My Blog

By Helen Jamieson

Burnt Out but Not Giving Up …

01 July

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Did you know that 80% of our ‘head talk’ is negative? Wow! What a way to conduct our lives. Perhaps all training for women in careers should focus around strategies to stop the endless negative chatter in our heads. But I digress …

Having less to do

My thoughts around jealousy come from those days when I encounter women who don’t work. They are busy planning their pilates and yoga sessions, lovely coffee get-togethers after doing the shopping, they have organised dental, optical and medical visits for the whole family for the next year and are now working on holiday plans for the next 24 months .

Sometimes I am just so jealous of their self-organisation, their ‘me time’ and their single-minded focus on creating a home and supporting their families. While they’ve got that, I have endless stress in managing staff, exhaustion and frustration with running a business, feeling that I am coping rather than caring for my children and immense irritation that every time I want to eat more healthily or do more exercise, something comes along to wipe out all my good intentions.

Making a contribution

But don’t let me get you down! Mostly I don’t feel jealous of those women who don’t work. I have always worked. Always paid taxes. Endlessly employed other people and collected VAT and PAYE. I feel that I don’t need to be jealous of others’ lives as my satisfaction comes from the fact that as well as getting the opportunity to use my brain and develop my skills, I also contribute with my time and my money to society. And, hopefully, I put back more each year than I take out.

But such high-minded views on my contribution and value to society are worthless if I burn out in the process. Because then, instead of contributing, I start to become a taker in society, no good to anyone, and instead of being satisfied with the way I conduct myself and my life, I become depressed and miserable with plummeting self esteem. Uh oh! Trouble ahead …

Burnout is not good for individuals and it’s not good for society but it’s rampant. The incidence of burnout amongst working women in their 40s is really high, and now we are reading articles about burnout of women in their 30s who, in some cases, just seem to have worn themselves out before even leaving education. And there is a reason why year after year girls seem to achieve better grades than boys in education – it’s because many of them work their damn socks off just to prove they are worth it, that they are of value and that they do deserve equal treatment in society.

Going the extra mile

Unfortunately, many of us feel that we are invincible and that we can do the extra hours and go the extra mile to prove ourselves. Perhaps that’s indicative of our eternal optimism, which is a great thing. However, realism about what is sensible in terms of working hours may be a better approach.

What’s worrying, though, is that it appears that sometimes burnout occurs with those individuals who are most dedicated to their careers. It occurs in those who care about what they do and who want to do their job as well as possible. The people who always go the extra mile and put others before themselves burn out quicker than others.  Are you one of these? If so, you need to think about where you are headed.

Here’s a little snippet from research that was done in the States into burnout amongst oncologists.

Those oncologists who devote the greatest amount of their professional time to patient care seem to be at greatest risk for burnout.  

What burnout is like

For my part, I have experienced burnout during my career. Interestingly, with a range of symptoms no medical professional has a clue what to do with so no support forthcoming from where you might most expect it. Take for example the fact that when I am under stress my eyes hurt so much that my vision goes blurred and the only way to stop them hurting is to close them and keep them closed. And this can last for days at a time. On one occasion I couldn’t see for a whole week. Try doing your emails, answering texts and running a business with that!

Other people I know also suffer from burnout and experience symptoms that their healthcare professionals really don’t know what to do with – and if what you have isn’t in their precious manual, they’ll probably just send you home and tell you to get some rest! And your friends and family often say the same:  “You brought this on yourself. You could have stayed at home and not developed a career. Book a weekend away, eat better, take more exercise, get an early night.” Haha! As if that’s going to restore you overnight!

Perhaps you are reading this and have in mind that this is all a bit remote, that burnout doesn’t happen to other people – it’s not something that gets talked about in textbooks so never really happens in real life. Burnout happens to so many of us as we try to have it all, juggle it all, be all things to all people and prove to ourselves, our families and society that we are worthy of equal treatment, equal pay and a life outside the home. And don’t get me wrong in thinking this applies to women only, plenty of men get burnout too.

Not many of us like to admit to burnout, though. Surely admitting it would reveal weakness and vulnerability and that doesn’t really sit well with our self-image as career and professional women who are fully in control at all times. It’s a reality, though, and maybe if you are feeling on top of the world and in control of your own destiny, its time to look around you and see who is genuinely struggling on their own with burnout, whilst those around them endlessly explain it away as being run down, needing an early night, time to get more exercise, etc.

I get so mad with people who treat those of us who have experienced burnout as though we are contagious or a failure, having brought all this  on our own heads. I want to Sellotape their silly mouths up so they have time to reflect on how their behaviour compounds an already bad situation!

How to move on

Always one to smile, though, and crack a joke when others would be sobbing – as this, I find, is my own way of dealing with whatever life chucks at me,  I do try to remind myself to never give up. I also try to live by the mantra ‘Never look backwards, always look forwards’.  And, of course, once you have acknowledged that you are burnt out or that you have friends or family who are burnt out, then you are in a position to identify the way forward, to acknowledge and not ignore, and to support, not criticise.

And, luckily, there is help available if you want to turn this around, be more positive and identify the way forward for yourself or your friends – probably not from the medical profession but definitely from your local bookstore.  Why not take a look at the following titles?

  • ‘Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive’ (a book by Joan   Borysenko with mixed reviews so check them out before you buy)
  • ‘From Burned Out to Fired Up: A Woman’s Guide to Rekindling the Passion and Meaning in Work and Life’ (a book by Leslie Godwin with quite a few great reviews)
  • ‘The Joy of Burnout’ (a well known book by Dina Glouberman. Re-published in 2013)

And to finish, I quite liked this quote from a recent Forbes article:

“We’re all a work in progress; new inputs — from new friends to new places viwoman-key-in-back-270x180sited — mean we’re constantly changing in our thoughts of what’s desired, what’s possible, what’s fun, what we want to do.”   

It’s a great reminder that just because we or our friends are heading for burnout, or are already in burnout, does not mean that next week, next month, next year cannot open up a whole new world to us. First we need to acknowledge, then we need to read and learn about it, and then we need to take action. It’s a simple three-step process. The key is to just take it one step at a time.

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