Burnout can creep up on us! It’s easy to fall into the trap of putting ourselves last after EVERYONE and EVERYTHING else, especially if we are a parent or carer for elderly relatives and working full time. We are more likely to experience burnout at different times in our lives and at different times of the year. The period after the Summer with the long stretch of no bank holidays up to Christmas can be a prime time. The days are getting shorter and colder we can easily fall into unhelpful ways of working like not going home on time.
Trust me, I’ve been there. There was a time where I was working myself into the ground - staying in the office until 10pm many nights, trying to navigate limited resources and non-moveable deadlines, thinking if I worked harder, we would get the project over the line and of course I did all of this with a smile – see picture for said smile.
It was 2010, I worked in banking and I was also training to run the London marathon at the time, (which I think contributed as I was both mentally and physically exhausted). I was really stressed about a looming deadline on a project that wasn't going well, I was working 60 hours week and I was struggling to sleep. My body went into shut down and my colleagues told me I was starting to repeat myself and didn't seem to be able to make simple decisions (yes it was like starting the Menopause at 34!). I was really worried about myself, had no resilience to illness and felt dreadful a lot of the time.
By this time I was a few years into my coaching journey and was able to see this as an opportunity to make a career change. I decided that I had to start putting myself first and take some time off and I felt I had no other choice than to resign from my job. I just couldn't imagine explaining to my family that I had been signed off work with stress (a hardworking belief system in the culture of my family was probably a big contributor to be honest). Thankfully I did leave in a measured fashion and worked a 3 month notice period, hiring and training my replacement so I left on good terms.
I took 6 months off to fully recover before eventually launching my coaching business. Initially it was a very difficult few months and something I do not wish upon anyone. I was very agitated and couldn't relax. I felt I had to keep doing or going places or the world might stop spinning, but gradually with lots of R&R, and looking after myself, my health (and memory) returned and I was able to enjoy some relaxed time travelling in India to re-evaluate what was important to me and what balance looked like, before I returned back to London to start my business.
These are just some of the symptoms of burnout I started to show early on:
Increased anxiety levels
Loss of motivation - feel apathetic and cynical
Feeling powerless, that I just couldn't fix the problem - there is no more money, resources, room for scope change
Then as the burnout progressed, I experienced:
Feeling unable to cope and no way out
Feeling exhausted and sleeping too much or waking at 3am on an adrenaline rush and not able to get enough sleep
Short term memory loss and scarily repeatedly having conversations I had had before!
Problems with concentration, focus and decision making
I would highly recommend you avoid burnout at all costs - I believe a chink of my armour had been removed and I will be forever more vulnerable as a result.
Early intervention is so important and here are some tips you can use at work to avoid falling into the trap and to help you to start putting yourself first.
1. First start by understanding your motivations
Are you overworking to meet unrealistic deadlines or saying yes to everything to get that next promotion, falling into the trap of pleasing everyone else? What impact is this having on your health, your enjoyment of work and your productivity? How do you want to feel at work and in yourself and is there anything you can do to manage your workload better?
2. Take advantage of delegation where you can
If something can be done by someone else with a lighter workload, then don’t be afraid to hand it over so you can focus on more important deadlines and tasks that need you. You don’t have to do everything and delegation is an important part of managing your team so you don’t become overwhelmed.
3. Create boundaries and practice saying NO kindly
If your schedule is getting full and you’re starting feeling overwhelmed, don't be afraid to say NO to extra tasks and unrealistic deadlines that get in the way of your personal time and home life. One of the leading causes of burnout is working through lunch and staying late to get things done with tips the scale of work-life balance. Saying NO to something often means saying YES to yourself.
4. Work healthy hours
We are not designed to work around the clock. It’s ok to do some overtime here and there but if this is a common theme and you are doing extra hours every single day, and unable to switch off and taking work home with you, you will quickly start to see the signs of burnout. Try to stick to your scheduled hours and practice being honest about your workload and what you can done in one day, so you can really switch off, when not working.
5. And finally, don’t work into the night
I have seen so many people do this, I have also done this myself. Maybe you’re close to a deadline, panicked and decided to work through the night to get the work done, sacrificing sleep for my job. No deadline is worth the damage staying up all night and then continuing to work through the day will do to both your body and mind.
Remember, your health is the most important thing and burnout can have detrimental effects that can take months to recover from and impact your workplace resilience. Also remember you are a role model for junior members of staff and also your (future) children.
If you would like some more tips on burnout avoidance, then just head to my Instagram where I have even more content.
If these habits are something you struggle with and you can feel the onset of burnout or you’re worried you’re heading that way, then let’s work through it together and break the cycle - >
Remember, you are important and your health is a priority.