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How I regained control of my well-being after a career burnout

Exhausted, unmotivated, overreactive. Burnout can easily creep up on you if you’re not paying attention to the warning signs. We take a look back at a working parent’s tips for avoiding burnout and getting back to feeling positive and hopeful again.

Arguably, it had been building for several years. It wasn’t triggered solely by a traumatic event, a difficult employer, or burning the midnight oil. Hitting the wall — in fact, hitting it several times but still persevering until I couldn’t — was caused by dozens of trade-offs I’d made, unconsciously, about where I would spend my time and energy on any given day.

Not prioritizing, I just stuffed more tasks (usually work-related) into the week until I was empty, exhausted, and rudderless. I felt like life had no purpose. I was always reacting to what was happening at any given moment. And there were lots of tears. My brain had developed a fog. Was this what happened in your mid-40s?

My solution was to resign from work because it was ‘that place’ sucking the life out of me. Not being there would fix everything, surely? How wrong I was! My manager was gracious not to accept my resignation but suggested a sabbatical; get into a ‘well’ state of mind before making such decisions. I took five months off and I am eternally grateful. 

Here’s how I regained control of my wellbeing.

Relentless and disciplined planning 

I thought I was a master planner, but I was really just artful at getting urgent things done – and everything was urgent. Now, planning starts with what my ideal week looks like, locking in the non-negotiables (for me yoga, personal training sessions, reading support at my child’s school on Fridays, school drop-off Wednesdays), penciling in work, and then prioritizing all the other ‘stuff’ I want to do. I do this weekly on a family planner (everyone in the family must support this for it to work) and we have Sunday planning sessions. I keep a manual diary. Each month I take stock and look two months forward – date nights are back!

Immunity to change

A huge lesson for me was that while I truly wanted to prioritize better, my competing need of feeling validated by delivering the impossible often stalled my efforts. My biggest fear was that if I said no, particularly in a work context, my reputation for high performance would be shot. Now I am testing this assumption daily as I make trade-offs and learn the art of saying no gracefully. It’s not easy, but I refuse to succumb to the disease of being busy.

Being present

My head is always full and busy. Yoga has been a gift for me, to create space in my mind, and feel lighter. It’s two hours a week when no one can contact me. I can let all the balls fall on the ground, and I can just be. I have learned how interconnected the mind and body are, and the art of breathing and slowing down. This has not been easy and is not for everyone. I also started a journal — I capture what’s going on in my heart, what’s challenging me, what steps I can take to move forward, and what I am grateful for. It really helps.

Chew, do, and living true

The mantra of health educator Robert Greco. Food and moving are medicine for my body. I make better choices every day about what I eat and how I move my body. It’s incremental. I sought a personal trainer and the universe sent me Rob. I see him twice a week and he’s been a lifesaver.

Finally, I came across a Ted Talk by Nigel Marsh called How to make work-life balance work. It’s brutally refreshing: we each need to design the type of life we want to lead otherwise someone else will do this for us and we may not like their idea of balance.

And now? In the spirit of living true, I’m paving a new path. It’s empowering, and with some new skills in my kit and a great support network, it’s going to be quite the ride.

Written by Donna Burr. Donna is mother to Charlotte and has a burning passion for holistic health and resilience.

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