Have you ever felt burnt out? Like you have nothing more to give? I experienced this a few years back after I had begun my first business, running it around three small kids. Looking back, I was so driven to achieve success and leave the land of ‘never enough’ that I jumped into a new opportunity with both feet and truly believed I was superwoman!
I burned the candle at both ends – working late on my new dream most nights past midnight and then rolling out of bed before the sun to continue crafting my new project. For a while passion and motivation were my caffeine, but over the years I began to notice my lack of sleep, and the 80hr+ weeks were taking a toll. I’ll stop when I get there, I told myself. To the mountain top of success, I said! Then I’ll rest! “Sleep when you’re dead,” I heard some of my inspirational role models say. Quality not quantity time with kids is what they need, they told me, and so I missed many assemblies and bedtimes to just get to “that mountain top of success”.
I began to put weight on, especially around my middle – which I had never experienced before. I have since learned this is often called a “fat pack” and can be a direct result of high cortisol levels (the stress hormone), I developed severe acne of my face, again, a direct impact of the stress hormones flooding my body at an all-time high, as well as the lack of rest and sleep I was giving my body for nourishment and repair.
One night while I found myself working past midnight I felt a sense of exhaustion take over me, so I crept to the room next door where I had the kids’ Christmas presents stored above the wardrobe. I knew there were three large tubes of Smarties in those bags and so I began searching. Winner! A tube in each hand and one under my arm I went back to my desk – and fuelled by sugar I continued working late into the night. The next morning I looked in disgust as I saw the three empty large tubes of smarties – who was I becoming?
Following this my mum came to stay for a few weeks while my husband headed off to Rwanda for a mission trip. She hadn’t been in my house an hour when she asked: “What has been going here? The boys are wild!” We talked, I cried… a lot! They were needing my time and attention. They were needing a mum who wasn’t wired all the time, they were needing me, here, present and not always rushing to the next, phone in hand, stressed and overwhelmed.
But still I pressed on. I was going to the mountain top of success and I wasn’t going to stop for anyone or anything! Until… finally my body and my mind hit a wall. I call it burnout others maybe use other descriptions! I was unable to think clearly, felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety every morning I woke up, and was fatigued and unmotivated every day. The sense of drive I had usually relied upon was now replaced by a sense of exhaustion and overwhelm.
These feelings lasted for a few months and I vowed that while I was in this dark valley I would learn all I could for my healing and restoration, then I would 1) never go back there again and 2) teach others what I’d learned from my struggle.
My time in burnout taught me soooo much… but for you today I will give you two of the greatest golden nuggets of wisdom I learned.
Rest and repair are the secret powers of the elite and the high achievers. Ever wondered why some of the top CEOs have comfy sofas in their office? Not for Netflix searching, but a mid-afternoon power nap (or two). The greatest athletes among us practise the art of rest and recuperation: they use ice baths, they sleep, they nap, they use nutritious food and many others techniques to keep them at the top of their game.
So… I’m just a busy, burnt out working mum you say. The lifestyle of top athletes and CEOs isn’t my bag… and I get that! But we can still learn from them. Rest and recuperation is a must!
Ask yourself what is rest for you and trial out different things. For me I know I need eight hours of sleep at night – anything less and after a week I’m feeling pretty rubbish. I also know sometimes at the weekend a quick hour power nap refuels me for a nice eve with my hubby or with friends, one that I can enjoy and not be feeling tired for.
I also know nature is rest for me. Grabbing my coffee in the garden in the morning, opening the window of my office so I can hear the birds, or taking my dog out up the moors – all these things are tranquil for my soul and encourage rest and recuperation! Ooh… one other ‘biggy’ for me is unplugging. The simple act of putting my phone on flight mode and leaving it in a drawer for a day or even a weekend is simply bliss for me and really gives my mind space, clarity and rest.
So now I look across my week and I ask myself where am I resting and when am I recuperating. For me it has to be intentional – if I don’t plan it in and prioritise it, it ain’t happening!
And the second golden nugget I learned was this. Where ever you are, be fully present. If with the kids – be with the kids, fully in that moment, smelling their fresh washed hair, looking at their pure skin, feeling their hand in yours or watching as they laugh uncontrollably at some inappropriate joke around the dinner table. Listening to the conversation and really engaging with them. Then when at work, focus on work, don’t think about the kids or the pile of washing or kitchen dishes that need doing – focus totally on the task at hand, be fully present in the moment and you will find the moments become more fulfilling. You get more from moments you truly lived in that those moments you were only half present.
So there you have it, my two greatest lessons from burnout! Take time for rest and recuperation (not just when you are tired, make it a daily practice) and where ever you are and whatever you are doing – be fully present!