Burnout, Self-Care and Resilience

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First, a thankyou to Ceedee in New Zealand for prompting me to write again. It’s been far too long and I love doing it.

Close-up picture of a daisy

A very personal post today. (The next few posts after this will be back to agile, leadership, and management – probably more the latter two given what I’m up to these days!)

For those of you that have followed me on Twitter in the past, you may have have noticed that for a while last year I wasn’t my usual self. During mental health awareness week I ended up hiding away on my own in a hotel just outside Montreal on business so things hit a bit of a peak.

The good news is that for the last few months I’ve been feeling like my “best self” again and it feels sustainable.

So here’s some of my story – a cautionary tale with some lessons and important reminders.

About a decade ago I had a heart attack. I was 33 years old and had already had an incredibly stressful life – both professionally and at home. On top of that, I was taking no exercise and had a terrible diet. I’d been ignoring chest pains thinking it was an ulcer for a few years and when the pain moved into my left arm as a dull ache I started to worry but thought “I’m far too young, it must just be an ulcer.”

It reached a peak one lunchtime and within an hour I was on the operating table having a blood clot removed.

The good news (for me) is that I survived and recovered but it was a serious warning that life is far too short and precious to let it pass you by. I was also warned that the mental side effects from a life event like this are not to be ignored.

I’ve since learned to make decisions that are right for me, resolve past regrets where possible, recognise how lucky I am, and that I (and nobody else) am responsible for my situation, my wellbeing, and my impact on those around me.

I’ve also learned when to step back and recharge. Resilience is not about fortitude, it’s about your ability to recover and to make sure you have the time and space to do so.

For those friends that know me well, you already know I’m very open with my feelings (ok I’m a bit of an over-sharer) but I normally put a brave face on things for business and out in public. Only those closest to me see the bigger picture.

I wanted to take some time to encourage all of you to step back and be aware of and supportive of the mental health of your colleagues and friends.

In general people are starting to be much more open in sharing their feelings and issues than they were when I started my career. I believe this is a really healthy shift in working culture but bear in mind that even so, everyone is battling something – every day.

These battles aren’t new and many people fight on and show no outward signs of their struggles. Social media has exacerbated this to some extent. Many people only share the highlights – the best bits – of their lives.

Don’t compare your happiness, success, or well-being to what you see in others. It won’t help you.

I would remind all of you – as peers, friends, leaders, and managers to spend time every now and again to ask those around you (and yourselves) the simple question “Are you ok?” – give enough time for an answer to develop and be available to support or guide those that aren’t.

Before you worry, yes, I’m doing well. I have close friends and colleagues around me. I’ve learned when I need to take time out for myself, I’ve rebuilt long lost friendships, and I’ve (re)discovered that in order to be happy in my professional life I need strong social connections in an environment that doesn’t tolerate poor behaviour or hidden agendas (regardless of role)

That’s my needs (and lessons) for the day – what are yours?

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