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Overcoming Burnout

I didn't notice it when I missed my best-ever-boss's farewell party simply because I forgot. I carried on.

I didn't notice it when I got into arguments with my daughters and colleagues about entire conversations for which I had no recall whatsoever. I carried on.

I didn't notice it when my family started to say to me: "you are here, but you are not". I carried on.

I didn't notice it when I started feeling tired all the time. I thought it came with ageing... I carried on.

I didn't even notice it when I lost my menstrual cycle. One thing less to worry about, right? I carried on.

One day my body entered into total shut down. It was only then, that I noticed that I had not been sleeping more than 3 hours, that my head was spinning non-stop, that I had lost my hair, that I couldn't read past the first sentence of a book without forgetting everything, that I had been in fight or flight mode for at least 5 years and all the exhaustion came out to me at once. I couldn't carry on anymore...

So, what did I do?

1. Seek for professional help

In my case it was easy: "I was already at the hospital". So when they discharged me, they referred me to a Psychologist right away.

I felt ashamed of sharing my situation with my colleagues. I felt ashamed of needing psychological help and I blamed myself.

It never occurred to me to ask myself "why". "Where was this coming from?". Until I started therapy.

Therapy is to mental health what a cardiologist is for a heart condition "NECESSARY".

You cannot break the cycle on your own, otherwise you would have done it already...

2. Discover the 6 B's to recovery from Burnout

The first step to recovery is to cool down the mind, so my therapist introduced me to the 6 B's:

  1. Bankje (Bench): Sit and watch. Not doing, just watching

  2. Boekje (Book): Read. At the beginning it was torture because I couldn't. But it is a very good indicator of my progress

  3. Bedje (Bed): Sleep. At anytime that sleep calls you, answer. Let go of schedules or bed time. Learn to listen to your body

  4. Badje (Bath): Enjoy moments to nurture and pamper yourself. A bath or a relaxing shower.

  5. Bewegen (Body shake): Exercise in whichever way your body feels at ease: walk, bike, go to the gym, yoga, dance, swim...

  6. Buiten (Backyard): Go outside, get that vitamin D or even a supplement to help with the fatigue.

3. Re-discover yourself

You have been attending demands for so long that you stopped taking care of yourself.

In my case, I had stopped for over 5 years, so it got to a point that I didn't recognise myself anymore.

I didn't know neither what I like or enjoy doing nor how to spend time with myself.

So I started dating myself. Take myself to places, do different activities, so I could rediscover myself.

I even wrote myself I couple of love letters. It was really fun!

4. Honour your rhythms & cycles

The hardest part for me was to "stop doing"

Then I heard a guided meditation from Sarah Bonding called "Learning to honour our rhythms & cycles" and I understood that life goes on with or without me and that, if I didn't overcome the fear of loosing my job if I "stopped doing", I would end up dead.

I started to trace my fatigue and recognise and analyse the triggers. Then I started working on learning how to hit the breaks when the triggers appear.

5. Re-organise yourself and put up safety structures

Once I'd learned about my rhythms, I started to look at the activities in my life (both work and personal) that where aligned to my rhythms and which were not.

If there is a mismatch between your needs and that activity (personal or work), then is time to review that activity, establish your boundaries and make them known:

  • set up out of office replies,

  • share calendars with your family,

  • let people know your availability in hours before you start an activity/project,

  • don't be afraid to say no,

  • when there is a conflict in demands ask the immediate recipient/supervisor to prioritise)

Plan changes for the long run. If the changes that you require cannot be accommodated, then it might be time to leave/stop and re-evaluate your future.

In my location (the Netherlands) there are well established institutionalised systems to support health in the work environment, however, as a Global HR Manager I recognised that this was not the case in many of the locations where we operate, so there are changes that companies can to do to support employees this situation:

  • promote and model self-care

  • monitor and measure mental health in the workplace (only 24% of employers have data on who is at risk)

  • take measures to reduce mental health cases (48% of executives rank well-being as top concern)

  • expand benefits (consider different needs)

  • over-communicate the existing support you have for employees (only 29% of HR have a health and well-being strategy)

  • de-stigmatise mental health and make it part of company culture and values

Some people might say: "HR Managers will take care of it on a one-be-one case. No need for internal structures..."

But then, who takes care of the HR Manager? Don't be surprised when people leave...

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