I thought I could cope with all the demands that I was making of myself. I needed to make life financially secure for my family and be able to buy shiny things and great experiences for my family. I needed to be a success at work. Does this sound familiar?
Then, one day, I stepped out of the passenger seat of my colleague’s sportscar. It was the usual fast and furious drive home after a busy workday. Dizziness crept in, I climbed the steps to my front door, went in and sat down heavily on the chair.
My wife knew I had reached break point.
I knew it would be better soon. It would be better when…, but the list was too long.
It wasn’t until five months after the tears in the GP’s office that I was ready to get back to work.
The company doctor shared with me that some people are more susceptible to burnout than others. He explained that this company was effective in finding these people and breaking them. He said I would benefit from understanding how to manage my stress levels myself.
It seemed a strange thing for a senior corporate manager to say, but it made sense later when I heard he had resigned and was working his notice at the time.
There are many different reasons why people face stress and burnout. Each one of us will have our reasons. There is no judgement in your why. Are you aware of what stresses you out?
I found out, much later, that one of the contributing factors to my burnout was that I was undiagnosed autistic. Looking back I can see how living in a world that didn’t acknowledge neurodiversity impacted me.
Neurodivergents, of all types, have an additional level of stress in navigating through life. Not all neurodivergents will burn out, but a high percentage do.
You can avoid complete burnout and reduce your daily stress levels. There are some well-researched methods to help you, they work for the neurodivergent as well. Through my journey to breakdown and recovery, I learnt many of the techniques. I also know that each of us needs to apply the techniques in ways that work for us.
The biggest lessons to avoid stress and burnout.
The most important one is to develop an awareness of what increases your stress levels. Where in your life is the stress coming from and what is your role in accepting the stress?
Armed with that knowledge I can now work to my strengths and minimise the negative effects.
I learnt that self-care and self-compassion were vital. Without being kind and supportive to yourself the burnout cycle will continue.
The list of things you can take responsibility for is endless (anyone else want to fix the world?). The list of things to get done is similarly infinite if you allow it.
You have control over most of what goes on your to-do list.
Learn how to say ‘No’. It’s a critical skill. Like most skills, it becomes easier as you practice.
Knowing when to say ‘No’ is important.
If something doesn’t align with your values or aims in life, then saying ‘No’ is the right thing to do.
If it isn’t manageable for neurodiversity, then say no, and request adjustments if necessary.
If you are too busy then it’s good to say no.
To help me know when to say ‘No’ I developed a practice of capturing all my commitments and managing them proactively. This is just one way of managing your energy. There are others I can share.
To sum it up, I learnt that we need to be clear on the responsibilities and tasks we take on and why. That self-care and compassion are also your responsibility and that you need to make time for them in all your other commitments. The proactive approach brings your life back to where you want it to be.
I had lots of help on my recovery journey. That help is now available to you. Download some further reading on how to reduce stress and overwhelm to start bringing your life back into your control.