It took me years to admit that I had almost burned out. In fact, I’m still not sure I’m being completely honest about it, I find myself saying I almost burned out when in actual fact, I had.
What is it about the words burnout, stress and exhaustion that we don’t take seriously? Or was that just me? I’ve seen people (me included) use these words in the past, almost like a badge of honour. “Hi, how are you?” “Oh, I’m so busy, not getting any sleep, living on coffee at the moment, how about you?” “Oh, yes I know what you mean, I’m just the same.” “Oh, well, all part of the job eh? Must go, off to grab a coffee on the way to my next meeting!”
I mitigated it by saying it was just part of my job, it came with the territory. I didn’t see it as something serious, just tiredness that I needed to push through. I formed unhealthy coping mechanisms like coffee and wine; food on the go, and telling myself it would pass when this or that piece of work was finished and dealt with. I wasn’t sleeping properly; I ignored, what I now see as obvious, signs of ill-health and did nothing about it.
Burnout is real and it’s serious, it can have devestating effects on people. The world health organisation describes it as:
“…a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Let’s break that down. “…chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Stress, to a certain extent, is a normal part of day to day life and our bodies are designed to deal with it. The problem is that we’ve learned to ignore the warning signs and to push on through, just as I described I was doing. We’ve learned to ignore the physical feeling of stress (adrenaline and sense of high alert) and have convinced ourselves that it’s normal, even helpful to our doing our jobs.
“…feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s own job…reduced professional efficacy.” Burnout has significant effects on both individuals and organisations. A HSE report (published in Oct 2019) stated that work related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health in Great Britain and 54% of working days lost. It also stated that females had statistically higher rates. This may be partly explained by research carried out by Dr. Amy Arnsten (professor of neurobilogoy at Yale) which stated that females are often more susceptible to stress than males due to biological differences.
In a survey conducted by Deloitte, of 1,000 full-time, U.S. employed corporate professionals, 77% said they’d experienced burnout, 51% more than once. Workload and long hours accounted for almost 60% of the key drivers of burnout. In my own research, I’ve spoken to women who have felt these things; I, too, felt those things.
There is a sense that something has to compromise, and it’s usually our wellbeing.
So, who is responsible for managing it? Well, I’m a great believer in personal responsibility, so let’s look at that.*
Self-care and wellbeing needs to be at the core of everything we do. Taking care of our physical and mental wellbeing is crucial before we can be the leader we want to be for others, as well as the parent, partner and friend we also want to be. To the blog title – self care isn’t all chocolates and flowers! Sometimes it’s putting strict boundaries in place, it’s having tough conversations with people, it’s saying no sometimes. It’s making hard decisions, it’s giving up old habits, it’s challenging the status quo. For us, as women, it’s about working with our biology, not against it.
I was lucky. I caught it in time to start doing something about it. I got to a point where I knew if I didn’t do something, I was going to collapse and, as the sole earner in our household, that didn’t feel like an option. So, I started on my self-care journey. It took me a couple of years to fully replenish and I made some tough decisions along the way. I’m on a bit of a mission to enable leaders in business to get their stuff done, and be successful without having to exhaust themselves in the process. Get in touch if you’d like to know more about how we could work together on creating your pathway to natural success.