Burnout matters – insights learnt and shared

Burnout Matters – insights learned and shared

In my role as a coach, I was recently invited to participate in an online discussion focusing on burnout in the time of Covid-19.  As a burnout survivor, I am very conscious of what’s going on in the world around us. Many are struggling with life, work and relationships due to Covid-19. Part of our communities are particularly vulnerable to feeling over-loaded and overwhelm can quickly turn to burnout.

Whilst there’s a growing awareness of burnout as a condition – it remains ill-defined and as a result, there is not necessarily much reliable and credible advice available to sufferers. What advice is available, focuses largely on managing your resilience and having firm boundaries, and for those with more severe cases, potentially drug and or talking therapies.

My own fairly classic story of burnout largely as a result of being a Type-A personality in a high pressured, demanding work environment coinciding with being a more mature parent of a young child as well as having a husband setting up his own business, led me down a path of intense investigation. I read many books and articles, spoke to quite a few professionals (including doctors and therapists some pretty weird and wonderful) as well as burnout survivors and of course tried out a whole range of different things to aid in my recovery (again, some it pretty funky).

Given my recent experience talking about burnout publicly and realising the impending potential magnitude of this issue, I thought it could be helpful to share a few insights based on the information I collated and my experience along my burnout journey.

  1. Burnout is absolutely individual to each person. There are no one common set of symptoms and therefore no one course of action works for most sufferers. What was interesting in much of what I gleaned was how burnout survivors would often advocate for one particular solution (often the solution that worked for them). It requires diligent detective work by the sufferer to piece together a coherent set of symptoms which will then help build an approach to recovery. This is a real problem as time is exactly the one thing sufferers lack. Even keeping a very simple diary and noting down symptoms in a few words on a daily basis can help build a picture which can help the sufferer to understand and articulate more effectively.
  2. Burnout is a catch-22 – it is neither just mental nor just physical as a condition. However, most available support for burnout sufferers tends to focus on either the mental (the preference of the medical establishment in the UK) or the physical with little regard that whilst for some it will be one or the other, but that for most sufferers it is likely a blend of both the mental and the physical symptoms. Unknown to me, I was going through a severe case of early onset perimenopause which meant my hormonal health was greatly contributing towards my symptoms of anxiety, insomnia married with bone deep weariness and brain fog which ultimately contributed to but also confused my burnout diagnosis. Whereas before, I would have been able to handle the high levels of cortisol (due to stress) in my work and life, I literally found myself unable to cope on the adrenaline/cortisol roller coaster. When I mentioned this to my GP, she instantly dismissed it. It was only through painstaking detective work that I was able to better understand how the physical symptoms contributed to the mental symptoms and vice versa and what I could do from a root cause perspective to address these symptoms.
  3. Burnout is an expensive business in so many ways not least of it financial. To access good support costs money. However, there are things sufferers can do that can at least start to make a difference which come at a minimal cost. Pay attention to the basics – food, drink (especially alcohol and caffeine), prioritise sleep and routines above all else and get really good at saying no. By turning as many of your activities into routines, you’re reducing decisions to be taken and therefore stress from the equation. Finding rest in nature; walking, gardening or just sitting outside if that’s all you can manage, is critical. Too many of us live our lives inside especially stuck behind screens. Prioritise gentle exercise until you start feeling better – avoid gym marathons at all cost.
  4. Surround yourself with supportive professionals to help you on your journey. Money may be tight so investigate if possible, with the support of your GP what you can access for free or at a reduced cost. My GP was hopeless, and it was a hard lesson to learn. Fortunately, I was able to access some support through a friend for affordable mindfulness classes, and through some health insurance, a specific type of osteopathy as well as paying myself for various nutritional experts to help me with my recovery.
  5. Burnout remains an “Achilles” heal for most sufferers. Particularly if you have had severe burnout. The survivors I spoke to talked about needing to manage themselves and their sensitivity to burnout on an ongoing basis and I can really identify with that. In my own, case my burnout led me to totally re-evaluate my work and my approach to it. I’m now crafting a work and life with gives me much more purpose and joy. It still has its ups and downs and this year has definitely had many of those, but my bone aching exhaustion and extreme levels of anxiety are in the past. I remain vigilant though.

In my coaching work, most recently with Wise Sherpa, burnout is still to a great degree a taboo subject. There is a tendency for sufferers to downplay symptoms as “feeling a bit tired” or “run down” and few are willing to go on the record. The stigma for many, particularly in the workplace, and the desire not to worry nearest and dearest, leads many to suffer in silence. My belief is, if we can talk about burnout (and not just as part of the mental health debate but as a very really mental and physical condition) in as many spaces as possible, it will be easier for sufferers to find the words they need in order to ask for help and for professionals who can help to better understand the scale and the need for quality support.  My hope is that by sharing a little through this post we can open up a bit further the conversation and chip away at the stigma, misunderstanding and silence surrounding the condition.

PS If you’re interested, as part of my work with Wise Sherpa, I’m working on a longer blog/article on the A-Z of burnout – a practical guide. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on what we should include. 

#burnout #wisesherpa #businesscoaching #executivecoaching #businessmentoring #businessstrategyconsultant #executivecoachinglondon #encorecareer #reinventretirement 

Finally here is a link to a recording made only this week by Brené Brown where she discusses the subject of Burnout with Emily and Amelia Nagoski. The podcast is just over an hour long and is well worth a listen. 

Unlocking Us with Brené Brown – Brené with Amelia and Emily Nagoski – “On Burnout and How to Complete the Stress Cycle”. 



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