In May 2014, on the verge of burnout, I decided to quit my job as a book editor in search of a healthier, more fulfilling venture. This did not happen suddenly. Four months earlier I was at a Simon’s Town beach, drifting on the clear, still water while I watched the clouds roll by. I felt at peace and alive. When last had I felt this way?
That was not the first time I had had this thought. In small ways my body and my emotions and thoughts had been trying to tell me that something was seriously wrong. I felt disconnected. When I wasn’t working, I was sleeping. I felt more and more unbalanced with no time for things that truly matter like valuable relationships or having fun. I was permanently anxious about all the balls I was trying to keep in the air. I had health issues and was really struggling to sleep at night.
You might be able to relate to this situation. While burnout is typically associated with health care professionals like nurses and doctors, it seems that it has become increasingly prevalent in stressful, creative working environments with tight deadlines like newsrooms and publishing houses.
Recently I read an interview with Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief and president of the Huffington Post Media Group. (“Success without burnout”, Nina Zipkin, Entrepeneur, December 2014.) In April 2007 she found herself lying on the carpet of her office after hitting her head against her desk from total exhaustion. Subsequent visits to doctors enabled her to do some introspection. She came to the following realisation: “. . . your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself.”
Since then she has developed a daily routine to keep herself healthy, and made pursuing a fulfilling, healthy life a priority.
However, it is the nurturing and care of the self that caught my attention in Arianna’s story. It seems that in today’s work environment where “stress, sleep deprivation and burnout” (Zipkin) are the natural order of the day, priority number one is the job at hand. Anything not directly related to it takes a back seat. But how much are we willing to sacrifice to get ahead in our jobs? Do we not also start making healthy choices and taking responsibility only when it is too late, when we are diagnosed with depression or cancer? Instead we could have started listening to the warning signs earlier. Fortunately, we, you and I, can start today . . .
- Make a balanced work life a goal this year and take small steps to achieve it.
- Even if only for half an hour once a day, take time to be completely still.
- Commit to your silent or still time as to a meeting scheduled in your diary.
- Focus on being present in your body to listen to what it has to say.
- Start doing some introspection BEFORE you end up in the doctor’s room.
- Get yourself a journal or small notebook that you carry with you. Write down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling is an amazing way of having an honest chat with yourself and for gaining new insights.
(Main image credit: Taken by Vilien)