If you’ve lost that loving feeling, change the way you work

What is the difference between burnout and stress? It’s a good question. Burnout gets bandied about a lot, but it does not just refer to being physically and emotionally exhausted because of over-work and never giving yourself a break – it’s more than that. You’ll know you’re heading for burnout when you stop caring and lose your mojo.

But first, what exactly is burnout? Emily & Amelia Negoski wrote in their book Burnout: Solve your stress cycle, that ‘The gap between what it’s really like to be a woman and what people expect women to be’ is the primary cause of burnout. We become exhausted with the relentless need to close the gap between the two and the pandemic has exploded that. Whether we’re employed or self-employed, parents or carers, work at a desk or out in the world, the pressure to be all things to all people leaves us with no time for ourselves – and the constant need to achieve is draining us dry.

Burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of identity. A telltale sign of burnout is when the motivation and enthusiasm for something that once gave you joy and satisfaction disappears. Maybe you are also struggling to make decisions, second guessing and overthinking everything and your usual enthusiasm has been replaced with disillusionment and cynicism. Whether it’s your job, your business, or a book you’ve been burning the midnight oil to write, if it’s no longer giving you joy and you can’t muster the energy to keep going, this could be the start of burnout. To decide whether it’s a blip or something more, if possible take a proper break so you can get some distance and reassess.

Some of the common symptoms of burnout are:
Exhaustion (Physical and emotional)
Sleep disorders
Reduced performance
Concentration and memory problems
Inability to make decisions
A feeling of overwhelm
Loss of identity
Having a cynical, negative outlook
Feeling helpless, trapped or defeated

Here Gifty Enright, coach, speaker and author of best seller Octopus on a Treadmill, who specialises in working women, talks us through what to do about burnout:

What causes burnout
Overworking means that you steal time from different areas of your life and give it to work. This means that those areas of your life suffer and time that should be spent on refuelling yourself and your creative energies get depleted. So time that could be spent on selfcare could be sacrificed if you are chained to your desk and before you know it, your fitness levels fall and you fall prey to every infection going. Then there is the effect that overworking has on your wellbeing because time that you would normally use to reset and feel rested is eaten into by work deadlines. This means mental and emotional resources are burnt up and not restored and this leaves you feeling constantly stressed out.

Burnout in the self-employed
If you’re self-employed burnout can be a very real problem. It is not only the pressure to make income that causes self-employed women to work long hours and tip them into burnout. It is also the fact that they trade working set hours for the flexibility of choosing their own hours. This on the surface seems to be the perk of the self-employed, but is it really? For working mothers who choose to structure their work around childcare, without the right disciplines in place, they end up working deep into the night routinely. This disrupts their sleep which then destabilises a lot of the biological housekeeping that happens during sleep and that is the quickest route to burnout.

Burning the midnight oil
Another factor is the personality profile of the type of woman who chooses to become an entrepreneur. It is not for the faint-hearted, these are driven, hardworking and courageous people! They are not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. They can’t afford to because it is not a level playing field and they may have to work twice as hard to be taken as seriously as their male competitors. So, they feel the pressure to put in ridiculous hours to chase their dream and before they know it, they are at burnout.

Burnout in midlife
Self-employment for women, particularly for the over 40s, takes things to a whole other level when it comes to their health. A lot of women start having perimenopausal symptoms in their forties, and this can affect their moods and confidence and they overcompensate for that by working even harder which leads to more stress. Some of the factors that exacerbate these perimenopausal symptoms are stress, lack of sleep, not exercising enough and poor nutrition – and the pressure to make an income leads to these very conditions. So not only are these women suffering burnout, but their hormones are all over the place and before they know it, they can’t think clearly because of hot flushes, brain fog and overwhelm.

Below are some tips to help dial down the work worries and reset

Change locations: Now that lots of people are working from home, the danger is because they are in the same location, they just continue working late into the evening. It is important to physically change locations even if it is leaving the desk to go to the kitchen.

Do a physical activity: Physical activity engages different parts of the brain and helps you to switch off. We all know that fitness releases endorphins and studies have found that exercise may be an effective treatment for burnout.

Hobbies and leisure activities like gardening, painting, knitting or reading a novel take you to a completely different place in your head which is not contaminated with work stress. Hobbies relax you and can also give you a level of mastery that puts you back in control of your life.

Call a friend for a good chat and a laugh. A text message will not do here, you need a proper chat and if it can be face-to-face all the better.

Listening to music with a great a beat or beautiful rhythm is one of quickest way to change one’s emotional state simply due to the evocative nature of music. Dancing to it combines the effect of the music with the benefit of physical activity, releasing endorphins and leaving the stress behind.

Engage in fun activities: Playing with the kids or the dog and rolling around on the floor after a hard day’s work will get you to switch off from work and also help deepen your connection. This helps to fill a psychological need on both sides, enhancing wellbeing.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation can also be great for switching off from work.

Looking for expert advice? The Audrey Members’ Club is a whole world of support, coaching and expertise for women through self-employment, changing careers, running a business or launching one. Join us to kickstart your future, whatever that may be.