Burnout: how I got it and how I dealt with it
Most people don’t know that I have suffered from burnout. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I don’t tend to share when things are going badly. I hole up, I lick my wounds, I work through it all in my head, confiding in one or two people close to me, and then I may, or may not, share about it once I’ve come out the other end.
My burnout is one of those cases.
At one point while we were living in London I set myself a whole load of professional goals that I wanted to achieve that year. I was working as a childminder but I knew it was a temporary role while Clémence was little, and so I gave myself some specific career and professional objectives.
It all started out well. I scheduled in activities every day to move towards my goals.
I’d set my alarm for 6am, get up and crack on straight away with my day’s tasks. But 6am in January in London is an unforgiving place to be. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s miserable. So I would already start my day feeling a bit down and a bit negative.
My day would pass by in a whirlwind of “doing”. I was either working as a childminder to 4 children (including 2 babies/toddlers) or I was on my computer, working towards my goals. I was non-stop.
I had no downtime. I had no me time. No time to decompress. No time to breathe. No time to just be.
And as you can imagine, not only did I suffer, but so did Ben and so did the girls.
When you are pushing yourself to the limits like this, something has to give. And whilst you’re holding it all together in public, and at work, it usually means you’re having meltdowns with your family at home.
I could be totally calm with the children all day when I was looking after them, but at soon as it was just us at home my kids had a shouty mummy, who couldn’t communicate in anything less than a bark.
My husband had a nagging, snappy wife who nothing was good enough for.
It created a nasty atmosphere for everyone at home and everyone suffered.
Then one day I just realised I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t keep pretending to be superwoman. I couldn’t keep juggling. Something had to give and I didn’t want it to be my health, my marriage or the well-being of my kids.
So I stopped. Everything that was non-essential.
At first I had to give everything up outside of my paid job. I needed a break. I felt like I’d been underwater and now I had come up, and I was gasping for air.
I carried on doing the bare minimum and ignoring my tough objectives. I decided that I needed to rethink my goals, as nothing was worth losing myself or my family over.
Dealing with my burnout n°1: Digital Detox
Whilst social media and emails can make you so happy – good news from friends, cute photos from family members, it can also bring you horribly low – a snide comment or a passive aggressive update can ruin your day if you’re already feeling fragile.
I first went on a digital detox a few years ago on a family holiday, and it felt incredible. Since then I’ve used it when I’ve needed a break or time-out many times, and it really does work.
Dealing with my burnout n°2: Send your schedule on a diet
I use Google calendar and all I could see when I looked at it was blocks of colour with activity after activity booked in. One of the first things I did was delete tasks. I started by removing the least important ones.
Instead of spending time communicating in the blogging world on social media I took time out for me and practised some self-care.
Dealing with my burnout n°3: Learn to prioritise
I realised that if I wanted to get things done, but also wanted to stay sane and happily married then I needed to learn to prioritise.
Social media, whilst being hugely important for promoting my book and blogs, was taking up too much of my time and adding too much stress. I made the decision to cut right back on it.
And yes, it means things have suffered. Anyone who blogs knows that social media presence and promotion go hand-in-hand with blogging. But I couldn’t carry on that way anymore.
I missed the banter that I had with my online and real life friends. I missed reading the blogs that I used to follow religiously. But I could breathe again. I wasn’t gasping for air anymore.
Ben and I stopped the food blog that we had started. We loved working on Franglaise Cooking together, but it was just no longer feasible for either of us. We both miss it and maybe one day we’ll come back to it, but for now and for a while it’s on the back burner (no pun intended!).
I told myself I didn’t HAVE to blog here if I didn’t want to. I didn’t want Franglaise Mummy to become a chore, something to resent doing. So I gave myself permission to not blog if I didn’t feel like it. And I took a break.
I lost traffic. I lost regular readers. But I kept my health. I kept my sanity. I kept my marriage and my family intact. And I know which I’d rather have.
Dealing with my burnout n°4: Let go of the Perfect Mummy
There is so much pressure on us in society to be the Perfect Mummy. (Note there is very little pressure to be the Perfect Daddy, but that’s another subject for another day.) Your child should be perfectly turned out at all times, you should only make perfect homemade cakes for school bake sales, school projects should be borderline professional works of art. And so on and so forth.
So I started to tell myself I didn’t have to be perfect. What if by not being perfect I became happier and a better mum to my kids?
I started sending Léna to school in un-ironed clothes, because it was more important for me to chat to her and cuddle her than it was for me to spend time ironing her outfits.
For school bake sales I sent in bought cakes and biscuits. I don’t like baking. It added to my stress levels, so I decided to take the easy way out, and spent that time having fun with my kids instead.
If there was a way to save time I made it my priority to find it. And I stopped caring what other people thought about my parenting. There are 3 people whose opinions matter to me when it comes to my parenting skills: My husband and my two daughters. As far as I was concerned everyone else could go screw themselves!
To this day my kids still go to school with messy hair, dirty clothes, unpolished shoes and worse. But you know what? They go with a smile on their faces.
Dealing with my burnout n°5: Learn self-care and practise it
When I hit this period of burnout I practised zero self-care. I had this kind of martyr mentality of “I have too much to do! I have to do everything! I shouldn’t have time for myself, I’m a mum!” as if I had something to prove. As a mum I felt like I should be doing everything and not complaining.
So I quickly put an end to that.
I worked hard. As a mum and in my professional life. I deserved time-out. I deserved time for me. I was allowed to practise self-care.
I started with taking time to read in the evening. I’m a HUGE book worm and reading is one of my most basic and biggest pleasures.
Then I gave myself permission to take a lunch break. I remember the first lunch break I took, I ate in front of the TV and watched an episode of Modern Family. Those 20 minutes felt like a holiday! It was crazy. That was how much I’d been ignoring looking after myself.
I started to increase my self-care. A long soak in the bath with a good book turned into meeting a friend for a drink, which became a shopping trip all by myself, and so on.
Now I have got into the habit of practising self-care I am able to say no.
I am able to ignore piles of washing-up and mess if I’ve decided that I’m taking some time out for me.
To this day I practise self-care in a small way every day and for a longer period at least every fortnight. Just recently I took myself off to the spare bedroom with my laptop and my Kindle for the day, and I alternated between binge-watching Season 11 of Grey’s Anatomy and reading a book on my Kindle.
I knew that Ben could handle the girls so I ignored my to do list and just thought about me and what I wanted.
It’s truly liberating.
Dealing with my burnout n°6: Making changes
When I hit a new low for me I took a step back and analysed what was working for me and what wasn’t. I made decisions about what to stop doing and about what new direction to move forwards in. Sometimes those decisions were ones I took in the middle of the night: the idea for my blog for French-speakers wanting to learn English, Fun and English, came about at about 3am one night, and I’m so glad it did as I have already helped so many people with it and I am about to launch my first online English language training course 🙂 Which just goes to show that middle of the night thoughts and decisions can be good ones!
Don’t be afraid of making changes, we often stick to what we know as it feels safe, and fear of the unknown can be crippling, but the new and the unknown can be the most exciting and exhilarating experience if we’d just let ourselves go for it. (If this sounds like something you’d like to explore further, do grab my free video guide to decision-making and facing your fears.)
I got my burnout under control by making changes and now I work hard to not slip back into that trap again. If you send me an email or a message on social media and I take a while to reply it’s because I’m putting me first, and making sure I don’t crash and burn again. I hope you’ll forgive me!
If you are feeling stressed or anxious then hypnotherapy may also help you. I have used it in the past, although not for this particular burnout, and found it helps lots. If you would like to look into this further then I can recommend Master your Mind with Tim, either in London or via Skype.*
Have you experienced burnout before? What did you do to counteract it? Do you have any other tips or techniques that you find work? I’d love to hear your experiences below. Don’t hesitate to comment anonymously if need be.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. Remember sharing is caring so do click on the social media buttons and let others know about this blog post if you think it might help or interest them.
* Disclosure – Tim is my brother, but he really knows what he’s doing and talking about when it comes to stress and anxiety, having left a full-on job at an international investment bank in the City of London to retrain as a Cognitive-Behavioural Hypnotherapist.