Part 1: How to Identify Burnout and Manage Stress

By Denise Johnson | June 23, 2011

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.

This is Part 1 of a two part article. Part 2 will be posted on Friday, June 24, 2011.

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

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.