresses of work, home, and family — not to mention a poor economy, a tight job market, the war on terrorism, and the threat of war in Iraq — and, well, who wouldn’t be overwhelmed?

“So many of us are living in a constant state of adrenal overload. We don’t realize how damaging that is over time,” says Richardson, author of Take Time for Your Life (Bantam Books, $13.95). “Think about it: Every time the phone rings, it activates the body’s fight-or-flight system. ‘Do I answer it and deal with whatever’s attached to it, or do I finish what I’m doing?’ It’s a constant push and pull. If you focus, you can physically feel it.

“When you check your voice mail and it says you have 20 messages, you’ll feel a tweak in your body. We have to do what we can to guard against that. We have to remember who’s in charge of our lives. Nobody else can protect your sanity but you.”

Allyson Moore, who weathered more than a year of unthinkable stress, learned this the hard way. Married, with two young sons, Moore, 39, is a classic overachiever. In April 2001, the former executive vice president of the nonprofit LEAD Program in Business was tapped to become university relations manager for Unilever United States Inc., one of the nation’s top 50 corporations. Taking the plum spot would have eliminated her long commute from West Orange, New Jersey, to New York City, allowing her to spend more time with her family, including a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

One week after starting the job, she learned that her

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