If I were to describe my life at the moment in one word, it would be either “hectic” or “crazed”. I have so much going on; from juggling an investor round, board meetings, running a business and leading a passionate team, to hosting numerous events. Not to mention the school runs and trying to entertain an increasingly hectic son plus developing a new relationship in my mid 40s to coordinating a blended family life; my life can is complicated and demanding. I sometimes wonder how I am still standing.
Life can be tough. We can all feel exhausted and like we want to scream, but it pains me to know that recent research has shown that women are 18% more likely to experience burnout than men, perhaps this is due to the burden of care that women took on during Covid-19. Women are continuing to take on a disproportionate share of care. Work life is also being navigated in its new normal. Burnout is very real. On the outside it may appear that I am thriving, but on the inside, I’m perhaps closer to burning out than I ever have been. This is why it’s so important to talk about it.
We’ve all either heard or used the phrase “I’m feeling really burnt out at the moment”, but what does it really mean? While the term burnout isn’t considered a medical condition, the symptoms of it could be considered so. It is a special type of work-related stress that causes physical and emotional exhaustion that can also result in a loss of personal identity and self-worth.
According to research found in the Harvard Business Journal, there are three key components to burnout and things you need to watch out for:
- Exhaustion. Exhaustion is the devil. The only time I feel myself faltering is when I’m exhausted. If you are emotionally and physically exhausted, it can reduce your ability to work properly. When I’m drained, I don’t function properly, and I begin to resent my work, which I never even thought possible.
- Cynicism refers to the idea of personalisation and distancing yourself from the work, or even the people around you. And again, this can lead to resenting your work. Once you start to feel more cynical to those around you, you become more irritable and more judgemental, often of yourself.
- Inefficacy also plays a big part in burnout; this is where you begin to question your competence and abilities. Asking yourself whether you’re even up to the job at hand. We’ve all been there, hearing that voice inside our heads planting seeds of doubt in our abilities. Perhaps self-doubt is the biggest watch out here.
While you may not experience all three of these components at once, just one is enough of a challenge. Burnout is more common than we realise, as the data shows. All we see in periods of economic downturn is negative news and threat, and that in turn exacerbates our already busy and stretched lives, particularly as women.
The things I’ve learnt, and have been guilty of not always succeeding at, are:
- Sleep, sleep, sleep! Overcome the sleep challenges and protect yourself from exhaustion. Sleep is my reviver, my redeemer but it doesn’t always come easily to my busy and overactive mind. I often wake up in the dead of the night with ideas and solutions to the challenges I am facing during the day. I have relied heavily upon apps like ‘Calm’ and listening to sleep stories. I know that when I’m sleep deprived, I don’t approach my home life and time with my son with the same patience, care and effort I otherwise would if I weren’t so exhausted, and then I beat myself up later. Which is why it is so crucial to nurture yourself.
- Eat well. What we eat can play a disproportionate impact on our overall ability to cope. I know that alcohol, while it may seem like the ultimate relaxant, is not my friend when it comes to sleep. It disrupts your natural sleep pattern and in fact can further exacerbate negative feelings.
- My father taught me early on, that what you take out, you must put back in. And I believe that exercise is a vital part of this equation. For me, exercise is my superpower. It keeps me sane, balanced and makes me feel good about myself. It gives me a moment of space to breathe deeply, stretch and move my body. In times of busy-ness, I sometimes prioritise work over working out and every time I do that, I can chart a decline in how I feel about myself, and I edge closer to burning out.
- Remember to spend time with your loved ones. This is disproportionately important, my dear long-term PA who recently left me to focus on her family, said “One thing I know about you is if you do not feel good about the quality time you’re spending with your son, your loved ones and your family, it greatly impacts your ability to deliver and how you feel more than anything.” Take time and invest and in turn ask those that you love for help.
At work, it’s easier to fall into bad habits that promote efficiency, but sabotage what truly matters – you. Stop these bad habits and adopt new and improved ones, here are a couple of mine:
- Prioritise. I am huge on prioritisation, but I sometimes need to learn how to say no. My mother once gave me a great tip – particularly when you’re running a business or on a mission to advance women, the list will always be there. Shut your computer, hide your phone, because the list will still be there tomorrow, and the next day. Focus on things that only you can do and where you can make the biggest impact on the business. Delegate it to others or let it go. I find that in times of busy-ness, I speed up and I put more things on my list… take them off. As Arianna Huffington said to me once, “Darling, the easiest way to get rid of something on that list is to cross it off and simply not do it. Why do the windows need to be cleaned? Why do you need to reorganise the catch-all drawer in the kitchen? Simply cross it off the list. Is it really important? If it frees you up to do the things that are, it is well crossed off.”
- Take breaks. I have recently introduced the walking meeting, I try to fight for one a day because it gives me a break in the fresh air and a new perspective, away from my screen. I have struggled at times to take holidays but every time I do, the fresh perspective gives me a new boost to take on challenges, find new solutions and innovate. Do it. Book your next holiday.
The topic of burnout shouldn’t be frowned upon in the workplace, it is real. We need strategies and we need to talk about it and take action. If this means sharing these experiences with friends who are surely experiencing it too, then let’s do it. For those that are close, take action dear friends. Ask for help. Take space and know that so many of us are facing this too.