I ended 2020 feeling exhausted, along-side many women suffering fatigue and overwhelm during the pandemic. It was the first time I dreaded Christmas. My favourite time of year. I wondered how I would cope with the celebrations, socialising and endless cooking.
For me this was an exhaustion where I would wake up with dread, a crushing level of fatigue and brain fog. I tried to continue to exercise thinking it would help but it seemed to make the fatigue a lot worse.
As my fatigue continued to worsen, it became apparent to me that I was in burnout. My day’s demands were exceeding my capacity to cope.
Burnout is defined as “an unresolvable stress that is chronic in frequency and intensity.” I did a burnout assessment and found myself in Stage 2 of burnout, which consisted of:
2.1 job dissatisfaction
2.2 work inefficiency, including avoiding making necessary decisions, “losing” stuff at work (even on your desk!), etc.
2.3 fatigue (a general fatigue, often accompanied by deep muscle fatigue)
2.4 sleep disturbances (often that you are so “busy” in your head that you can’t get to sleep)
2.5 escapist activities of choice (including eating, drinking, smoking, zoning out in front of the TV, etc.
I also had many of the common burnout symptoms such as: difficulty focusing, irritability, job dissatisfaction, reduced sleep quality, lower productivity, anxiety, fatigue, teeth grinding, and forgetfulness.
How did this happen to me I wondered? I am a psychologist and business owner specialising in wellbeing and teaching others how to create a life where they can thrive. As I investigated it further, I realised that it began during early 2020 but I wasn’t fully aware of the impact until the middle of that year.
During 2020, I had increased my work projects so that I could support as many clients as I could with coaching and webinars, as they struggled with the effects from the pandemic. I was dedicated to supporting them to find some peace and clarity in a world full of chaos, change and uncertainty. I got some wonderful opportunities to make a difference with the work I did with workplace staff, leaders, teams and organisations. However, I paid a big price with my wellbeing.
I took time off from all my commitments, increased my meditation sessions throughout the day, but it was not enough of a change. With the wisdom of hindsight, I can see now that my self-care plan needed to have an ongoing and flexible approach. I needed to keep adjusting it to ensure that I continued to prioritise myself first.
I know that I am not alone and that women are disproportionately being affected by burnout. In fact, a recent expert suggests that:
- Women are more burned out—and more so than men
- Women are even more burned out now than they were a year ago
- The gap in burnout between women and men has almost doubled
- During late 2021, one in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career—a significant increase from one in four in 2020
My burnout occurred throughout the lockdowns in Melbourne. I had started to write my wellbeing book (Finding Your Well-BEing) during September 2020, and I quickly realised that this was going to be a long writing project. Any initial thoughts of finishing it in a few months of writing turned into a year. I made the decision to prioritise my health and reduce my responsibilities and priorities.
In many ways my book became my shining light that guided and reminded me what was most important – my wellbeing. I wrote when I felt I could and if I needed time off, I took it. My book reinforced what mattered to me was living a healthy and peaceful life where I could make a difference to the wellbeing of others. Writing it led me towards fine tuning the actions that finally made a positive difference to my wellbeing.
What actions helped me?
- Visiting my doctor and getting a check-up and blood work to make sure there are no other underlying causes for my symptoms
- Reducing my workload to improve my energy and accepting that I needed to adjust my life around a reduced income
- Delegating responsibilities where I could personally and professionally
- Showing myself some self-compassion. I do this by acknowledging my frustrations and struggles.
- Talking to family and close friends regularly and being open to their support.
- Taking time off social media posting and management on a regular basis. Yes, I know this is not best practice, but my wellbeing is number 1.
- A regular daily walk and weekly strength training
- A regular yin yoga class — I do mine virtually on a weekly basis to renew and increase my sense of calm
- Eating well balanced meals regularly and minimising alcohol.
- Having faith and maintaining hope that the future will get better. This helps me to look forward to the future. I remind myself of this every morning.
- Starting the day with a mindfulness meditation to ground myself before I begin my day. I have been meditating daily for a few years now and I also now meditate throughout the day as well. My favourite meditation is a gratitude meditation. It helps me to cultivate calm and a positive grateful intention.
- Making sure I sleep enough and making time for rest and fun.
- Finally, having calendar reminders to reflect regularly on the progress I am making, fine tune my actions, consider my challenges, and get support if required.
I am not a Superwoman. I never want to be that. I am focused on becoming a “super” human being for me first. What I value more than anything now is my health, my peace and being the best version of me. I am not sure I have completely worked it out. That’s why it is called a journey.
Thank you for reading my story. I hope that by sharing my struggles and my journey, I can inspire you to overcome or avoid burnout and prioritise your wellbeing, happiness and peace.
Let’s kick burnout to infinity and beyond!
If you want to learn more about how to kick your burnout or prevent it, download a free chapter from Mary’s book “Finding Your Well-Being”
You can also read more about Mary and her book here
Follow her for more burnout and wellbeing tips on her Instagram page @coachuwellness