How Lockdown Fixed My Burnout
By Laura Gisbourne
I’m rubbish at finding balance. I realise that’s not exactly how you should start an article on finding balance in life, but I’ve tried 100 ways of starting this piece and each one sounded fake. So I’m being completely honest and starting with what I know - I am still learning about finding balance in my life. In the past I became obsessive about exercise and diet which eventually led to me taking a year out of university, job roles and extracurricular activities in order to recover. When I was at university, 2 years ago, I tried to join 6 different societies, but over-stretching myself had a detrimental affect on my mental and physical health, and unsurprisingly, my grades too. By the time I graduated, I was an active member of only one society and I loved it. Did I learn from that lesson? Nope. I tend to throw myself into hobbies with no consideration of how long I can keep the intensity up, thus leading to a week of constant cross-stitch followed by months of looking at a half finished tapestry. I either spend all my time being mindful or all my time in a blur of activity. Just before lockdown I endured a month of a constant migraine alongside severe vertigo, forcing me to take more time off work than I ever have, pulling out of the play I was in (10 days before it went on stage), losing out on my month-long climbing membership, and cancelling 2 weekend trips to see friends and a 3-week-long trip to Asia. I made multiple visits to the doctors in an attempt to find a medication that fixed my stabbing headaches and travel-sick-inducing vertigo. But do you know what actually helped? Lockdown. Suddenly, the pressure was released. I didn’t have to get better immediately so I could return to my 1000 miles-an-hour life. I spent all my time at the humble homestead, and wasn’t required, or indeed allowed, to go anywhere. Within a week my symptoms had all but disappeared. Maybe this time I’ll learn what my body is trying to tell me? I hope so.
'Whilst burnout comes from overwork, boreout stems from being underworked.'
Ready for the fun facts bit? So, in the Annual Review of Psychology, (2001) you can read about burnout, a symptom of (among other things) a work-life imbalance. Burnout symptoms are threefold: overwhelming exhaustion, negative or cynical views towards one’s job, and a feeling of ineffectualness. This is by no means a new phenomena. Burnout has been regularly mentioned in fictional and non-fictional writings since 1970, (as pointed out in the Annual Review). Whilst multiple studies have shown that burnout can be a response to a work overload, it can also be caused by job-role conflict (where there is a need to meet conflicting job demands) or job-role ambiguity (where there is a lack of information needed to do the job well). There appears to be a strong link between burnout and a lack of social support in the work environment (particularly from supervisors), and can be observed most in employees who have a lack of autonomy in their workplace. You might want to note the difference between ‘burnout’ and ‘boreout’, a term coined in 2007 by the business consultants Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin. Whilst burnout comes from overwork, boreout stems from being underworked. Wonder how being underworked could ever be considered a problem?
Well, a very recent Guardian article entitled ‘Underworked but exhausted? That’s not burnout, that’s “boreout”' details how luxury French perfume maker Interparfums has just paid a worker £32, 000 as compensation for boreout at work. It’s genuinely a fascinating read if you’re interested. Anyway, although not conclusive, it could be argued that if an individual is experiencing any of the difficulties which can lead to burnout at work, finding a hobby or role outside of work which satisfies the needs not met through their job can balance out a person’s stress levels, thus reducing the risk of burnout. In other words, if you find a balance outside of the workplace which counteracts individual needs within the workplace, you’re less likely to burnout. Here the work-life balance comes into play.
'[Sadia Badiei] mentions how important and fun it can be to just create for the sake of creating - when making something just for yourself, there’s no need for perfection.'
Balance is needed in all aspects of life. Often overlooked but vitally important is a balance between consuming and creating. Sadia Badiei (founder of Pick up Limes blog), talks about finding this balance, suggesting that everything we consume, read, watch and even eat, we should equally create. She mentions how important and fun it can be to just create for the sake of creating - when making something just for yourself, there’s no need for perfection. Sadia highlights how when we consume more than we create, we can feel drained and a little disheartened, maybe because we start comparing ourselves to other people or worry that we’re not doing enough. To feel more self-assured, more active and more motivated we need to create just as much as we consume. Creating can come in so many different ways: in art, through creating a trusting relationship or developing a fulfilling career. Creating something builds character, develops your skills, improves concentration and can make you feel accomplished. Sure, consuming content is necessary and can be fulfilling in itself, but getting the ratio of consuming to creating just right is an important goal to seek. In other words, ‘stop watching YouTube and go live your life’, as one Pick Up Limes follower commented - or we may feel like we are consuming our world rather than creating it.
So, scientists, philosophers, medical professionals, and basic human intuition all agree that balance is significant for maintaining a healthy and happy (I repeat happy) lifestyle. In yoga you’re taught to find a push-pull or lift-ground balance within yourself, in order to hold a posture strong and steady. In the past few months during lockdown I have learnt what balance really feels like in my own life. I have enough time to rest, there’s no pressure to have a full diary, and I’ve been given the gift of furlough; thus I feel calmer than I have in a very long time. I finally have the chance to work out what is important to me, something I would never have discovered if I had continued on the action-packed treadmill of life, without pausing to think about which elements of that life I genuinely enjoyed. I have discovered that what I was missing was a mental challenge. I am used to physical challenges: at work, on the climbing wall, during a yoga class - but I need to tend to my personal delicate balance between the mental and the physical. I’ve also learnt that for every physical activity you need to factor in the counterbalance of sufficient rest too. Yet another thing that I’m still learning.
'I’m going to try to make sure I have at least 1 evening a week... that’ll be reserved for quality time alone.'
Consider the notion that to achieve ‘whatever it is we’re after, we have to understand the importance of the balance between strength and the softness[...], the light, the dark, the good angel, the bad angel, the sun, the moon’, as quoted by Yoga with Adrienne. In a nutshell, this is perhaps something everyone should consider. Personally I’m going to try to make sure I have at least 1 evening a week, after work or a day’s activities, that’ll be reserved for quality time alone. I may make my favourite meal (rather than ordering a takeout I’ve taken to cooking my own Chinese take-away), or watch my favourite film, (Lord of the Rings for the win!) or read a book. Deadlines can be forgotten and the need to rush to a Zumba class disintegrates; just one evening for quiet ‘me-time’ is something I am very much looking forward to. Finding this balance is necessary for healthy progress; it’s the natural way of the world. Balance improves happiness, it maintains health, and it feels empowering. So now, after spending so much time inside typing this article, I’m going to find my own balance and go for a little walk. And after you’ve finished consuming this article, go create something!
Laura aims to follow a mindful lifestyle. Although she has a philosophy degree, baking is her passion and she is actively working towards using only sustainable ingredients in all she makes at home and at work. One day she hopes to travel the world finding happiness by carrying only the bare necessities on her back. Read her previous article: 'The expense of sustainability: How to make deliberate choices for you.'.