THE BLOG

Burnout is One Hell of a Lesson in Stress Management

04/09/2015 11:15 BST | Updated 03/09/2016 10:59 BST

This week here in the UK the media has been hot with news that a recent survey that found that 12 million women felt they were on the verge of burnout. That's almost 40% of the female UK population. A pretty shocking statistic don't you think? Perhaps you've never heard of burnout before?

Burnout is something I am very familiar with. I suffered from burnout about five years ago. It spelt the end of a very successful corporate career but the start of a healthy and successful life.

Just Normal Life...Right?

Let me explain.

I spent the majority of my career in HR and rose through the ranks pretty quickly. I was single and had chosen to remain childless so my career was a HUGE part of my life and my identity. I loved my work, I found it interesting, challenging, stimulating. As I rose the ranks the hours increased inline with the salary and I found myself working pretty long hours...often not so much the hours at the office but the "bits" you take home. I hated to say No, it felt like I was actually saying "I cant do that" of course I would never willing utter those words.

Part of the problem of the quick rise was that I was always pushing forward, always striving for the next project, promotion, and achievement. Life, as it tends to do, threw me some curve balls, the break up of relationship, a house move, acute appendicitis, even a burglary but I kept battling forward. That's just what I did. I didn't know any other way. I coped.

Burn Out

Then one day I burnt out!

Picture the scene, I was in a meeting at work. It was pretty heated but nothing out of the ordinary. We broke for coffee and when I went to stand up my legs didn't work. As crazy as that sounds...the message wasn't getting through from my brain. What was getting through was an overwhelming need to lie down and cry. I cried all the way through the coffee break, I cried as I was sent home in a taxi, I cried on the way to the GP that night and I was still crying the next day when I went for assessment at a private psychiatric hospital. I stayed for three months.

In the old days that would have been called a breakdown, something to be spoken about in hushed tones, brushed under the carpet. But luckily today we are becoming wiser about the ways of the body and mind and it was discovered that I was suffering from Adrenal Fatigue.

Your adrenals play a major role in your day to day life, giving you get up and go, they make you feel excitement, sexual arousal as well as provide the fight, flight freeze reaction. Trust me your adrenals are busy. Mine certainly were!!

Every time you experience a shock, not matter how large or small your adrenals fire out adrenaline to help you to deal with or escape from the situation you find yourself in. The problem is that this biological system was not expecting the 21st century. Emails from the boss, bank statements, missed buses, calls from the mother in law. Every time your adrenals get busy. When you are experiencing high volumes of stress or spreading yourself too thin your adrenals cant cope. Like me you might find yourself a joyless, crying mess.

Now here's the real kicker... at university studying for my HR degree my dissertation was ..wait for it..."The Physical Manifestations of Stress in the Workplace". I was something of an expert on stress.

But, I was too busy to pay attention to all the subtle little signs my body was sending to let me know that I was not coping.

My Subtle Signs of Burnout.

• Recurring dandruff

• Recurring thrush infections

• Recurring colds

• Achy joints

• Poor sleep

• High anxiety levels

• Increased weight around the middle

• Increased alcohol consumption

• IBS symptoms

• Fatigue in the day

• Listlessness when not at work

• Removed myself from friends and family

• Craving sugar, carbs and junk food like my life depended on it

Once I was discharged I made it my mission to discover everything I could about what had happened to me. I read everything I could get my hands on, spoke to many experts, attended training sessions and courses. But the biggest and most important action I took was to leave the corporate world. That love affair was over. That is sort of when serendipity stepped in, in the form of Julie Brealy and what was to become The Body Retreat.

Today, many years on and I am passionate about helping other women to recognise the subtle signs of burnout that they might be too busy to spot. Because the good news is that you can do so much to support your body and mind to better cope with the stresses that life throws at you.

Right now, just think back over the last month. Do you recognise any subtle signs that all might not be well with you? Don't brush them under the carpet. Believe me, they don't go away on their own. Speak to your GP, therapist or stress expert and find out how you can reset your stress mechanisms.

Ironically burnout was probably the best thing that ever happened to me but it's a hell of a way to learn a lesson.