I was asked by the amazing platform Aspiring Women to share some thoughts on burn out and how it affects our physical and mental well-being. I know about this well because I learnt the hard way. These are the very lessons I wish I had learnt earlier because I suffered from burn out when working in a fast-paced, high intensity role at a global media company. I worked long hours, and was juggling three roles and a massive amount of pressure from my bosses to deliver. One of my senior team was signed off on long-term illness and I had inherited a long list of HR issues - just thinking back to it now makes me feel sick! Nevertheless I powered on because I didn't know any other way. I was doing yoga at the time and occasionally meditated and I thought I was pretty good at understanding my own well-being and managing my stress. I had worked in events for many years and accepted it was a stressful environment- in fact I prided myself on coping with it so well. Or not. I requested a career break because I knew I needed some time out. I thought that once that stressful period had passed and I was on my travels during my career break (I left about a year after things were really bad), I would be fine. During that year things had calmed down, I'd put better structures and strategies in place and I really believed I had dealt with the stress and I was ok!
What I didn't know was what effect stress had already started to have on me. It's the reason I have since created a.life.more.mindful and why I am so passionate about the work I do now. I want to help others spot the signals early on so that they don't have to go through what I did.
What I didn't understand was that for the time in between, although I thought my stress had gone, it was still latent in my body and my adrenals were working overtime to keep me going.
I didn't understand that low level stress impacts the nervous system so that you are constantly on 'orange alert' - ready for danger and in a state of fight or flight.
What I didn't know was that during this time, my body wasn't able to rest fully, so I wasn't allowing my body to heal and repair itself in the way it needed.
So what happened?? Have you ever been really busy, and then taken some time off to relax at home or gone on holiday and on your first day off you fall sick? Well that's exactly what happened to me. I left London on a 3-month round the world trip and on my first stop in Panama, I ended up in hospital with adrenal fatigue. My body had simply given up the first chance it got to rest.
Luckily for me the recovery was quick and I was able to carry on my travels. I spent the next 3 months re-learning my stress signals, understanding my body and the nervous system, and learning some powerful relaxation tools.
My most powerful stress-busting habits were created during my travels. They include...
- Daily meditation - 3 minutes, 5 minutes or 20 minutes- whatever I have time for. And if I don't...3 slow breaths throughout the day.
- Getting outside - fresh air, greenery, a change of scene. This was definitely more enjoyable when I was in beautiful settings like Bali, Costa Rica and New Zealand. Even here in London though, simply stepping outside my home and standing on the grass (bare foot if it's warm enough!) and taking those 3 slow breaths helps me to get out of my head, into my body and instantly calms my nervous system.
- Laughter and positivity - I've always been a glass half empty gal and I thought it was in-built- I'm just a natural pessimist. So it was a relevation to me that I can choose how to see the world. I can choose to change how I think, even as an adult! I've gone from doubt and cynicism to cheery optimism. Sometimes I don't even know who I am! because I can now find joy in the smallest things when all I saw were problems.
- Being present - mindfulness is my biggest teacher and the greatest gift to come from my travels. I met my mindfulness teacher in Costa Rica and for the first time in my life, I understood true self-awareness and acceptance of the present moment. And with that came peace.
I hope some of these inspire you to try a different way to approach your challenges and reduce stress. I'd love to hear what you think of the videos and if you can better spot your stress signs now you know what to look out for!