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

Tag Archives: Burnout

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 Mr 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.

Words of wisdom for summer from Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss remains a deep well of inspiration to mine for wisdom and challenge. Try some of these on for size –

If you never did you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.”

If I asked you the question, what do you do for fun, how would you respond? I have observed a curious response to this question from a number of people – that I am asking them a question in a language they simply do not understand. I might as well ask the question in Swahili for all that it can be computed and processed.

Just having funFun? But my life is so busy, so full of duty, responsibility, doing the right thing, there is no room for fun. Duty, responsibility, service – all are very important. However, the absence of life-affirming, joy-restoring, just-for-the-sake-of-it fun can cause us to slowly frizzle up. Slipping and sliding down the path of weariness, stress, mental fatigue towards burnout. To lose touch with the inner child, with part of who we are at our core, with what it is just to engage in a bit of nonsense. Or to do something simply for us – to prioritise ourselves for a brief spell.

Fun is an important aspect of our lives. It is good for mental renewal, for spiritual and emotional recharging, for expanding our creative free thinking and inspiration. And to keep us, and our outlook on life young.

If you had a clear diary, and nothing hindering you, what would you do for fun?

How could you incorporate just a little bit of that into the every-day? But it’s complicated I hear you say….again, to quote Dr Seuss –

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

How often is the answer simply a matter of prioritising our time differently? Busy people often say, well it’s not that simple – but actually, what that belies are many excuses for why making a simple decision is difficult.

We might have to face some inner demons, we might have to let some people down, which is never easy. We might have to acknowledge what needs are being met in being super busy – our need to be useful, needed, responsible – and without that, who does that make us?

How often do we choose to not face up to the simple answer because it demands too much of us?

This is linked to the idea of having fun. Fun is important, and takes a little time and shifting of priorities. This can be as simple as we choose to make it. I would be sorely grieved indeed to get to my funeral, and have people say of me, as perhaps Dr Seuss might –

she was responsible, organised, could get all things done,

but she didn’t seem ever to have time just to for fun.

Neglected values – at what cost?

Neglected valuesWhen have there been times of stress in your life due to your values being neglected or ignored? Contradicted or not honoured? In conflict with someone else’s?

Neglected values is a huge subject, and touches on that tricky area of self care. Because doing things for ourselves, prioritising ourselves over others, viewing our own needs as important – well, that’s selfish isn’t it? Self indulgent perhaps, too inward looking.

We’d feel too guilty, and anyway, who has the time?

Ah, and there I would beg to differ.

When we neglect the things that matter to us most, the impact is a lack of fulfilment, dissatisfaction and no peace.

It has taken me many years, and some internal soul searching and digging around, but I know with clarity and confidence what I most need in a week. And it all comes from my values.

I need outside time with fresh air, the natural world, space. I need music, especially the piano, and to create something, from a cake to a new coaching tool. I need some level of organisation and efficiency, in my work and in my environment. I need at least one good soul-connecting conversation with a life-affirming friend. And with those closest to me, to know that there has been some connection beyond the superficial, functional normal-life type – a deeper connection where both parties feel heard and are really seen.

This is me, you will be quite different. Now, just because I know this, does not mean that I implement it. That is an entirely different challenge.

But with knowledge comes power, and choice.

The impact of not living according to my values has caused my soul to become weary, wizened, dried out. I have spoken here of the impact of this, and the importance of soul rest. But this extends further. This isn’t simply about re-fuelling once we have become spent and exhausted.

This is about proactively choosing to invest in ourselves to prevent us burning out in the first place. When we know what matters to us most – our values – we can make better choices about how we use our time.

It also becomes easier to create good and grace-filled boundaries – when we know clearly what it is we are trying to protect. What do we need, what is most important to us, what is OK and what is not OK. Clarity on those topics – each of them huge – comes only when we are clear on our values.

Think about times of stress in your own life, and take a bravery pill and root under the surface. What led up to that time of stress?

  • Perhaps there been compromise of your values for someone else’s – you have heeded what matters most to the other at the expense of yourself.
  • Or short term gain at the cost of long term fulfilment or peace?
  • Perhaps you find yourself in a situation where you are rubbing up against someone else’s very contradictory values. Neither of you are wrong, but how do you unravel what is going on, and make a choice that respects what you both value? Consider the outworking of you valuing stability when someone close to you values risk taking. Or financial security versus generosity. The key is understanding what is going on.

Neglected values can only lead to discontent, discouragement, stress and unhappiness. Not a pretty picture, and not worth it. What is most important to you, where have you been neglecting that, and what first step towards change can you make this week?

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?

Clutter.

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?

 

 

 

 

Negativity and numbing – Burnout’s nasty twins

Resist negativity

Negativity: nasty, destructive, insidious and a side effect of feeling burned out. The exhaustion, weariness of soul, irritability, emotional emptiness, and physical symptoms that can accompany burnout have a detrimental effect on our motivation levels and self control. Stress negatively affects our decision making, our confidence can take a battering, and the effort required to pick ourselves up by the boot straps can be too much.

Thus we succumb to temptation more easily, and our self care and mental well being suffer further. It seems easier to self-anaesthetise with activities that numb us to how we are really feeling – why look at the cause when it is easier, quicker and more instantly-gratifying to eat or drink excessively/trawl Facebook/criticise others/watch trashy TV….pick your vice of choice.

Now, food, alcohol, social media and TV are not wrong in and of themselves. But as anaesthetics that keep us from proper rest and restoration and numb us to what is really going on, they can feel good momentarily but are not so in the long term.

I am usually a very positive, optimistic person, with a let’s-see-how-we-can-fix-this approach to life. But I know that when I am excessively stressed, not sleeping, and not caring appropriately for my body and soul I can become very negative.

If you find yourself focusing on the down side of situations, judging others and feeling cynical, with a doom-and-gloom laden heart, negativity has taken hold and action is required.

Don’t get drawn into negativity in conversation with others. Narky, sarcastic, negative, derogatory, gossipy conversation can on the surface seem attractive because of the power we can feel over others, and our desire to be included in the in-group. But this is destructive and life-sapping, leaving us feeling lesser than we are, and losing respect of others and ourselves. As a child, when I complained to my wise old grandfather that someone had been mean and horrible to or about me, he would pull on his goatee beard, nod his head sagely and inform me that

You can always learn how not to treat other people.”

Rarely, was this what I wanted to hear. My injured young heart, in receipt of negativity and nastiness from others, wanted justice for my accusers, and really wanted him to be outraged on my behalf and soothe my soul with sympathy. But now his words return to my mind often, and can serve as a useful check when I am tempted in my weariness to be negative and critical simply because it is easier and makes me feel better, albeit temporarily.

Because that is the point – negativity ultimately leaves us feeling drained, hopeless and helpless, and can seed destructive thoughts that then take root.

Negative thought patterns – criticism, anger, resentment, bitterness, frustration. Pay attention to when they are taking hold, stop and ask yourself –

  • What is at the root cause?
  • Who do you need to forgive, including yourself?
  • Where are your expectations unrealistic?
  • Do you have a misplaced sense of entitlement?
  • Where instead can you look for the positive in your daily experiences, show appreciation, practise being thankful?
  • What steps can you take to bring some rest and renewed perspective?

Let things go and let yourself off the hook, but always be willing to learn from the situation.

Stop overthinking everything – accept what you can do, and learn to let go of what you can’t.

Take responsibility for that which is yours, but don’t carry or shoulder responsibility for the behaviour or attitudes of others.

Get out of your head, and look at what is working and what you do have power to change.

Recognise where you are needing to stop, plan in some relaxation, rest, and switch off – next week’s morsels.

Choose to stand up to negativity and pay attention to the temptation towards numbing behaviour before it consumes you.

 

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?

 

Breaking up is so very hard to do….

Taking regular breaks

Taking regular breaks

Breaking up is so very hard to do. Or so goes the song. Not a very up-beat, life-affirming place to start, especially when we are on the bleak subject of burnout anyway. And since the words of The Walker Brothers song are cheesier than the cheesy vapours emanating from Ian Mellis’ cheese shop, let’s keep the cheesy theme – because of course we are talking here about breaking up your daily routine as a way of addressing some of the risks of burnout. Taking regular breaks, if you will. I knew you’d like that.

Ok, perhaps a more sombre tone is required. Last week we started exploring the importance of paying attention to our bodies, and what they were telling us. Taking regular breaks throughout the day is a natural extension of this, and relates in part to the nature of the much more sedentary, desk-and-computer-bound lives that many of us inhabit.

Burnout can in part result from a misalignment of input and output – you are giving more out than you are taking in. This could be for any number of reasons, including lack of energising, life-giving activities, no time for relaxation, a constant state of electronic availability, energy drainers including chaos and disorganisation, all of which we will dip our toes into in the next few weeks.

But the simple act of taking regular breaks, if only for a few minutes, throughout the work day allows us to stop, reconnect with what we were doing in the first place, and top up our batteries.

Our much needed and relied on electronic devices do not survive for more than a few hours without being plugged into a source of power, so why should the astonishingly complex, multifaceted, highly sophisticated computers that are our brains be any different? Without even considering the impact on the physical vessels of our bodies that house our brains, emotions, and responses.

The key here is to know yourself, and your own rhythms.

  • Are you more of a morning or evening person?
  • When are you at your sharpest and most mentally alert, and what tasks can you prioritise for those sections of the day?
  • Equally, when is your least productive time during the day, and what tasks would more usefully be suited to those times?
  • How long can you work for at full focus before your concentration starts to lapse?
  • For shift workers, this is a whole new challenge, as your biorhythms can be sorely messed with in switching between day and night shift, but probably applies even more.
  • What constitutes a break for you – what short activity would use your mind and body in a completely different way, perhaps allowing dormant, underused muscle groups a chance to wake up a little and engage the opposite side of your brain?
  • What does it mean for you to work smart – to maximise your working patterns to your own rhythms, varying the levels of intensity accordingly with regular position and task changes to allow your body and mind time to recharge. This is not always practical or realistic depending on your work environment and constraints. But the simple act of stopping, changing position, taking a few deep breaths and consciously bringing yourself back to the present can help to ground you in who and where you are.

Taking regular breaks is also important to allow ourselves to ask one of my favourite questions –

So what?

To step back from the task in hand, if only for a few minutes, and remind yourself of the goal and desired outcome

I am doing this, and so what?

What am I hoping to achieve and why?

What is most important here?

What difference is this making, and am I still on track with the original objectives?

So, make it easy on yourself…..(you knew that was coming)….by taking regular breaks throughout your day. Pay attention to your body. Recharge your mind for a few minutes. Reconnect with what you are seeking to do, and why. Your body will thank you for it.

 

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