Guarding Against The Stress Of Success

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

mother was terminally ill with cancer. Unilever told her to take all the time she needed. “But me being me, I just couldn’t,” says Moore. Instead, she spent three months running between her job in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and her mother’s bedside in New York City. Her mother’s illness was even more aggressive than expected, and in late June, she died. Moore returned to work soon after. Two months later, on the day before her birthday, the World Trade Center Towers were attacked.

“Work was actually helpful,” she recalls. “It was distracting.” But within a few months, she realized she couldn’t keep it up. “I was doing well at the company. I liked the work, but I was always stressed and unhappy. It was like having a monkey on your back that you just can’t get rid of.”

Seeking relief, Moore reluctantly allowed her grandmother to go live with her sister in Atlanta. Then she decided to leave her job. She gave plenty of notice and aided in the transition process. When she sat down to lunch with her former boss and staff three months later, she realized how happy she had become. “It’s hard to admit you can’t do everything,” she says. “It’s hard to leave a place where you’re valued and doing well. But it’s the best thing I ever did.

“We pay a lot of attention to setting priorities at work, but we don’t really set and respect our own priorities. You have to decide what’s most important in your life and commit to it. Once you do that, everything else gets easier,” Moore says.

Richardson couldn’t agree more. “Everybody wants to be in control,” she says. “Why? Because we all feel so out of control in our lives. How do we get control? We have to be vigilant and ruthless about how we manage our time and energy.”

That doesn’t mean you have to make changes as radical as leaving your job, but it does mean taking an honest look at your life and your priorities. How dependent are you on your computer, cell phone, electronic pager, planner, or messaging device? When you are driving, are you using that time to relax and restore sapped energy or are you on your mobile phone? When is the last time you ate a meal, uninterrupted, at work or at home?

Even activities designed for our entertainment and relaxation, such as TV, can be overwhelming — especially when there are 900 channels at our fingertips. We can now watch multiple shows at the same time, while taping others for later. Problem is, “later” never comes; there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Richardson offers the following strategies:

  • Eat well and exercise. Take vitamins and seek help for any chronic physical or emotional discomfort. There’s just no substitute for basic healthy living.
  • Use technology to your advantage. Don’t let it take advantage of you. Turn your phone ringer off at home. Can that be an inconvenience for someone trying to reach you? Yes, but are you really
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