We all like to think of ourselves as efficient and hardworking, but sometimes this can have a negative impact on our health and well-being.
In fact, a national survey by software solutions provider HRLocker earlier this year found that 52 per cent of full-time employees in Ireland suffer from burnout due to pressure and stress at work.
Niamh Brady can attest to this, having suffered from “severe burnout” at least three times.
“I experienced that for the first time when I was 22, in my first job, then again at 26 and then at 34,” she says. “The first time around I was underqualified for the job, so overworked to prove my worth. The (IT) role involved hybrid working, so there was no schedule for when to stop working or what was good enough – so I worked continuously.
“I had a ridiculous responsibility and started suffering from burnout. It started with losing my sense of humor when life got very serious, as if all color had drained from it.
“Then I started to doubt my own abilities, so I worked harder and harder, always a day or an hour longer – I checked my email everywhere, even at 2am in a nightclub. It was out of control.
“I was so stressed out all the time that I couldn’t eat, sleep or think properly. I drank too much to block out the stress and went out at least four nights a week. In the end I stopped because I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Although Niamh, who lives in Cork with her fiancé Steve and children Emily, 3, and James, 1, found it hard to cope, she didn’t tell her colleagues and when it happened again, she invented other ailments, instead of admitting she suffered from mental health issues.
“After I left that job, the anxiety that felt like a sledgehammer on my chest went away,” she says. “I stopped having 4,000 crazy thoughts a day and felt fine, but when I was 26 it happened again.
“With high career aspirations, I’ve always tried to prove myself by overworking myself while also trying to be the perfect girlfriend, sister, daughter and friend — something had to give.
“I was ill for six weeks, on medication and having a consultation, but I didn’t admit to anyone what was wrong and instead I lied and said it was a problem with my back. I cried every day for almost a year – burnout is such a lonely place that no one can see what’s going on and it’s impossible to describe.
“But people can have burnout on a smaller scale, and that can be just as damaging — I’ve had it really badly three times, but I’ve also had smaller versions, which made me feel weaker each time.”
The 37-year-old changed jobs several times and suffered severe burnout again while pregnant with her first child – but this time she told her boss, which made a big difference.
“I used to lie about what was wrong, and that was a problem because after I got back to work, I had to carry on as if everything was fine,” she says. “But at my last job, my manager was brilliant and I told him straight away. When I came back from maternity leave changes were made to help me which was really great.
“But if I hadn’t just had a baby and wasn’t overly worried about a promotion, I would have worried that being open about my situation would hurt my career.
“It’s one of the reasons there is a stigma attached to burnout as everyone acts like everything is brilliant and since Covid we believe everyone has the perfect work-life balance.
“It’s all such a hoax and it would be so much better if people were honest because it wouldn’t make others feel like they have to work so hard to keep up.”
These experiences prompted the mother of two to try to help others in similar situations, and she now works as a productivity coach, having started her own business, Better Workday.
“We have to stop pretending that everything is wonderful because for a lot of people it isn’t,” she says. “I found that talking to people about my experiences was very beneficial to her as they could really relate to it and now I’m using that along with research and qualifications to help others deal with work stress.”
Martin Daly, who has also experienced burnout, agrees and says it’s important to share experiences to try to reduce the stigma that still surrounds this “very common condition”.
“I had a terrible time at work a few years ago,” says the Dubliner. “My boss was very ambitious and asked so much of me, calling on weekends and evenings and always expecting work to come first.
“I didn’t know burnout was creeping up on me, even though my wife kept telling me I didn’t have time for anything other than work — I thought about it 24/7 and felt like I wasn’t always on call (although I in sales rather than in a hospital emergency room), I was passed over for promotions.
“I began to suffer from insomnia, anorexia, and debilitating anxiety, and eventually my wife persuaded me to see the GP who diagnosed burnout. I told my boss I needed time off and she made it clear that while I’m entitled to it, I might not be considered for a raise.
“So I took the time I was allotted and then quit – my health and family were more important than this job. It was the best choice I’ve ever made.”
Siobhán Murray, bestselling author of The burnout solutionsays that while the WHO describes burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” it better describes it as “emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion resulting from emotionally stressful situations.”
“Feeling not busy with work, being constantly irritable with co-workers, family members and yourself, trouble sleeping, cynicism about your work, mood swings, higher levels of anxiety and an increased reliance on alcohol as a stress reliever can affect some one of the signs is you’re suffering from burnout,” she says.
“The first step is acknowledging that something is wrong – too often we just move on hoping that life will magically get right.
“Seeking external support from HR, colleagues, bosses, GPs or family members is very important, as is focusing on the four pillars of health: sleep, nutrition, exercise and social relationships.
“All too often, burnout misses out on the simple basics of nurturing.”
Going back to work afterward can be difficult, but Murray says people should be open with co-workers.
“You’d be surprised how many people think this way,” she says. “Think about what you can control in your day and focus on that instead of all the things you can’t control as this is exhausting and very rarely produces a positive outcome.
“Break your day into parts – before work, morning, afternoon and after work. Create habits for before and after work — like a short walk or a coffee — as small daily habits add up to bigger habits that enable you to take care of yourself.”
Life Coach and Counselor Monica Jackman agrees and says it’s important to make changes.
“Many people are reluctant to take time off because they feel like they are letting others down or because they are under pressure to meet deadlines, but it’s important to realize that your mental and physical health comes first “, she says. “Relaxation is not a luxury, it is a necessity.”
https://www.independent.ie/life/rising-from-the-ashes-of-burnout-i-would-check-my-emails-everywhere-even-at-2am-in-a-nightclub-41873086.html Rising from the ashes of burnout: “I checked my email everywhere, even at a nightclub at 2am”