Do you feel like you are constantly striving to ‘optimise’ your career, home, family?
Does your to-do list relentlessly roll over and flatly refuse to ever lie down?
Are anxiety and apathy constant companions? Stress, a persistent bedfellow? Are there never, ever, not nearly enough, hours in the day?
Chances are, you’re hot, burning, and very nearly “out”. Out of time, out of energy, out of mind. A burnt-out Superwoman, and, according to statistics more than likely a Millennial, “trained, tailored and primed for the workplace”.1
So stop, and breathe, because The Burnout is Real.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), burnout is “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Burnout now features in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) and is 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
And reduced professional efficacy.
It starts with a lack of concentration. Simple tasks take much longer than they used to. Productivity drops, or at least it feels that way. So you put in the effort to compensate but fail to feel the sense of fulfilment you used to.
You are not alone, and to be fair, haven’t been for some time. The term “superwoman syndrome” has been used since the 1980’s to describe women who are perpetually busy, often to the detriment of their health and relationships.
Somehow, in the last forty years, having nothing to do has increasingly come to mean wasting our most precious commodity – our time. Being busy has become a marker of importance, responsibility, even ‘goodness’.
We flit from one task to another, ‘fighting or flighting’ all the time, under immense pressure to make the most of every moment.
The result for many women is that the concept of “me time” has become laughable. That once exhilarating life is now just exhausting.
This state of chronic stress is unnatural, unsustainable and can lead to high blood pressure, fatigue, weight gain, muscle tension, poor sleep habits and anxiety.
Technology has also blurred the boundaries of the traditional 9-5 workday. Lunch breaks have become just another opportunity to get things done. Or at least they were, before Covid-19.
The global pandemic and ensuing lockdowns has inflamed the situation with women now struggling to meet the extra demands of not only working from home but also teaching their children.
So if you’re on fire, or think you might be smouldering or burnt out completely, here are some hot tips.
Just choose one or two to focus on – trying to do everything at once will only create more pressure!
Bring back ‘No’! No is often the first word we learn, but as we become more socially indoctrinated, the first one we stop using. Say No to running yourself ragged with back to back meetings. Put non-negotiable breaks between meetings to recenter yourself between Zoom calls. Leave 60-minute meetings 5 minutes early or build 5-10 minute breaks into your calendar.
Use these breathing spaces to do just that – take a few big deep breaths, grab a cup of herbal tea, refresh your mind and reset. If you are a workplace leader, lead by example and help the woman around you do the same by introducing a minute of meditative silence at the beginning of every meeting.
Organise your space
A chaotic brain needs an ordered environment. Before you can make any headway on clearing your mind you may need to organise the world around you. A neat and tidy desk and a clear space to work is any busy brain’s best friend.
Our brains run on patterns called schemas that encourage us to look for familiar environmental triggers to unconsciously guide us as to what to do in specific surroundings. In other words, a clear space for work signals to the brain that when you are not at your desk, you are off the clock!
This is especially important when working from home. This is why it is important to step away from your desk for lunch and avoid the use of your bedroom for anything other than rest.
Try out meditation
Adding meditation to your day may feel like a small feat, but the positive effects on our mental health are powerful. Meditation centres the mind, slows breathing, and enables the body to find a sense of calm. If self-guided meditation feels beyond your reach, employ an app like “Calm” or “Insight Timer”. These apps offer a wide range of timed meditation sessions that can help you go from chaos to clarity in as little as 5-10 minutes.
Meditation is a powerful antidote for stress and increases levels of our feel-good hormones oxytocin and serotonin. When we are calm, we are able to explore options, achieve a sense of mental clarity and avoid those moments of frustration that happen when we feel overwhelmed.
Move your body daily
Physical movement is one of the most underutilized tools for fostering mental wellbeing. Movement boosts happy neurochemicals like endorphins that make us feel good, and have an instant mood-lifting effect. In a study by the University of Vermont2, the mood-lifting benefits of just 20 minutes of exercise lasted for up to 12 hours.
Remember though when it comes to exercise, balance is key. Too much exercise can also lead to burnout. Find a good routine that permits you to challenge your range of motion, cardiovascular health and strength. You don’t have to exercise twice a day and for hours on end to reap the health benefits of exercise – be consistent with your movement and focus on utilising all aspects of your physical fitness.
Find your inner creative
Channelling your inner artist is very therapeutic to the burnout soul. Using your creative brain reduces anxiety and stress by boosting levels of dopamine – our pleasure and reward hormone. Being creative takes your mind off work, encourages non-linear thinking and helps to complete the stress cycle. If you can’t draw to save yourself, have no fear, there are many ways to get your creative juices flowing. Scrapbooking, painting, drawing, dancing, singing, knitting are just some of the ways you can unleash your inner creativity.
Nourish your body
Try to eat nourishing meals at regular time intervals and reduce overstimulation from caffeine and processed foods. Eating and drinking in this way will balance blood sugar levels, and work to keep energy levels and temperament stable to support balanced and healthy hormones. Eating regular meals made from nutrient-dense whole foods also helps to reduce inflammation, support good gut health, and boost our immune system. When we eat well, our body can rest, restore and repair with ease.
Disconnect from technology
Research shows that screen time increases stress levels. A recent study by Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab3 showed increased beta wave activity—associated with stress—in the brains of virtual meeting participants. This study also showed that stress peaked and troughed in the brains of those who were given breaks but in those deprived, stress levels rose.
Keeping your phone and other electronic devices on hand presents a temptation to stay continually connected – even outside of work hours. Take some time each day to turn your phone off, reduce your stress load and unplug from the rest of the world.
Build a routine
We humans may love the idea of novel stimuli but we really thrive when we have a daily structure. Routine minimises the number of decisions we need to make each day and helps keep daily habits that foster our physical wellbeing and mental health.
This clinically proven strategy eases stress and anxiety by building a structure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat balanced meals. It helps to limit the amount of time spent at work, and provide clear guidelines for work-life balance in your day.
Prop your body with supportive supplements
Top up on key nutrients that support symptoms of burnout. These include Magnesium, Zinc, Omega 3, Vitamin B6, Vitamin D and Selenium. Nutrients literally make up the cells in our body and provide us with the tools it needs to function at its best.
Supportive herbs for burnout include calming kava, passionflower and lemon balm and adaptogens like ashwagandha, and rhodiola. Adaptogens are used in herbal medicine to stabilise physiological processes and work to counteract the effects of stress on our body and organ systems. In a nutshell, they help us ‘adapt’ to stress.
Whether you are wired, tired or both, BePure’s new InnerCalm and InnerStrength contain all of these herbs and many of the nutrients. This combo provides immediate and enduring relief in times of overwhelm and anxiety and supports us to rebuild from burnout and fatigue.
Lisa Grey is a burnout expert and lead clinical researcher at BePure. Since the beginning of New Zealand’s journey with COVID-19, Lisa has seen an increasing number of clients battling with stress and burnout in the BePure Clinic. Having battled burnout herself, she offers some practical tools to pave a path to recovery.
1 Coined by American journalist Ann Helen Petersen, author of Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.
2 Sibold, Jeremy S, and Kathleen M Berg. “Mood enhancement persists for up to 12 hours following aerobic exercise: a pilot study.” Perceptual and motor skills vol. 111,2 (2010): 333-42. doi:10.2466/02.06.13.15.PMS.111.5.333-342.
3 Microsoft Human Factors Lab,” Research Proves Your Brain Needs Breaks.” Microsoft Worklab, April 20, 2021. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/brain-research.