Once upon a time I used to think I was a superwoman: I was working full time, commuting to work, cooking all the meals of the house, doing homework with the kids, getting up early for yoga, working extra hours, with no family support around. People used to ask me how I managed, how I found the time to cook elaborate meals, how I coped when my husband traveled, and I felt proud of being a super mum. Until I realised I was not.
That happened gradually, but was accelerated when the doctor told me that I had an autoimmune disease: hypothyroidism. That day triggered a chain of thoughts, and a chain of events: I took a week off work to rest, which became three weeks off, until I realised I was going through a burnout and needed to take a serious look at how I lived my life.
Fortunately, I was supported by my life coach at the time as well as my family, and I was able to recover my energy and spirit fairly quickly.
Fast forward to today, and I am very grateful for the life lessons that this experience has taught me. In fact it became my mission to share it with other women, because I realised that many other mums go through the same difficulties, sometimes in silence.
Today I want to share some burnout signs to watch out for, and 3 steps you can take to protect yourself.
6 Warning signs to tell if you’re close to burning out:
These are not exhaustive, and all burnouts don’t look the same, but generally they will give you a good sign that something is not right. I certainly felt them all.
- You cannot sleep well:
whether you can’t fall asleep, or wake up at night and stay awake, your sleep is impacted – probably from overthinking or being over-tired.
- You can’t focus well on your work:
because you are so tired and you head is in a negative space, it is becoming harder to think clearly. You might feel that your head is foggy most days, you’re not as sharp as usual, and making decisions, even small ones, seems extremely difficult.
- You are feeling anxious, stressed and overwhelmed far more often:
I remember having mini-panic moments and locking myself in the bathroom at work, not knowing how to cope with stress. There seems to be too much, and the to-Do list is never disappearing.
- You become negative or sarcastic about your work and colleagues:
it is becoming very hard for you to find anything positive about your work situation, and without realising, you complain a lot more, or use sarcasm.
- You don’t take the time to eat properly or to look after yourself:
lunch breaks become rushed, exercise seems to be something from the past, and you are probably cutting yourself from your colleagues, not chatting as much as you used to.
- You are simply very tired during the day and relying too much on coffee
So What can you do about it?
If you recognise yourself in the lines above, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
Manage your stress
Stress: “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”.
One of the first things that will help you is to learn to manage your stress and take preventive actions to relax:
- Take proper breaks:
no lunch in front of the computer for example,
- Learn breathing exercises:
deep belly breaths are very calming and can be done anywhere in very short periods of time. Meditation and and other forms of relaxation also work wonders.
- Do what works for you to release stress:
everyone is different so get to know yourself and find what helps you get rid of stress. I love journaling and meditation, some people love lifting heavy weight – experiment.
- Manage your to do list:
prioritise, keep track, and most importantly manage your “not to do list”, delegate and learn to say no.
Bonus tip: track your stress level with a connected watch or band.
Prioritise your sleep
“When I wake up, I am reborn”, Mahatma Gandhi
Sleep is a healer: your body and brain both recharge during sleep. Without sleep, you deplete your life battery.
Here are some tips to help you sleep better:
- Create an evening routine:
each night at the same time have a shower and prepare for the night, set some candles, drink a herbal tea, read a book… These are only examples, but if you take the habit to perform soothing activities each night your brain will recognise that it’s time to bed.
- Sleep in a dark room:
make sure there is no light coming from other rooms, and that the sun won’t disturb you in the morning.
- Keep electronics outside your room:
phones are better in the kitchen, especially if you tend to check them in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. Any electronics should also be removed, they impact your body in a negative way and your bedroom should be free of them.
- No coffee after 2pm:
Try to limit your coffee intake to only a few cups, and preferable in the morning.
- Less alcohol at night:
even if you’re tempted to have a “night cap” to help you fall asleep, the quality of your sleep after drinking alcohol will be much worse.
- Journal before bed:
this is the best way to empty your busy brain before going to bed. If you’re not comfortable with journaling, just write a bullet list of all the things you have to do the day after, all the ideas you had for your work project, or the clothes you need to buy for your kids. A burnout brain is turning non-stop, so you want to make sure you download as much as you can on paper to clear some headspace.
Bonus tip: A nap is also great to catch up on sleep during the day (especially if you work from home)
Make it a point to LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel. I know that it is difficult as a mum to take time for yourself, because you are busy, and because you feel GUILTY for taking time for yourself, but it is absolutely essential!
Start by defining what self-care means for you:
- What activities do you like doing in your spare time?
(Or what would you like to do if you had more spare time?)
- What makes you feel good?
Don’t limit yourself to massages, haircuts and nail salons.. Thinking of times in the past when you felt good, what were you doing, where were you, who was with you?
- What is practical and achievable?
Riding a horse in the countryside might be more complicated than reading a novel in the sun with a cup of tea for example.
Set intentions each week on how you will look after yourself:
- How will you move your body?
Even a walk around the block after lunch and dinner is a good way to get some fresh and stay in the habit of movement.
- What needs to improve in your diet?
Maybe add an apple as a snack, or remove the chocolate piece that you have with coffee?
- Do you have bad habits to quit, and what could you replace them with?
- Schedule some ME time:
talk to your spouse and your kids, let them know that you need a little bit of time for yourself, and actually schedule your selfcare. I know someone who actually writes “bubble bath” in her diary!
When I first stopped work, I made it a point to look after myself and fill my cup with what made me happy: I slept, I cooked good meals, I did a lot of meditation, yoga and journaling, I saw my coach, I went to art galleries, I took a painting class, I spent time with my mum… It was an amazing time of slowing down and looking after ME. It felt amazing!
Don’t quit on yourself!
Drop the All-or-Nothing mentality. If you’re tired: rest, don’t quit.
Maybe there was a bad day, you ate poorly, you didn’t tick all the boxes on your to do list, you yelled at your kids… It happens, it’s ok. The good news is that each day is an opportunity to start afresh. So just be gentle on yourself, reflect on what happened, and set an intention to listen to yourself better and do your best.
Bonus tip: don’t be scared to ask for help! Whether you visit a friend, your mum, a therapist, a coach, or a naturopath, it’s ok, and it’s a good idea, to ask for help.
So now let me ask you: any aha moment? Do you recognise yourself in what I am sharing, do you feel that you need to change something?
If so, please reach for help, talk to your friends, your family, your community. And if you need a little extra help, send me a message: I’d love to support you. In fact I am launching a new group coaching programme to help mums going through a hard time, where they will find a community of like-minded mums and receive weekly coaching in group sessions, and I would love to welcome you if your heart tells you it needs support.