Bubble baths and burnout
Did you know that January 8th is National Bubble Bath Day? Now, I am one of the world’s biggest bubble bath lovers, and I’ve only just found out that this is a thing. I also only just found out the reason for a bubble bath (apparently) is not about fun bubbles and nice scents - it’s because the bubbles keep the water warmer for longer. Who knew? Seriously, who knew? Because I sure didn’t. Here I am, 40 years of age and just finding this out, and I think that’s pretty cool. I love learning new things, from this relatively trivial fact to great facts that could win a pub quiz (lol, who am I kidding? Sport lets me down every time!), to revelations about myself that completely alter the way I see things, how I interact with people and how I behave.
I used to be a Royal Air Force Officer, and although I took a massive amount of pride in my work and position, I would have been hard pushed to say that I loved every job I did in my 17 years in the RAF. Some were challenging and interesting; some were absolutely amazing and I loved every second, and some were a daily grind that broke my self-confidence and led to burnout.
I don’t regret that because burning out (defined by the World Health Organisation as a state of vital exhaustion) taught me a lot about myself. It taught me to be much more self-aware. When I reflected on my downward trajectory, it was obvious I wasn’t heading anywhere good, but I didn’t see it at the time. It taught me to be brave and make a stand and to not just say yes. I still find this hard, as people pleasing is a big thing for me, and I’m highly conscientious - exactly the sort of person that is more susceptible to burn out. Knowing that now, I see more of the warning signs if I’m heading that way. Burn out also taught me the value of real friends and how good it felt to have people I could genuinely off-load to without worrying about the consequences.
Most of all, burn out taught me to value the time I spend in work more, to assess how to use my strengths in a much better way, and not to be afraid to voice an opinion that my skills would be used in a better role or manner. I began to grow my self-confidence in a way that felt truer and more deep-rooted than before. I became more selfish and protective of my time away from work, and when I started a family, my ability to balance work and home life was far better than I had dared to hope. When I decided on a career change, I knew I had to do something that I was passionate about, so if I did ever go back to working all the hours in the week (I haven’t!) then it would be about something I found truly engaging, satisfying and meaningful. That's why I am now a coach.
Having experienced burn out, I caution others that work in high-pressure environments about the risks of it. Key symptoms to watch out for include:
- Inability to switch off, including difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep.
- Low energy that isn’t explained by other factors.
- Difficulties with concentration and motivation.
- Irritability (not necessarily confined to your workplace. In my experience, more clients with burnout take irritability home with them than don’t).
- Lack of satisfaction.
- High levels of cynicism and disillusionment.
- Increase in food, drugs or alcohol use.
- Unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems or just being unable to get to work due to feeling ‘off’.
(Some of these symptoms can overlap with mental health issues such as depression so if you’re spotting these symptoms, talking to a doctor would always be a good step).
Tips to reduce your susceptibility to burnout
- Reflect honestly on your job satisfaction and how work is making you feel.
- Review your job and see if you are doing excessive hours and/or responsibilities vs what your contract says. If so, discuss this with your line management. Some may be oblivious, others just don't see a problem if you carry on performing over and above what you can reasonably sustain for a long period right up until you can’t do it anymore.
- See where you can increase control of your job.
- Find social support. Friends, colleagues or family can help you feel supported and less isolated.
- Make a bigger effort to switch off. Schedule more things in your downtime. This may seem counter-intuitive but if your plan for the evening is sitting in front of the TV, you’re more likely to look at those work emails and do work. If you’re meeting a friend or at a gym class, you won’t be working. Make a commitment to your family about when you will turn your phone and your computer off.
- Prioritise your sleep. Without adequate sleep, you’ll struggle to continue at this level and have no additional resilience if something unexpected happens.
Burnout is something that many people experience and recover from, but you’d probably prefer it if you could spot it early enough to tackle it. Take some time to reflect on how your colleagues or loved ones are handling their job. Burnout is often easier to spot in others than yourself. Take some time to really be aware of how you feel about your job. Without awareness, you won't spot it until you're too far down the path.
And if you are feeling that you are prone to exhaustive stress, you now have the perfect excuse to go and have a lovely long bubble bath.
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