The effect stress has on your body


“I remember during my second month in the company I was told that my permanent appointment after probation would be dependent on “reaching target”. This had not been stated in my contract. I would also have to maintain this 85% target monthly thereafter. That is when my emotional and mental problems started.

I would work unpaid overtime daily which led to me getting home just before my children’s bedtime. On most weekdays, I would not see them before bedtime. Wine was a daily must-have as it was impossible for me to fall asleep without being intoxicated. Chest pains became the norm. I was always grumpy and my kids picked it up and started asking why I didn’t want to play with them and why I was always angry. I withdrew from my social circle as I was always chasing this target.

One day I received a notice for a disciplinary hearing for being negligent. I was shocked and asked myself how as I was always working to avoid such. The stress was too much to handle and I became depressed. At the same time, I knew that I had to keep it together as I was the sole breadwinner. I had to fend for my children. Waking up and going to bed daily and not knowing what the outcome would be was the worst torture.”

By the time *Rudo (name changed protect identity) came to see me, she had lost 7kg, was not sleeping at all and she had lost her job. I took one look at her and told her that she would need to be admitted for major depression and burn-out. *Rudo was admitted for 3 weeks. She stayed in therapy for a year, is still on anti-depressant medication and has found a new job.

It is important to recognize the difference between going the extra mile and overworking yourself. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself from burnout:

• Evaluate your options: Discuss specific concerns with your superior and try to work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions.
• Change your environment: Get up at least every hour for two minutes and move away from your desk.
• Adopt a solution-focused mindset: Problems will always arise. It is how you respond to them that matters.
• Seek support and communicate: Don’t suppress your frustrations. Communicate with your manager or colleagues if something isn’t working out for you.
• Sleep: Sleep deprivation will lead to stress, unproductivity, and loss of focus. Sleep restores your well-being.
• Take time off: If you force yourself to keep working when you are already burned out, you’ll soon find yourself very sick.

What does burnout look like? 

Burnout tends to cause stress which may lead to heart palpitations, lack of sleep, comfort eating and headaches. You feel drained, unable to cope and tired. Sometimes are you are emotionally labile.

If you have any of these symptoms, the best place to start is your GP. Be honest about what you are feeling and what you are going through. Don’t be afraid of being referred to a psychologist and/or a psychiatrist. If you have to start medication, remember that the minimum amount of time you must take it is for 6 months.

Anti-depressants are not addictive and your Doctor will know when you are ready to be weaned off. Your mental health is important and you need to make it a priority.

By: Dr Sindi van Zyl

Author avatar
Sihle Bolani

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