When good stress goes bad

PHOTO: The Straits Times

You shouldn't underestimate the positive power of having a degree of stress in your life. Identifying the tipping point, where stress turns to burnout, is the key.

As a neonatal nurse, Jennifer Welker learned to thrive under stress. Rather than allowing the pain of handling a sick infant to affect her, Welker deftly handled some of the most challenging moments in her career, and quickly moved on from difficult situations.

She credits her efficiency to the advantages of working under stress. Harnessing the innate pressure that came with her role, she says, improved her productivity and performance.

Still, it was a fine line between harnessing the pressure and ignoring it altogether.

"I was almost too good at my job," says Welker who would often have to spend time in the morgue. "I had become cold and callous because you have to emotionally withdraw from the moment."

After some time, the stress involved in her work reached a tipping point and won out. She could neither control nor ignore it any longer.

"I saw a lot of death and people on their worst day - that weighs on you," she said. Ultimately, she began to suffer from what is termed chronic stress.

Symptoms can include anything from decreased immunity to sleep problems. She launched a jewellery business as a therapeutic outlet from the demands of nursing.

With her health beginning to suffer, Welker quit her job three years ago and turned to her jewellery business fulltime.

It can be good for you - until it's not

While bouts of workplace stress can help you better focus on tasks and increase efficiency, chronic stress can impact the quality of your work, jeopardising your employment, and your life outside of the office.

It's difficult to tell when the stress hits a breaking point, and you start suffering the effects of burnout.

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