The new normal – I was surprised to realise we were already in it.
I was speaking with one of my closest friends, Kirsteen over the weekend. We’d made a plan to catch up on Saturday at 2pm because we live in different parts of the country, it’s a pandemic and we are not only friends but peers and colleagues too.
As 2pm drew closer I sent her a text asking if she was still up for our call, wonderfully she was. My hair still wet. I had no makeup on. Worse, I a kind of hollow look because I’d been poorly the week before. I really couldn’t face watching my own face for what might be a lengthy chat and I realised.
“Are we Zooming or shall we go ‘old school’ and just phone?”
The new normal
We went on to chat on the phone for two whole hours and it was in this chat we realised something. We have already accepted the new normal.
Zoom calls have long been a part of my business life and they work brilliantly. Face to face is a great thing as it builds trust and understanding (it’s why video content works so well!).
Zoom client calls. Zoom trainings. Webinars. The list is endless.
I read an article by Sue Perez called ‘Feeling a bit Zoomed out?’ and she articulated so well how we all pivoted and how virtual video calls had become the norm.
But Kirsteen and I realised as we were talking that we no longer prefaced Zoom with an explanation but in fact did so to other forms of communication. Like the ‘old school’ call.
It dawned on me then that our language has changed and incorporated this new way of life and in doing so we see that we have now accepted that change.
What was no longer is
More surprisingly to me (long time loather of phone calls) was that I no longer associated phone calls with work as I had in corporate and as such they have regained some of their pleasure. Zoom unfortunately has become my ‘I really don’t want to do/use it when I’m not actively working’ tool.
I realised that I had turned down or cancelled many a personal zoom call over the last few months and with hindsight it’s because I felt it blurred the line between downtime and worktime. Have we then accepted that this new normal has in fact well and truly been accepted?
It’s the pleasure principle. When I’m chatting to my friends for pleasure if I’m on video call I feel tethered to my work desk. But, as I have learned to love the phone again I have found myself having lingering chats full of depth.
I potter while talking and it is blissful. They get my attention and I get to make a brew whilst hearing about their families. I lay with my head on my partners lap as he pokes the tip of my nose whilst we talk about what we miss most in lockdown.
It’s intimate again and I for one appreciate that I don’t have to do my hair. Or worry about whether there’s something in my teeth. I’ve even been known to pee whilst on the phone to a close friend. Kirsteen you lucky thing!
Somehow, the new normal has made the written word more valuable to me too. Writing letters, emailing news and with that re-acquired joy in simple communication I think I’ve found a new normal happy place.
Want to chat about making the most of our new normal? Get in touch.
As I write this it’s October 2020. We are in the last quarter of what we might consider the weirdest year in our modern history and I’m 38 years old, my son is going to be 16 next month and I feel like the next 21 months until I turn 40 is my mind and body hitting a major milestone.
Lockdown during the pandemic eased it somewhat (yes I was one of those rare unicorns that thrived mentally and financially during lockdown) but the anxiety is there. The snowball of time goes faster than my feet can carry me at times and often I think these ‘milestone’ moments appear to highlight that.
As we approach milestones like this I think it’s a great time to pause and reflect.
In order to figure out where it is you really want to be in work and life you need to understand where you are and start working from that place. I have really had to pay attention to my core beliefs and belief systems in terms of each area of my life. I recall an article about limiting beliefs by psychotherapist Amy Morin (read it here) and it was something I thought a lot about as I began to shine the light on myself.
It can be a bit daunting, illuminating these secretive, shy and shadowy parts of your business and self in this way but, with turning 40 looming what better time? It’s definitely helped me realise a few things.
What I learned from what I wanted to let go
Here is what my reflection of my last few years of myself and my work has highlighted.
Health (mental and physical) is the truest commodity out there – let go of what other people think is right and focus on what’s right for me
Who I am is evolving and it’s time to unbury myself – I like myself, quirks and all, I want to let go of other peoples opinions meaning more than my own and stop hiding behind the ‘acceptable’ bits of me
I have been afraid that being successful in the way I chose would mean that people I love would stop loving me for me – It’s time to let go and be my kind of successful in life and love and business. Regardless of what other people choose to feel about it
My ‘why’ is clearer than ever and I have found a purpose other than just being – I want to let go of perfection, of being all figured out and of missing out on something I enjoy. It’s about having a path
Being myself and caring for who I am is the highest form of self care – I literally cannot survive without me. It’s time to let go of everyone being more important – there is no hierarchy, I am not responsible for everyone else but I am the only one responsible for me.
I don’t want to carry the weight of what hasn’t served me or my business into the future and definitely not into my 40’s – Let go. Let go of bad vibes, painful memories and lessons learned, let go of mistakes, of unfulfilled dreams. It’s time to appreciate them all for what they were but remember that they have passed and I cannot wind back the clock. That weight is no longer a burden I choose to carry.
Health (mental and physical) is the truest commodity out there
Boy oh boy has the last 6 years played havoc with my physical and mental wellbeing. My body struggles. I have PCOS as well as an abdomen full of mesothelial inclusion cysts (these are a rare type of tumour, thankfully for me they are benign and have a low rate of malignancy though of 130 recorded cases in total I don’t want to take my chances) both of these issues play god with my pain and hormones.
When they’re at their worst and flaring up I feel like everything is such a struggle I get arthritic pain, my nerves are trapped and my mood suffers a lot.
Lockdown saw my mental and physical health improve exponentially and I realised that many of the things I do to be liked, loved, wanted, useful, not a burden etc. can be detrimental to myself.
I believe that there are things about my lifestyle that I can improve to better support these conditions which I’ve researched so much, even with extremely limited case studies on MIC. If I can’t help myself my only medical option is to use the pain clinic to be placed on long term pain management meds and I don’t like how the make my mood dip. In addition to this I am practising what I preach about mental health awareness. I am journalling, listening to my body, setting boundaries and learning to say no with love.
My health is my wealth and I only have this one body and mind to carry me through the rest of my life.
Who I am is evolving and it’s time to unbury myself
I talk a lot at the moment about unpacking the boxes that reflect part of yourself you put away for whatever reason and challenging your assumptions about who you are. I touch on it here in this blog post
2020 was a blessing for me in many ways, I lost all my clients at the start of the year due to their worry about Covid but that simply made way for more (more ideal clients who paid even better and respected my boundaries even more)
As all of the social stigmas and non essential business of day to day life was stripped away I started to reconnect with myself and it has been a revelation. As I unleash more of myself life and business are growing.
Unblocking parts of myself that I felt ashamed, embarrassed or looked down on for has been glorious. I am emotional and I love that about myself – it is what enables me to provide such invested and in depth support to people.
Certain things are important to me and more than ever I now understand what those things are.
I’m allowed to like myself and I choose to carry that with me moving forward. I can embrace all the parts of myself and it’s in doing so that I will truly be able to live.
I’ve been afraid that being successful in the way I chose would mean that people I love would stop loving me for me
There’s a lot to unpick here and much of it isn’t my story to tell but suffice it to say that the experiences I’ve had formed a warped belief system and I just don’t want or need it anymore.
We create these stories and beliefs from our or our guiding adults/mentors experiences as they, with good intentions teach us their beliefs and fears. Our minds and bodies try to protect us from it and of course that can have a significant impact.
This isn’t working for me anymore because I want the good stuff from that experience and I can’t if I hold myself back.
I get to choose to release those old, unserving beliefs and replace them with my own experiences of growth whatever that may be.
My ‘why’ is clearer than ever and I have found my purpose
I always thought this was a really twatty way to talk. In all honestly I felt like it was the language used by unscrupulous coaches who wanted to take your money for encouraging you to question yourself – even if it did also encourage personal breakthroughs.
However I also realised that I want people who work for themselves or aspire to to know that they can absolutely find a way to do this that is perfectly suited to them, their lives and their personalities. That there is no longer a one size fits all 9-5 perfect lifestyle to attain. It’s my mission to to help people find ways of thriving in work AND personal without compromising on their health, sanity or relationships.
Understanding that’s what I want to do with my life and watch people get happier, healthier and more successful (whatever that translates to for them) means that every move I take is easier because I have a reason for the journey.
Being myself and caring for who I am is the highest form of self care
Look, self care can be about bubble baths and face packs if that’s for you. For me it’s about allowing myself to like myself and to embrace the parts of my personality and needs that I love but often hide.
Things like building a business that means I can be flexible in the event of a flare up or a completely terrible period. Things like no longer saying yes out of misguided need to be liked and equally not saying no because I worry my loved ones won’t agree with me.
It’s taking time to enrich my mind, care for my body, strengthen the relationships I want to keep and gently releasing those I don’t in whatever ways I can in order to stay well and care for self.
Self care is deeper than I realised. It’s about continually moving away from burnout and self pity and illness and moving towards a deeper understanding of my mind and body and their needs. FYI this can totally look like sticking to a budget or speaking to those you owe debts to and arranging payment terms.
Leaning into what you need physically and emotionally is exactly the thing that will help you build strength, resilience and true wellness. In turn this allows you to do more of the thing you want, in my case help other people to build happier and healthier businesses that encourage them to live as whole people.
I don’t want to carry the weight of what hasn’t served me or my business into the future and definitely not into my 40’s
I just don’t. If I were running a marathon with an exceptionally heavy backpack on filled with old rocks I would take it off, put it to one side and continue running with less burden. It would help me feel better, move faster, stay stronger and I wouldn’t feel guilty because those were rocks I needed at some point in my life and so I popped them in my backpack but, instead of eroding as they were no longer needed they simply stayed.
I don’t want nor need them any longer. There is no shame in that.
Sometimes it’s necessary to reassess what load you’re carrying and if it’s not really yours, if it’s not supporting you, if it’s not healthy and if it’s something that should really have eroded long ago then it’s ok and even necessary to thank it for its service and let it go.
Maybe you have been thinking something similar, or maybe you want a helping hand as you move forward. If you fancy it you can check out my mentoring options and see if there’s anything there for you.
How do I know the signs that you’re headed for burnout?
Well, picture this…
It was early 2015, I had invested my emotions in a relationship that was never going to go anywhere, I had a job I was working at for long hours and was extremely pressurised (sometimes 60, 70 and sometimes even 80+ hour weeks). It was the job I’d worked for and the relationship that I’d dreamt of (all butterflies and intense feelings).
Fast forward to June of that year and I was unable to get out of bed.
I’d been diagnosed with chronic daily migraine, my relationship was unhealthy and utterly disrespectful and my job filled me with fear and loneliness.
You see, one day I drove to work and was simply unable to get out of the car. My body was fighting me and I was ill all the time. I remember telling my doctor that I felt like my body was toxic, that I was poisoning myself and I didn’t know how to make it better.
Like many of us out there I wanted the great job, the passionate relationship, the good money, the nice things, the lovely ‘perfect on paper’ life. Only in reality the great job was sucking my life away, my relationship was damaging my mental health and the good money and nice things never cared for me the way I needed to care for myself.
The ‘perfect on paper’ life was in fact a facsimile of a life. Something I was creating for others to look at and not for me to live in. With hindsight I realised I wasn’t just headed for burnout.
Turns out I WAS burnt out.
If you’ve never really thought about what burnout is other than ‘having enough’ then this article by Alexandra Michel is a great place to start to understand the psychological science behind burnout. Burnout and the Brain
The main gist of this article is that this is an actual condition that is the result of chronic stress and it shows that this level of chronic stress actually changes the brain. With hindsight I know that this is exactly what happened to me back in 2015.
One of the most hideous moments for me was when my face drooped, my speech slurred and I was rushed to be checked for a stroke. Luckily, this wasn’t the case but my body was manifesting my stress so physically that I still experience some ongoing issues to this day.
Let me be brutally honest. I wasn’t sure I had enough left to come out the other side and in the worst times, I wasn’t sure I wanted to because there wasn’t much left in the shell of me. I look at the picture below, in the height of burnout in 2015 and I can see it, if I wasn’t just headed for burnout in this then I was fully there.
I still find it difficult to look at now, it makes me so desperately sad. I’m not there anymore but it has taken time. If you want to know more about where I’m at now check out my about page.
I don’t claim to be an expert in burnout. I write about it because it’s such a shocking experience. Even when you know you’re ‘off’ you don’t really associate it in this way.
Since my experience with burnout I have systematically taken steps to change how I work, how I live and who I surround myself with so that I never have to experience that kind of battle again. I started a business and now work for myself, I ended my unhealthy relationship, I prioritised my health over my income – it’s not been easy nor did the benefits show overnight but I can honestly say I am here today because of it.
Here are my personal top 5 signs of burnout and what I do about them.
Tired to the bone. When I am leading into burnout one of the first things I experience is constant tiredness. The kind of fatigue that no amount of naps seem to help. The more tired I get the more unable to cope with my feelings I become and I drown them out with social media, mood swings, over eating and complaining about how tired I am.
Illness. I have a chronic condition that was severely exacerbated during my worst times, now I know that my body is a physical manifestation of everything that’s going on so am aware of it changing. When I am nearing burnout I get ill a lot more, headaches, colds, breathlessness, achy joints, sickness, my periods worsen in intensity and my chrinco condition flares up in all its ugliness
Procrastination. I am a huge believer in the power of positive procrastination. Taking a long walk can often lead to great ideas or clearing the garage instead of creating that workbook can make my mind fire off all the great content thoughts but when I find myself delaying everything, snoozing the alarm, putting off getting dressed in favour of a 3 hour bath, getting sucked into that 3pm channel 5 movie to the point of avoiding everything else, day after day after day, I know it’s not positive procrastination but pure avoidance because it all feels too much – burnout is creeping in
Anger and frustration. As a generally placid person the fact that I want to slam my forehead into my steering wheel whilst screaming when the person in front of me has the audacity to park in a way that I find irritating is a sure sign of being overwhelmed. When I want to throw things in anger or cry in frustration that I already wore my favourite top and it needs washing before I can wear it again is utterly compelling evidence that I need to step back before the burnout gremlin takes my brain for a spin.
Insomnia. Considering how exhausted I feel when burnout is there my sleep is one of the first things to go. I either cannot fall asleep for love nor money or, more often than not I wake up after a couple of hours of really heavy sleep unable to return to the land of nod. This is a particular form of torture that becomes self perpetuating and has extreme ramifications
Burnout is not the result of weakness, lack of intelligence or being bad at something. It’s a very real condition that we have built into our cultures by making people think there’s a preferred lifestyle and that to get it you need to do do do do do.
If you’re not doing, you aren’t productive. If you aren’t productive you aren’t successful. If you aren’t successful you can’t have that ‘perfect on paper’ life that’s splattered across every possible thing we can consume.
What’s even worse is that it’s such an insidious thing we don’t even realise that’s what’s happening.
Burnout can happen to anyone and at any time, what causes stress is different for everyone. That being said, just 18 months later I went from that to this and now, heading into 5 years down the line, many changes, focus on building a life and business that is designed to support me and embrace me I have gone from strength to strength:
In order to reduce the likelihood of experiencing burnout I do these 5 things:
I make sure that I am aware of myself, my feelings and my needs. I do this by journaling, taking time to be kind to my body, doing things that aren’t always fun but always help (drinking water and exercising)
I track what is making me feel consistent levels of stress. When I realised that my job was part of this and even dropping my role or my hours wouldn’t solve this because the job at it’s core would stress me out I changed it. I was lucky enough to have that as an option, if you don’t it may be time to discuss other options with your boss.
I stop thinking of everything and focus on getting just one thing done. Reducing that to do list or simply scrapping it altogether for the time being can really help my sense of self and satisfaction
I take vitamins and supplements, eat well and I am a huge advocate of speaking to your GP if it’s bigger than you can manage by yourself right now. You’d do it for a broken leg, take that same care with your mind
I choose very wisely who I spend my time with and what I spend it doing. I choose to reduce my time on social media, I reach out to and lean on the support of people who are incredibly supportive and understand me.
Of course that list is not the be all and end all, your situation is unique to you and, over the years you will add things to that list as I have. If you want to hear more about my experiences and my tips to have a better whole life, whole business then sign up for my mailing list – I’d love to see you there!