In a recent article in the Guardian newspaper, it was reported that in a UK survey 81% of the women surveyed said they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope in the past year due to stress.
For many women, myself included, the effects of unmanaged stress lead to career ending burnouts. I was a high school teacher and I loved my job but there are many things I could have done differently. It was only in retrospect, after I recovered, that stopped blaming the job, the crazy hours, the paperwork and the kids and took a long hard look at my part.
If you are worried that you are heading for burnout unless you make some changes to your life, read this list and be really honest with yourself. How many of these are you doing? How many are you ready to give up? Your career and your health may depend on it.
We feel guilty when we spend long hours at work, because we are not at home with our family and we feel guilty when we are at home, because there is work waiting for us, probably, if you are anything like me, in a briefcase in the corner of the room, seeming to have an energy field of its own, sucking out any pleasure you might otherwise have from time off.
One of the most important things to identify, when you are heading for burnout is what drains your energy.
For some of us, guilt is near the top of the list.
Get curious about how often you feel guilty.
“Am I doing the best I can, in the circumstances I am in?
Doing your best is more important than being the best
You are at a meeting and the boss asks for a volunteer for a new project. Your hand shoots into the air before you even consider if you have time for it. Your mother needs to be taken to a appointment and you find yourself promising to take time off work to take her, even though there are others in the famly that could do it more easily.
You say yes, not because you genuinely want to help, in fact, what you later feel about one more thing on your plate is resentment towards the person who asked. You said yes because you are a people pleaser, always putting what everyone else needs first, without assessing your own capacity to take on more first.
The next time someone asks you to do one more thing, take a deep breath.
“Do I have time to do this without feeling resentment?”
“Do I have the capacity to do a good job on this?”
If the answer is no, practise saying “I can’t help you this time”.
Then be quiet and wait for the response. It may surprise you.
You work on a project that by any standards is good, but you can’t let go of it until it is “perfect”. You spend hours writing and rewriting or putting the “finishing touches” on things. You never get to experience the satisfaction of a job well done, because nothing is ever good enough. You don’t like to admit it but nothing in your life is ever good enough, not your body, your partner, your friends, your job.
For me, this one was top of the list. My perfectionism fueled a constant drive for self-improvement, for the promotion, for the better everything.
What I failed to realise was my perfectionism was not actually about improving myself.
In the Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes
Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is at its core trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance. Somewhere along the way we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system : I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it, Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focussed- How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focussed — What will they think?
“What do I want to improve for myself, for my own satisfaction and growth?”
Notice where you are doing things to impress others.
What needs to change?
We live in a society where everyone posts the highlights of their lives on social media.
Being bombarded by these images makes us feel that:
We SHOULD have a high-powered career.
We SHOULD have well-behaved, adorable children.
We SHOULD have a handsome husband that treats us like a queen.
We SHOULD have a spotless well-run house that could grace the pages of Homes and Gardens.
We SHOULD rustle up gourmet meals a la Nigella.
We SHOULD have a group of close girlfriends, with whom we can bare our souls and go to book group, yoga and wine bars.
We SHOULD be slim and gorgeous, well-groomed at all times, unflappable, smiling superwomen.
This image of the modern woman is so seductive but completely unattainable. So many women beat themselves up because they can’t meet these impossible ideals .
“What do I really want?”
“How do I live a life that is authentically mine, without comparing myself to everyone else?
The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel
How much division has there been among women who watch each other and wrongly assume “she has it all together”?
Who is telling the truth about how they really feel and what they really want?
One of the most insidious things about burnout is that we hide how we feel until we can no longer hide, but by then it is too late.
I knew I was burning out for almost 2 years but the very last thing I wanted was to tell people how I was feeling. I thought that I would be judged as weak or a failure. Why was my health breaking down, when it looked as if others were coping. My constant internal dialogue was “What the hell is wrong with me?”
“How much do I soldier on because I am worried about what others think of me?”
Have you abandoned your own real needs for sleep, exercise, fun and social contact because you don’t want to show “weakness” to others?
How often have you said
“I will go back to the gym when work calms down”
“I will have more time for myself when the kids are older”
“Maybe next year, I will……”
But year after year, nothing changes and life keeps getting busier and busier.
“If not now, then when?”
Because we don’t want to admit that we are not coping, the very last thing we are inclined to do is ask for help.
But we are not Superwomen and we are not machines. We, who are often the first in line to help, resist the help of others, even when it is offered.
“No, it’s fine, I can manage” is the lie we tell ourselves and others.
“Am I resisting help from others?”
“Am I struggling under the weight of doing everything myself?’
This can start very early in our lives. We learn what makes our parents happy and try to please them. For some this leads them onto a career path that is acceptable to their families, while the dreams they had are buried away or dismissed as fantasies.
I have noticed an interesting phenomenon as a coach, working with women in various stages of burnout. For many of them, once they start to recover their energy and get some clarity around the reasons for their burnout, what re-surfaces are those buried dreams.
What I hear is some version of “Well, I used to want to be a photographer, a writer, run a charity, work with the homeless, be a poet. You know, that’s really what I wanted to do when I was a kid, but I had to get a proper job.” I can see their eyes light up and their energy shift, that is until they tell me all the reasons they could never do that, now.
We internalise the voices of others that tell us we can’t have what we want, can’t be who we are, until the voices don’t need an external source. They simply play on a loop in our heads and we dance to the tune of other people’s expectations.
For some, it is burnout that stops us in our tracks and forces us to face the fact that we are spending our lives doing work that does not fulfil us.
“Am I burning out because I keep trying to ignore what I really want to do?”
Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who’ve come alive. There is something in everyone that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself.
Everyone I have spoken to who burned out has told me that they did not know it was happening until they ended up either in bed or in the hospital. They certainly knew they were stressed and exhausted but they had no idea how debilitating burnout is.
It is easy to ignore the signs of burnout as, often, in our busy lives we become disconnected from the signals our bodies are giving us.
Listen to my free audio and ask yourself
“Are any of these signs manifesting in my life”
Don’t ignore them or resolve to try harder. For me, burnout was the one thing in my life where trying harder made everything worse.
There seems to be a direct correlation between how busy we are and the amount of time we spend on self-care.
The busier we get, the more our own needs get pushed to the bottom of our priority list, or off it completely.
Yet, to stay happy and healthy and avoid burning out, it is crucial that we tend to ourselves.
This will not happen on its own!
There will never be time to take care of yourself unless you make time.
There will never be time to create the life you really want unless you make time.
Ask yourself (my favourite coaching queston)
“What do I really, really want?”
Then, make space in your schedule for YOU!
There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by myself.
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If you want to avoid burning out, check out my free audio, “Spotting the signs of burnout” to learn what to look for.
Originally published at medium.com