Catriona Futter – Equip For Life Coaching Becoming your best self and living life to the full – 07713 974138

Category Archives: Time Management/balance

Work/life balance, and balancing our time can be tricky. But there are answers to achieving a better balance, and improving your time management, as you will read here.

The tyranny of the urgent over the important (Or, Habit number 3).

Tyranny of the urgent over the important

Tyranny of the urgent over the important

The tyranny of the urgent over the important – It was Charles E Hummel who first used this phrase in referring to our constantly pressured lives, with endless unfinished tasks and little fulfillment.

And he said this in 1967!

Seems like in some ways our oft gerbil-wheel-running lifestyle is nothing new. I have spoken here before about Burnout, which has been around since Victorian times, and which they termed neurasthenia – nervous exhaustion.

There really is nothing new under the sun.

One of the strengths I find most appealing about Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is that he does not claim to have come up with the habits, nor does he take credit for them. He states simply that he has brought together in one place a series of paradigms, mindsets and ways to live that have been around for many years in different forms.

Habit Number 3 is about putting first things first – learning how to prioritise in our lives that which is important rather than being consumed by what is urgent.

Let me expand (you know I was going to).

Urgent tasks are very visible, press round us, insisting on action, often with a short-term, shallow focus.

There will never be an end to them.

Notice too that they are often based on the priorities and expectations of others, and can be associated with achieving someone else’s goals.

Important tasks, in contrast, are associated with long term results and development, establishing and maintaining good roots, achieving your own goals. This is about considering our values, life purpose and mission, and prioritising what and who matter to us most. Important tasks are about our legacy – what we want to leave behind, the difference we want to make.

This is the outworking of Habit Number 2.

When much of our time is spent preoccupied with Urgent tasks at the expense of Important tasks, our lives can feel out of control, flitting from one crisis to another, constantly reacting to things with little breathing space. The focus becomes short-term fire fighting, or responding to the needs of others.

Choosing Important tasks however takes initiative, forward planning, thinking ahead.

Regularly implementing important tasks takes discipline and requires us to be proactive.

This is the outworking of Habit Number 1.

This can seem hard to the point of impossible at times, not least when we consider how many of the Urgent tasks are not going to disappear. And there will never be an end to them.

But it is exactly in taking that initiative, making a decision to prioritise what is Important, and keeping focused on our life goals and purpose, that we notice our effectiveness and fulfillment increase. We have a greater sense of purpose when we invest in something of value, and often this pro-active approach to developing and nurturing what and who matter to us most prevents the kind of crises that end up in the Urgent category.

As examples, consider the impact of regularly investing in your personal development, key relationships, health, and whatever team or community you are a part of. Now imagine the cost of losing sight of your goals, taking those closest to you for granted, neglecting your health, not investing in the people you work with. When viewed in such black and white terms, the contrast and impact are clear.

Of course, everything we do is on a spectrum, and life is not always clear cut. We can go through very busy seasons when there are a high proportion of activities that are both urgent and important. But that is where investing in ourselves and what/who sustains us is so vital to resource us and equip us for life’s challenges.

The central element to Habit number 3 for me is in this simple quote from Dr Covey himself:

the key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

To make time for the things that are most important to you each week.

Time management is largely a misnomer – the challenge is not to manage our time but to proactively make choices about how we use our time based on what is most important to us. Trying to prioritise what is important to you each week without a strong basis in your own proactivity and personal responsibility for your life, and without clear values, will not get you very far.

Saying this is the easy bit. Living it out is far more difficult. The first step, as always, is awareness.

How do you spend your time? How much time each week do you spend on that which is most important to you?

As ever, food for thought….

What are the triggers for a perfect storm?

perfect stormThey call it a perfect storm. (Whoever ‘they’ are.) A series of events all coming together at the same time to produce catastrophic results. At the time, it can be hard to see the connections. It is often only in the aftermath that one can look back and see all the different jigsaw pieces and triggers that all worked together to cause such devastating fall-out. This is the fodder of disaster movies.

But imagine instead the perfect storm to be an emotional melt down, and you are the meltee.

The question is, would it have been possible to avoid the storm? Identify the triggers, remove some of them or remove yourself from their path, and hey presto. Storm prevented.

Or, in other words, wouldn’t it be great to have hindsight in advance?

To proactively prevent the perfect storm by diminishing the destructive potential of the causative elements.

In my work as a physiotherapist (physical therapist for you across-the-pond dwellers), I would sometimes treat patients who sustained a sudden injury that seemed to come out of the blue for them. But unpick their stories a little, dig backwards into the preceding sequence of events, and often there were clear indicators. Triggers to set off a chain of events that led to injury and incapacitation (might have made that word up).

Postural problems + chronic weariness + over busyness + muscle imbalance + a sudden demand on the body is likely to lead to some kind of system failure. In the physical dimension, this is likely to be pain and incapacity.

Imagine if we were better tuned in to the triggers, and thus were more able to prevent the physical problems and pain. If we stepped back and saw the implications of continuing with each element unresolved, and decided to take action instead. Change our posture. Take some time off. Exercise to strengthen, stretch and restore balance.

The physical realm has much to tell us about the realm of our emotional and mental well being.

Imagine that the perfect storm, rather than a physical breakdown, is an emotional outburst instead.

Events combine and contrive to cause us to combust, and we disintegrate and unravel. I talked about this a little in the series on burnout recently – the importance of letting our souls catch up with our too-fast-moving-bodies.

Triggers are important here, and in this case, the triggers are often our emotions. I am a stuffer – talked about this here before too. Just deal with it, get on with the next thing, pay no heed to the rising tide of anxiety/fear/stress/irritation/numbness that is threatening to swamp me.

Triggers are like red flags along the pathway, yelling at us to stop,

pay attention, take action now to avert disaster.

The key thing – as always – is awareness.

What am I feeling?

What do those feelings indicate?

And therefore – what do I need?

What will happen if I ignore this and continue down this path?

And – ultimately and of course – what is most important here? What therefore do I need to do?

When we tread the same path often enough, we recognise the signs. When we know ourselves well enough to know the kind of emotional storm we are likely to end up in, we can then start to identify the triggers. And then – the key stage – we can choose to do something about them.

The benefit of hindsight in advance – spotting the triggers to the perfect storm, paying attention to them and changing course.

Think outside the box. Or, climb out completely.

I sometimes wonder if we all live in boxes.

Personally, I dislike – nay, am very uncomfortable – being in a confined space of any sort. CloseThink outside the boxd into a box, with a lid shut down on me – even the thought fills me with the heebie-jeebies. Our cat, now, there is a different creature. No matter how small the box, our daft moggy will attempt to squeeze herself inside. Bits of her sticking out all over, but something about being in a box makes her feel safe from the world (not that the world in which she lives – our home – is in any way scary; the only risk here is being loved to death by Younger Members of the household).

But a quick trawl of any kind of management or business publication or website would suggest that boxes are our preferred domain. After all, exhortation is all around us to “think outside the box”.

This has become one of those grossly over-used phrases that has largely lost it’s impact. Now more of a tired cliche than a novel challenge to change the way one thinks. The phrase apparently originates in the late 1960’s – I had no idea that it had been around that long.

But to think outside the box suggests that you do indeed have to be in a box in the first place.

And therein lies the rub. For sometimes, it is easier, or safer, or more comfortable to remain within the confines of our own familiar way of thinking. Assumptions, expectations, past experiences, lack of confidence, or the belief that our way is the only way or the right way can all form boxes within which we choose to remain.

Sometimes it is our attitudes that need a gentle challenge or prod to get us to start to think differently. To step back and consider that another view point might also be valid.

Sometimes, when we feel constrained by the box we are in and have lost inspiration for the task at hand, climbing out of the box and walking away from it entirely is required. I came across this fun quote of Dr Seuss in my recent meanderings through his sayings –

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”

And there is the irony. Sometimes, it is only when we stop actively trying to think that inspiration comes. How often have you found yourself facing a computer screen or a page, brain filled with fog, struggling to express or write or draw or design what you need to do. Box walls all around, closing in, squeezing and inhibiting ideas and original thought.

What to do? Climb out the box altogether.

Leave the room and go and do some completely unrelated mundane task. Leave the building and go for a walk. Do a few star jumps, go and post a letter, walk up and down the stairs a few times, hang the washing out. Switch off the trying-hard-to-think brain and often what happens is space opens up for the creative wiring in our brains to start to crackle and fizz, and we are off!

When our cat climbs out of a box into which she has squeezed herself, she will indulge in a long and luxurious stretch. I watch her and think, I could learn from that. To stretch myself, metaphorically speaking, to try new things. To reach further, to engage bits of me that have lain dormant. To extend myself well beyond what I thought was possible.

Need to think outside the box? Maybe climb out altogether and have a good mental stretch.

What happens when our plans are derailed? Introducing the bullet journal…

Take time –

  • to reflect
  • to work out and clarify your values
  • to dream big dreams and cast vision
  • to plan and strategise how to get there
  • to write out action steps
  • reflect on what is working and what is not, and start the process again.

This is a useful and straightforward framework that enables us to –

  • live according to our values
  • make decisions with more clarity and consistency
  • stick with our boundaries
  • get back on track when we are derailed by obstacles or unexpected hiccups
  • have time for what is really important rather than reacting to what seems urgent but sucks us dry.

Why am I writing in bullet points?

  • because this kind of living can become over complicated and onerous if it involves so much writing and reflecting that nothing actually gets done
  • because of the rise and rise of methods to facilitate this kind of living in a manageable way
  • and because bullet journalling has arrived in our house!

What is a bullet journal?OK, I’ll stop now. It was getting annoying and hard to do whilst still making any kind of sense.

I first came across the phrase ‘bullet journal‘ in a glossy magazine whilst I was at the hairdressers (which is the only place I read glossy magazines). No clue what it meant, sounded very trendy and a bit scary all at once. Perhaps if you didn’t write in your journal for a day, you were shot? I jest.

And then in a short space of time I heard the phrase again, from a friend converted to this new craze. So of course, I did what is required in these situations – I looked on Youtube for inspiration. And boy, is there a plethora of views and options on the subject on that marvelous medium!

My understanding is that bullet journalling simplifies the process of reflection, planning and scheduling. Rather than a normal diary or weekly planner, the bullet journal is infinitely customisable (perhaps a word I just made up?). You can personalise it for your needs, add the bits that help you and ditch the elements that do not. Perhaps put a gratitude list in there – always good – and a page of thoughts and inspirations for the future. The world is your oyster. Or your bullet journal. The title still leaves me cold, but I guess that is not the point.

The point in our house is that it makes keeping a diary, and the associated planning and – ahem – discipline of this, cool and groovy for blokes. MB has been enjoying his bullet journal for months, and has found a method that works for him.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because the most important thing about planning is what happens when our plans are derailed. The rise in popularity of the bullet journal testifies to the import many put on planning, recording and reflecting on our lives in a manageable way.

Of course, we cannot plan our lives to the letter. Our plans inevitably can get derailed, and what was most important that day gets bumped off the schedule. It is what we choose to do next that is key.

Rather than that important thing being missed off altogether, we can stop the panic or gerbil-wheel of urgent tasks, and take a breath. And re-schedule the important thing that got missed off the day before.

This sounds so ridiculously simple and obvious. But ask yourself, how often do important things get bumped off your day repeatedly, day after day under the never ending tsunami of urgent tasks, until they disappear into the chasm of “I’ll do it one day when I’m less busy”? Important things are often life giving or enhancing, and are rooted in our values. This is worth paying attention to, or we risk getting onto the slippery slope of burnout.

The bullet journal is simply a tool. Disruptions occur daily, that is life. But if something is really important to you, make time to do it. A quieter day without disruptions is not coming.



Dealing with burnout: how to carve up that elephant.

Dealing with burnoutOver these past weeks, we have been exploring burnout, it’s symptoms and causes, and – importantly – some musings on what we can learn about dealing with burnout. So, how can be crystallise our thoughts and take the first small action steps? Rather than be overwhelmed by the task of emerging from brain fog and regaining a calmer perspective on our lives, how can we carve up the elephant of burnout and see how to make small, gradual changes?

As we progress through this 21st century age, we invent new and faster communication methods to improve our lives and narrow our world. We feel the pressure to be “on” and available all the time. To be all things to all people. To do more, try harder, go further, be better – pick an advertising slogan of your choice. But the impact of this is that eventually, our bodies and minds rebel.

Burnout can leave us feeling tired, depressed, physically and emotionally exhausted, trapped, worthless, weary, disillusioned, hopeless, anxious, rejected, and susceptible to illness.

But this is not how we are designed to function.

We are inventive, creative, relational people with an amazing capacity to learn, grow, cherish and enjoy the world around us. We are made for so much more than merely functioning, going through the motions, living for the next bit when it might get easier. But it seems that life, and our choices in response to it, take over and can leave us burned out, to varying degrees.

When our bodies start to rebel, it is time to stop, do a little soul work, and pay attention. We require rest and restoration to allow us to function at our best – regular investment in ourselves allows us to fulfil our many roles and purpose better. This does not mean we become self absorbed islands, only living to serve ourselves. The converse is true – identifying with something bigger than ourselves, be it a cause, a faith, a project, brings fulfilment and allows us to serve within our purpose.

So, what have we learned about dealing with burnout?

Firstly, recognise that the day is never coming when you are going to be less busy, and you have power to change the choices you make now.

Of course we have jobs, responsibilities, family commitments, social engagements, and health needs to manage on a daily basis. But we also have choice, and this starts with understanding ourselves, how we work, and what is most important to us. Much of what we can choose to do is reconnect.

Reconnect with the outdoors –

  • get outside into the great world yonder, with all it’s beauty and creativity. We are part of a wider world, we are not islands, and embracing the beauty and simplicity of our natural environment is a tonic to expand and refresh soul and mind. Be it a short walk in the park or a long trek up a hill or along a beach, reconnect with space, scenery, fresh air and freedom.

Reconnect with your body –

  • burnout manifests in many physical ways, including muscle tension and pain, poor sleep, headaches, fatigue, poor posture. Pay attention to what your body is telling you – if it is not functioning well as the tool you need it to be to enable you to be who you are, then action is required to restore and revitalise that body. Simple things like changing position at your desk, stretching and deep breathing, getting up and walking around, an outside walk for 10 minutes, and bigger impact things like more and regular exercise all help.

Reconnect with your own natural rhythms –

  • Take regular, short breaks. Start to recognise the signs of when your output is exceeding your input, and stop, change completely what you are doing, reconnect with what you are seeking to do and why – your goals and motivation. Learn to understand yourself and your own rhythms, what times of day you are at your best, and when you need to stop and change task.

Reconnect with what matters most and disconnect from technology –

  • Limit use of social media, avoid the temptation to constantly check emails, switch off screens and get outside. Recognise that you choose to have power over technology and use it to your advantage not have it control you.

Reconnect with your support system –

  • recognise the dangers of emotional weariness – have a support system of friends to lean on, and don’t be afraid to let people in and share the load. Prioritise and plan in time with life affirming and life giving people. Re-establish actual physical contact, not merely electronic contact. Tell your friends you appreciate them, and be available to them when you are part of their support system.

Reconnect with the positive –

  • Recognise when you are spiralling into negativity – cynicism, criticism, self pity or self loathing. Pay attention to the emotions under the surface and do a little soul-work: let go, forgive, take or relinquish responsibility, stop taking yourself so seriously. Whatever is required. And choose to see the positive, to practice being thankful, to rest and refresh your mind and soul with activities that don’t numb you to what is going on.

Reconnect with a realistic degree of efficiency and organisation for you –

  • Take small chunks of time to get organised, be it at work or home, with clear goals as to why this is important and the difference it is going to make. Learn what works for you, and create systems that you are happy with and can maintain.

Dealing with burnout can only be addressed successfully once the roots are identified.

Sometimes, we can do well to stop, take stock of what we are doing, reassess what is most important to us, and recognise that we are neither indispensable nor required to be “on” all the time. You are a unique, precious and purpose-full individual, and life is here to be lived abundantly. We only get one shot at it.






Get organised, get energised!

Get organised

Get organised

Get organised. OK, so I have to admit, this is a subject close to my heart.  I LOVE organising things. Maybe it should be phrased thus: “Hi, my name is Catriona and I am an organiser.”

Those of you who know me, know this about me and may well have been on the receiving end. I apologise if my zeal for organising can be a tad overwhelming. MB (My Beloved as he is known here) suffers the most I fear. We had a dear friend staying recently who is very like me in temperament and character. Poor MB, he looked like he was trapped between a rock and a hard place, dealing with these twin organisational enthusiasts.

But as we tackle the complex and thorny subject of burnout, being more organised does make some sense. Some of the stress that we experience daily stems not from having too much work but from being too disorganised to handle that work effectively and efficiently. Even MB, who does not love organising things as I do, concurs that time taken to get organised and create systems that work results in the load feeling more manageable.

For me, efficiency is at the root of my love of organisation. My oft-repeated mantra of “if you are going to do something, do it properly” goes hand in hand with my loathing of time wasting and half completed tasks. And one of my biggest energy drainers?


There, I might as well vomit out all my deep-seated character traits and confess the lot. For me, systems that work efficiently and avoid time wasting and repetition allow my physical space to be clearer. Thus I am enabled to function better and have more focus on the task. More physical space and less clutter creates more head space and mental energy. This goes some way to internal serenity and peace, and makes it easier to switch off to work or admin or even housework.

So, how to get organised? The key, as ever, is to know yourself.

  • What is your baseline level of organisation and tidiness? This will vary hugely between individuals, and it is important to be realistic. Setting standards that are not achievable simply increases the likelihood of failure and will add to mental fatigue and reduce motivation and confidence.
  • What systems actually work for you? What do you find most appealing? What kind of environment will be most conducive to you maintaining order once it is created? This will depend on your style and character. I favour logic and structure whilst bothering less about aesthetics. MB and Elder daughter value aesthetics, colour, beauty over logic and therefore are more likely to stick with a system that is attractive and appealing visually. (MB as a teenager had all his vinyl ordered by album colour. Mine were in alphabetical order, of course. Shows you how different our brains are!). But it is important to recognise that creating order and systems is only the first step. The bigger challenge is finding achievable ways to maintain that level of organisation.
  • What is your overall goal of creating order? Having a goal increases motivation and ensures compliance with on-going organisation. For example, if organising a desk and filing system at work increases focus and productivity and saves time, there is likely to be more buy-in. At home, you understand that a less cluttered environment promotes serenity and soothes the mind and soul. And therefore the initial tidy up can be seen as more freeing, and the time required weekly to maintain that order feels less onerous.
  • Carve up the elephant. I say this all the time to clients. Take what seems like an insurmountable hurdle and break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. If you are a list person, writing them down is followed by the joy of ticking them off! Start small, with a time limit, and a suitable reward at the end.
  • Do something towards creating order, no matter how seemingly insignificant or trivial. You can only take a second and third step once you have taken that first onenothing will happen if you do nothing.

Now I fully understand that taking this sort of positive, proactive action requires energy, time and focus. And if you are heading towards burnout or struggling with stress and mental fatigue, these pointers may seem too much, too hard, too idealistic. So go back a little, and seek to gain a little rest, switch off, recharge, allow your soul to catch up. 

And once on the journey to being a little restored, get organised. It will add to your energy and confidence.

As I said at the beginning, I am good at organising. So if this is a step too far on your own, if clutter and chaos reign and are threatening to overwhelm, get in touch and we can get organised together. Simply contact me here.

Disconnect to reconnect: Is this possible?

Disconnect to reconnect

Disconnect to reconnect

If I say to you: “Why don’t you…”, your age and where you were brought up will probably dictate your answer. Those of you in my (undefined!!) age bracket who lived in the UK as kids will likely reply immediately….

…just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead!”

“Why don’t you…” was on television during the school holidays when I was a child. It’s aim was to encourage children to get outside and do something fun, creative, physical, bonkers – you name it, but anything other than sitting in front of a screen. Now that was 4 decades ago (OK, given it away there) but my, how much we need that advice today.

There is a growing voice on – ironically – social media, the radio, and in print that is talking about the need we modern livers have to disconnect from our 24 hour technology and release and restore our brains. I have spoken about this often, and am increasingly aware of the challenges and temptations to engage in all-things-screen as I watch my children grow up. Technology is not going to go away, and there are some great devices, gadgets, games, apps, out there that have transformed how we live.

But as I say to my children, we choose to control technology, not have it control us. We need to learn to disconnect to reconnect.

As we meander through the implications and challenges of living in a society where burnout is becoming increasingly common, this need to disconnect is crucial. I know of 20-somethings who recognise that they are addicted to their smart phones. I heard of a primary school age child who refused a school residential trip because he could not be away from his games consoles and phone. I know the impact on my brain in the deepest recesses of the night when I can’t sleep and can’t switch off and my head is in a vice and the electronic noise is crushing.

So – how do we learn to disconnect to reconnect?

  • who is in charge – you or your phone? What messages are you giving to those around you about how important they are versus who is texting or messaging you? Consider what is most important to you now – and what you are setting up for the future. Create boundaries around technology use when with family and friends.
  • it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to an original task after an interruption. So imagine at work, constantly having emails ping whilst you are trying to focus on some significant project or task. Research published in The New York Times in 2013 suggested that allowing ourselves to be constantly interrupted by texts or social media – trying to do two things at once – is actually robbing us of brain power. So switch off distractions. Focus on the task at hand, and then once completed, stop. Resist the temptation to revisit it endlessly and fret. Accept when you have done enough and let it go.
  • put time limits on use of social media
  • work out what the life-giving, refreshing alternatives for you are to constantly being plugged in. The more you know yourself, the more you can be in control of choices. A good book, a talk with a friend, exercise or a walk, a hot bath, listening to music, a social activity, craft or hobby. Whatever it is, what restores and refreshes your weary, over-connected brain and allows you to switch off? Unless you have a viable, attractive alternative lined up, it is all too easy in our brain-weary state to feel we have to be available constantly, push ourselves too hard, not let work go, trawl mindlessly through pages of internet.

So this week, I encourage us to look long and hard at when we are connected electronically, to what and – crucially – why.

And what are we disconnected from as a consequence.

What is most important to us? How can we disconnect to the technological world and reconnect to the actual world?





Plan in relaxation or planning to relax?

Plan in relaxation

Plan in relaxation

Do you sometimes hear yourself rationalising with your own self that you really are planning to relax as soon as this next event has passed or this project is finished, or such–and-such crisis is over? It is ludicrous, you argue with yourself, to plan in relaxation now, of course you are simply too busy and have no time for such self-indulgent frivolities. Honestly, who would have the audacity to suggest such a thing.

I remember a caption on a poster I had many years ago that read:

As soon as the rush is over, I am going to have a nervous breakdown. I worked for it, I owe it to myself, and no body is going to deprive me of it.”

Now, this was meant to be humorous (worries me now not a little why I had this poster, I guess I liked the picture) but it makes a valid point.

How often do we actually plan in relaxation, recognising that the day is never coming that will be less busy?

None of what I am saying here is new, and much of it I have discussed before. But I struggle to learn these lessons, and my guess is that you do too.

I promise myself the reward of some time to chill out and do something fun for me once I have ticked all these items off my to-do list. I assure myself that I will have more time to read or play the piano or run when the children have reached this stage. I bury the nagging and niggling dissatisfaction and growing fatigue and irritability with more busyness, lying to myself that I am really OK and I should just get on with it.

But I am slowly learning to listen to my own internal dialogue and give credence to the – often quieter – voice of my frazzled soul that is desperately trying to catch up.

Burnout can often lead to a loss of motivation for things that previously inspired and excited. A growing sense of dissatisfaction with the tasks in hand can stem from a build up of weariness and fatigue that can eventually become all-consuming. We lose sight of what got us into what we are doing to begin with, we lose our vision.

This leads on from our musings last week on the importance of taking regular breaks, even simply for a few minutes to breathe, change position and re-connect with the WHY of what we are doing. To ask the “So what?” question:

Why am I doing this in the first place?

That “So what?” question can then lead on to an important check for our soul – if I keep going at this pace without planning in some time to relax, what is going to happen to me? And extending that further, what therefore will the implications be on those I am working with and for, living with, caring for, investing in, simply being friends with?

You get my drift. Self care is not self indulgent or selfish if applied appropriately and wisely.

To plan in relaxation is to recognise in advance that you are a finite being with finite resources, and that a little judicious, regular investment in yourself will allow you to fulfil your many roles and purpose better.

MB (My Beloved as he is known here) has had a particularly demanding and stretching time at work, which will not abate soon. So on a recent public holiday, us four enjoyed a gloriously sunny cycle ride to The Kelpies. There were a stack of things that we could have done at home. But what was most required was some time away, exercise, a picnic, reconnecting with family, and the stimulation of seeing these spectacular beasts up close. Not a major expedition, but a few hours of restorative and rejuvenating relaxation.

So, how about you?

Take a few minutes to pay attention to what your body is telling you about how you are feeling, and how close you are to any or all of the symptoms of burnout. Then look at your diary for the next week or so, and plan in a little time to relax. Of course, the temptation can be that when we are almost beyond tired, this in itself can seem too hard and we self-anaesthetise with mind-numbing activities rather than restorative ones. This we will explore more next week.

But for now, as one learner to another, can we stop and pay attention to how we are, and plan in relaxation before it is too late?


What are the physical symptoms of burnout? Or, what is your body telling you?

Physical symptoms of burnoutWhat is your body telling you? Might seem like a slightly cheesy question, but one that warrants further exploration. A better question might be, what are the physical symptoms of burnout?

You remember you see that I spent more than two decades working as a physiotherapist (physical therapist to those readers across the pond) and I can’t switch it off…..I am acutely aware of the connection between body and mind, and how paying attention to what your physical body is telling you can be a useful key to unlock what is going on in the internal you.

Burnout manifests in many ways, not least in physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension and pain, altered posture, poor sleep, and fatigue.

Now the physio in me is going into overdrive here because much of this is to do with our sedentary, desk-and-computer-bound lives. There are some clear no-brainers that can go some way to provide relief to upper body aches and tension:

  • optimum desk and chair height
  • good, symmetrical sitting posture
  • regularly changing position
  • a telephone head set if hours are spent on the phone (sore shoulder anyone?)
  • regular exercise

But this is of course simply scratching the surface. The bigger question relates to the amount of time spent doing these activities because of pressure of work or other commitments, and the impact of stress.

Exhaustion is often a major physical symptom of burnout – stress from multiple and various sources of pressure can take a huge toll on your mind and body. Recognise any of these?

  • Waking up after a reasonable night’s sleep with no energy
  • Drinking copious amounts of caffeine to get through the day
  • Difficulty staying awake at work, especially the afternoon slump
  • Brain fog – the inability to find the right word, make a coherent decision, think clearly
  • Brain pressure – a feeling that your head is held in a vice, with tension behind the eyes, and perhaps blurry vision

Not a very inspiring list is it?

Now of course, any and all of those symptoms can be experienced for other reasons, and tiredness can be short term and linked to specific life events. But fatigue like this can be crippling and hard to break out of.

When your body is telling you that it is not functioning well as the tool that allows you to be you, it might be time to take action.

Some of this ties back to energy drainers – lying awake during the night, what is going round in your head? What drains your energy and what action can you take to limit, deal with or delegate those things?

Other aspects of addressing the physical symptoms of burnout include taking regular breaks, disconnecting and reconnecting, putting helpful structures into place, and avoiding negativity in thought and attitude. All of these will be explored in the next few weeks.

But as I reflect on Bill Withers encouragement from last week, that “we all need some body to lean on” – I want the body that I walk around in and inhabit to be in good condition, not just to facilitate all that I am seeking to be and do, but for those who might need to lean on it.

What is your body telling you? Are you aware of any of the physical symptoms of burnout? Where is there tension, aches, fatigue, and – importantly – when you start to pay attention to those symptoms, what emotions come to the surface?

What starts to fill your mind with worry or stress? What is at the root of that – work pressure, family commitments, overscheduling, financial worries?

Burnout can only be addressed successfully once the roots are identified. Sometimes, we can do well to stop, take stock of what we are doing, reassess what is most important to us, and recognise that we are neither indispensable nor required to be “on” all the time. We can learn to take ourselves and our need to be in control less seriously.

Sometimes, when the physical symptoms of burnout become too hard to ignore, we might need somebody to more than lean on – somebody to help us process what is going on, and empower us to address and deal with it. I can help….this is hard, and if this is you, get in touch for your free taster session and we can deal with this together.

Who do you lean on?

Who do you lean on?

Who do you lean on?

Who do you lean on in times of stress or crisis? When you are burnt out? Or even, for that matter, in normal day-to-day life?

Since jumping on the burnout bandwagon a couple of weeks back, I have done a bit of digging into what to do about it – all well and good to know you are heading towards burnout but without practical help, it is a slippery and troubling slope.

One of the symptoms of neurasthenia – Victorian burnout – is emotional weariness. For me, this encapsulates

  • a lack of emotional resilience with other people’s problems or needs
  • out-of-character and disproportional emotional outbursts
  • difficulty with work and personal relationships
  • irritability and unnecessary conflict with our nearest and dearest
  • withdrawing from or avoiding people altogether

This is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the focus is on relationships: the importance of having a support network to lean on.

One of my commonest emotions during our time living with My Beloved’s Black Dog was loneliness – few people knew what was going on, and therefore I had little support or opportunity to express how I was feeling and share the load. And this is of course even more true for MB, the one dominated by said Black Dog.

As I was musing on this post, I was humming to myself the Bill Withers song, Lean on Me. The words are so insightful and profound, especially

“no one can fill those of your needs that you don’t let show”.

Wow. I have in the past not let people in to how I was really feeling because of fear of what they would think, stubbornness, pride, lack of opportunity, fear of being misunderstood…..whilst simultaneously craving their support. Yet how could they provide that support for me to lean on if I didn’t let my needs show?

So: how good is your support system?

Who do you lean on, and how do you strengthen and invest in that support system?

Who leans on you?

Some very simple practical ideas for reconnecting with and strengthening your support system:

  • prioritise spending time with true friends, those who ask you how you are not just what you are doing, who accept you just as you are, and who love you even at your worst.  (I still remember having proper ‘flu as a student, being flat-bound on my own, and a friend turning up with emergency supplies – he took one look at me, told me how horrific I looked, gave me a big hug and made me tea. Love him for it.) It doesn’t have to be hours and hours, but identifying who these people are, and making time for them regularly is crucial to maintaining that support system you lean on.
  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, someone who makes you feel good
  • do something nice for someone else, unexpectedly and without any desired reciprocation
  • say thank you to people you normally don’t notice or that you take for granted
  • write an old fashioned letter.

As Bill Withers puts it so beautifully –

Sometimes in our life, we all have pain, we all have sorrow

But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

Please, swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow

For no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show

If there is a load you have to bear that you can’t carry

I’m right up the road, I’ll share your load if you just call me

Other ways to tackle burnout that we will take a look at over the coming weeks include

paying attention to your body

self care and how not to self anaesthetise

relaxation and re-envisioning

disconnecting and reconnecting

so stay tuned.

But for this week of Mental Health awareness and promoting relationships, who do you lean on? And who leans on you? How can you this week let them know how important they are as your support system?