Why is it that so many women are doing more to fight burnout and yet, it's this that is contributing to us burning out?
From my experience, and from lots of work I've done with my clients, I think the key to this is the word, doing. We keep doing and we keep doing more, assuming that what we are doing is right for us. But by doing and doing and doing, we are adding more stress and more pressure to ourselves.
When I burnt out in 2013, as part of my recovery I wanted to understand what had gotten me to that point of burnout in the first place. And so I kept doing! I did so much stuff.
I learnt about burnout, I did my therapy qualification, I did my psychotherapy qualification and I was doing research. My daily tasks became overwhelming.
I had this massive list of things to do from journaling, to yoga, to meditation, to ensuring that I was getting outside everyday, to eating a healthy diet, to making sure I was getting enough sleep. I was putting so much pressure on myself in terms of sleep and at the end of every day I was doing all of these things, plus I was doing Reiki, my daily gratitude and my daily EARN scores.
Throughout the day I was not only doing my job, looking after my family and trying to build my business, I also had this never ending list of things that I wanted to do. So every morning there would be cardio, yoga, journaling, gratitude, meditation and there would be this set routine around breakfast- to make sure I was eating and drinking as nutritiously as possible.
All day, every day my focus was on all of these things that I need to do to prevent burnout and from all of the learnings of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, neuroscience, and understanding all of the research that I've done about burnout. So I was constantly in this state of doing and it was causing me more and more stress!
If we think about what the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said about burnout; burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress, that has not been successfully managed. They say it's characterised 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
● Reduced professional efficacy
Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life. I can definitely agree with the feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion and I can definitely understand the feelings of negativism and cynicism and the reduced professional efficacy. But I think the fact that we're saying it's only relating to this occupational context and that it shouldn't be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life; I think that's where, for me, the definition is wrong.
We all know that if stress is impacting one area of our life, if our work is impacting one area of our life, it will impact all of them and you've probably heard me talk before about the four corners. The four corners of self relationships, work and world. If one of those is out of balance, or out of alignment, it will impact the other four corners. So there's no way that burnout can only be caused by workplace stress and it not have an impact on the other areas.
Likewise, if we are experiencing high areas of stress in either; ourself, our relationships or our world, of course, that's going to cause us more stress in our work. So for me, all of those four corners are our linked. So with all this doing that I was doing, as a result of my burnout in 2013, I reached burnout again in 2015. And this isn't uncommon for a lot of the women that I start working with, they may get themselves through that first burnout, but then they hit burnout for a second time, or they come really close to hitting it for a second time. And it's at that point that they realise I cannot do this again. And it's at that point that they start to reach out.
Again, I think the bit that we miss when it comes to the severity of the burnout is, we continue to do! We might take a week off, we might take a couple of days off, we might take a holiday and we might think that that's enough to fix everything for us. We saw the rise in 2021 of organisations that were closing their doors for a week to give their people a week off to prevent or recover from burnout. But just one week off is not going to fix this. One week off is not going to remove or change the prolonged periods of stress that we have been working in for long periods of time.
Burnout is not a mental health condition. But if we don't make the changes in our lives, to our behaviours, to our thoughts, to our interactions, to our actions, if we don't make those changes, we will end up hitting burnout again. So we need to create consistent change.
We need to be doing things differently in order to prevent burnout. And what I saw in myself and what I see from many of the core led women that I work with on either a one to one basis, as part of my membership community, or programme; what we all tend to focus on is the doing.
I think we need to start doing less. We need to do the three things that I talk about repeatedly. We need to get really clear on who we are. We start with that question: who am I? And we get really clear on our values, on our beliefs and on our strengths. When we understand who we are, then we start to create the boundaries. We create the boundaries based on our core values, our core beliefs and our core strengths.
Those boundaries are fundamental to us helping with our well being, helping us to maintain our well being, helping us to say no, helping us to do only those things that are aligned with who we are at the core. Far too many women that I speak to are still people pleasing. They don't want to say no, they're worried that if they set boundaries, people will not like them anymore. People will start to think that they're selfish. People will stop asking them to get involved with things. People will dislike them for having boundaries. My response to that is always, that if other people have an issue with you creating and holding strong boundaries, they are not your people!
Your people will respect your boundaries.
Your people will appreciate you for having boundaries.
Your people will see you as a role model for having those boundaries or maintaining those boundaries and in a way you're giving them permission to then create their own boundaries.
Yet so many of the women that I speak to are worried about creating and maintaining boundaries because they're too worried about what other people will think.
So three things that we need to do:
● We need to get really clear on who we are at the core. Start with that really powerful and important question, who are you?
● Create boundaries that are aligned to who you are.
● Create time. Create time in your day, in your week, in your month and in your year.
You should create daily, regular and consistent time for you to just be, to rest, to take time out, to do things that rejuvenate and recharge you. This doesn't mean filling all of that time with things to do. It can just be stopping, grabbing yourself a cuppa and just sitting. It might be sitting outside or going for a walk in nature. But it's not making the mistake that I did back in 2013, by thinking that you have to be doing 10,000 things a day on top of all of the 10,000 things a day that you're already doing. It starts with who are you? Because when you understand who you are, you can start to look at all of the things that you are doing in your life and say is this really for me? Is this really what I should be doing?
The boundaries become easier to create, because you realise that the list of tasks are not aligned with who you are. They're not aligned with your passion or your mission or your goals, or your values or your strengths. So it becomes easier to say no to the things that are just not aligned to you. And I think we've definitely seen a lot of this over 2020 and 2021.
I was part of a panel discussion recently, and the host mentioned the great resignation that I'm sure we've all seen on our social media channels or in the news. I don't think it’s a great resignation, I think it is a great realignment. A great recognition. A greater level of awareness. I think what people are saying is, if that organisation is not prepared to give me what I need to flourish, grow, thrive and succeed, then I don't want to stay there. They could be questioning and reflecting on the fact that that organisation is not aligned to my values. The purpose is not aligned to my values. The behaviours are not aligned to my values, the leadership team are not aligned to my values and I now want to do something that is more aligned to me.
I don't think everybody's waking up in the morning and saying right, that's it! The pandemic is over, I'm going to go out and just get myself a job for the sake of it. I think we're really questioning what is important to us. I think we've really started to recognise over the last couple of years what is truly important to us in our lives.
I started that journey back in 2013, going into 2014 and I'm still doing it.
What's the difference that I want to make?
What do I want to achieve?
Who do I want to work with?
Sometimes that is constantly evolving, but the core part of that, that core part of who am I? What are my core strengths? What are my core beliefs? What boundaries do I have in place? That's pretty static. It's almost like every week I get more and more clarity on all of those questions that I keep asking. I think that's what some of us are missing.
So there's the timeout that we need to take, but it's not about making time and then filling it with lots and lots of other things. Of course it can be, if it’s filling it with things that are lifting you up. That is energising you. That is recharging you. That is making you feel better. But if you're just going through the motions as I was, based on all of this research that said; this is how we can prevent burnout and also based on all of the learning that I took from the neuroscience, psychotherapy and hypnotherapy, whilst adding what I already knew about coaching and how the brain works. I thought if I do all of these things, I can then prevent myself from getting burnt out again. And then I burnt out again!
So we need to be really clear on what it is that we're doing with that time. Is it three lots of 10 minutes every day, whereby you just take a gentle walk, you sit in silence, you make the most of your hot drink, you allow yourself to enjoy a glass of water, or you put some of your favourite music on. But we start with who you are. So again, three things:
How can you then implement boundaries that link to who you are at the core?
How can you then create non negotiable time for yourself every day, every week and every month, to allow you to reset and recharge.
They are the three things that will help you prevent burnout and if you're at a place of burnout, help you recover from it.
When I hit my second burnout in 2015, I just felt totally lost. That was the point in which my confidence took the biggest drop. It was really really difficult because I had learned all this stuff, had all this knowledge and information, I had been able to help clients better than I had ever been able to before and yet I got to this place of burnout again and I really was at rock bottom.
So I thought that I needed to find something different and I started looking at alternative therapies. I came across three different women that did various different things. One of them was a kinesiologist, one was an energy worker and one was a sound therapist.
I worked with these three women and every session they would say to me; you need rest, you need to stop and you need to take time out. In my head I remember thinking, I can’t just stop and they have no idea what’s going on in my life. I can’t just stop! But I did stop for an afternoon after one energy session. My diary was clear and I thought okay and I stopped. Then I cleared my diary out for a day the following week, and I stopped! But the stopping still wasn't helping me and this comes back to what I say about how one week's holiday or one week's business closure is not going to stop burnout. This needs to be daily patterns.
So I stopped doing this enormous list of things every day, and I started to ensure that I have three pockets of time every day for myself. I didn't prescribe what needed to happen within those times, but it was my time, my non negotiable time, for me to do whatever I needed to do and I still do that now. I have an hour in the morning as soon as I wake up, I have an hour at lunchtime, and I have an hour at the end of the day. Those three hours are my time and they can be used for whatever it is that I want to use them for. So it could be exercise, it could be reading, it could be sleeping, it could just be doing absolutely nothing.
I also began to look into how productive just totally stopping was. I came to realise that there are actually seven different types of rest:
Now my mental rest wasn't something that I was really doing a lot of, and my mind is always on overdrive. If I'm not working or creating, then I'm reading a book, and I can't remember the last time that I just picked up a fiction book and just got totally lost in it. Everything that I've been reading over recent years are all business books, development books or coaching books. So my brain is still always racing. I wasn't giving myself enough mental rest.
I wasn't giving myself the physical rest that I needed all of the time, because I was thinking as my energy is a bit low, I'm going to get on my bike, go for a run or a walk, or do some yoga. All those things can be quite high paced. And again, I've learnt over the last few years the benefits of restorative yoga, where you just lay in different poses for longer periods of time, and just allow the body to rest. So sometimes I still have that movement in a restorative way, but I allow myself times of physical rest.
Emotional rest is where we allow ourselves to feel everything that we need to feel and we're not filling that space with other things to avoid feeling those emotions. And again, I wasn't always doing that and I recognised that through my eating and I found myself in a pattern of emotional eating. As soon as I caught that trigger, I recognised that I was eating my emotions, rather than processing them and allowing them to happen. So sometimes we need that emotional rest.
Sensory rest, I think this is a biggie for lots of us. In 2020 there was lots of conversation, lots of research, lots of posts, and lots of videos about Zoom fatigue. Sitting in front of a screen all day is very different to being in contact and in the same room with people. But we found ourselves on screens all the time with our work and then sitting in front of the TV and having a Netflix binge.
In 2020 the majority of my yoga classes were all being held via Zoom and it got to a point where I just couldn't bear another Zoom class, because being in front of that screen wasn't giving me the recharge and the replenishment that I needed. So I stopped going to a lot of the classes and got much more into my own practice.
Creative rest. If you're like me, you're always in solution mode. You’re always looking for solutions, a better way of doing things, always looking for improvements and always coming up with new ideas. Sometimes we need creative rest to help us get to where it is that we need to be.
Social rest. Now I personally find this one really easy as my natural introverted self. I have no issue at all in gaining social rest. But I know a lot of my introverted friends and even some of my introverted family members, found lock down particularly difficult because they weren't getting that social engagement they needed. So for them, some of that social isolation wasn't giving them the recharging that they needed through social situations. For me personally, the social isolation gave me a huge recharge, a huge reset. It was almost like I’d been planning for lockdown my entire life, from an introversion perspective.
Spiritual rest can mean lots of different things to lots of different people. For me, being spiritual is having a connection to something that is greater than myself and I have that and I allow myself spiritual rest through my meditation, through my yoga, through varying different healing modalities that I use and practice. But again, not every day. I know that I've got this toolkit of things that I can use all of the time, but sometimes to me it is just a case of getting outside in nature. Getting out and going for a walk, connecting with something that is greater than me.
So we've got these seven different types of rest and I wonder how many of us really allow ourselves more than one of these. It's the sensory rest that we need, but what we do is we take a day off, or we take a week off and then spend all day scrolling through our phones, or spend all day sitting in front of the TV. That's not going to give us the rest and recovery that we need.
So, we need to really think about these seven different types of rest and we need to do less to fight burnout, not more. I'll leave you with those thoughts.
In 2013 Kelly had a successful leadership career, yet she was burned out, exhausted, and missing out on life with family.
Determined to enjoy the success that she had earned, she's learned to create a life of balance and boundaries that is also highly successful. Today at kellyswingler.com, Kelly helps women leaders all over the world to prevent and recover from burnout without giving up their career or jeopardising their wellbeing.