Burnout: 21st Century Curse or Blessing?

It was announced this week that Zayn Malik had to pull out of the One Direction tour due to stress.  “I know their schedule has just been non-stop ever since they left the show (X Factor).” Says singer and television personality, Sinitta – former mentor for The X Factor show that catapulted One Direction to stardom.  In a Radio 1 interview she suggested that Zayn, aged 22 is experiencing burnout.

Celebrities struggling with stress are often subjected to media scrutiny.  Ironically, media attention can be one of the contributory factors to their burnout.  But, there is more to it than the pressure of maintaining a public image.  Behind every burnout there is a story of overwork and overwhelm, which is why it is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions and affecting people of all ages and professions.

Burnout is the result of various factors cumulating in prolonged stress and poor lifestyle choices that lead to severe depletion of the autoimmune system and adrenal glands. 

A 2015 working paper from Harvard and Stanford (see Source 1) considered the mental and physical effects of job stress.  Researchers discovered that 120,000 people die each year (in the USA) due to health problems brought on by job stress, suggesting that burnout can be more deadly than diabetes, Alzheimer’s or influenza.

The growing culture of overwork is fuelling the burnout endemic, which has now become a global cause for concern.  We are collectively creating an unsustainable framework for ourselves, our children and our planet.

However, this entire experience can be transformed into an opportunity for us, individually and collectively, to harness our full potential and productivity.  We have the power to redefine our work culture, but in order for this transformation to happen we need to learn how to listen to, respect and trust our intuition and the wisdom of our bodies.

In my book Burnout to Brilliance: Strategies for Sustainable Success, I suggest that burnout can be reframed as a powerful paradigm for self-inquiry and development.  It is possible to tap into phenomenal personal learning and the opportunity for transformational change.

Discover the hidden blessing of burnout.  Take the following steps to help you restore balance in your body so that you can notice how it communicates with you:

1)    Start your day with 10 minutes of calm

In a recent interview with Marie Forleo, Tony Robbins suggested that “if you do not have 10 minutes to spare, you do not have a life”.  I agree.  Begin before getting out of bed.  Focus your attention on your breath. Take a series of ten full, deep breaths.  Purposefully set a positive intention for the day ahead.  Notice how you feel in your body.  Speak kindly and reassuringly to yourself.  Next, take a shower or listen to some music, drink a cup of tea, go for a walk, play with your children – whatever you do, do it with your mind present on the moment with the intention of setting the scene for the rest of your day.

2)    Remember to refuel

Sometimes we need to set self-care reminders to ensure we eat, drink, go to the bathroom, take a break from our computer screens.  If you find yourself forgetting to do these things because your day has been ‘too busy’ set a series of alarms on your phone and treat them as being as important as a meeting with your boss.  Step away from your email, rest your engine and put fuel in your tank.

3)    Decide when to be ‘done’

Want to be in bed by 11pm?  Calculate what time you need to finish work by in order to have sufficient time to have some quality alone time or catch up with your partner/family/friends, eat, exercise and relax before sleep in the evening.  Set this as your time to be ‘done’ by and stick to it!  Write it down on a post it note.  Work towards it and when it rolls around make a new rule to switch off for the day.  Shut down your computer.  Switch off any phone alerts connected with email (better yet switch your phone off completely).  Be present with the people in your life your care about.  Enjoy your evening meal.  Take some time out to wind down before bed.  Notice how you are feeling before you go to sleep.  Ask your body what it needs from you and promise yourself to prioritise that the next day.  You are worth it.

Source 1, The Relationship Between Workplace Stressors and Mortality and Health Costs in the United States, by Joel Goh, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Stefanos Zenios

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