We have all been hearing it- in fact it has been a highly researched buzz word over the last two years. American Psychological Association published their 2021 Work and Well Being survey which indicated that “nearly 3 in 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26%) and lack of effort at work (19%). Meanwhile, 36% reported cognitive weariness, 32% reported emotional exhaustion, and an astounding 44% reported physical fatigue—a 38% increase since 2019” (apa.org).
In May of this year, I hit my breaking point. I have struggled with my mental health since I was young but over time I’ve learned different coping mechanisms to overcome the bad days. I could feel the need to take time off from both school and work, but my immediate fear became running the risk of impacting my projects, not graduating on time, letting my team down, and not achieving my goals. As I was driving into work that Thursday morning, I had a moment in which I thought ending my life would relieve all this stress. I know I am not alone when I say this – I gripped the steering wheel harder than I have ever done before. As I write that, I pause, because while it is becoming more common to talk about suicide and suicidal ideations, I know that many fear saying that they need help or need a break in the corporate space puts work ethic and promotability at risk.
While this article isn’t about my organization, I want to make sure I do point out that having the supportive work environment and culture that we do, truly made the start of this journey that I was about to embark on much easier for me. As employees, we are allowed to show up authentically which alleviated the “what ifs” associated with my career. I was allowed to immediately take the leave I requested and the follow up, love, and support I received was incredible. Without this kind of culture, I can’t say my experience would have been the same.
The level of relief I felt after saying, I need help and I need to take time away, was amazing. I was given resources and it was now my turn to start my journey.
It is hard as an overachiever to admit that you are struggling. I have been able to juggle being a wife, mom, going to school, and life in general for quite some time. I take on anything and everything I possibly can, and I put 110% into all of it. Which I roll my eyes at now, because when I write it on paper, I realize how ridiculous trying to give 110% to all aspects of my life sounds. At that point in time, admitting that I couldn’t give 10% of anything to anyone made me feel like a failure. So, my first step was getting into therapy.
I have been in therapy on and off for many years, but this time was different. I went in with the intention of making lifestyle changes that I could introduce into my busy life without having to sacrifice my goals. This leads me to the point of this article, which is to share with you what has worked so far on my journey of becoming a recovering overachiever.
Number One: I picked up books and put down my phone
I cannot say enough incredible things about The Gift of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I now call my time away a spiritual awakening thanks to her. It was everything that I needed in this moment of my life – just trust me on this one.
Choose a location that you find peaceful and for 15 minutes, enjoy a chapter of a good book.
Number Two: I got a Gratitude Journal
Humans experience the same heliotropic effects that plants do – we gravitate towards the positive aspects of life, and it changes our bodies on a cellular level – both in physical and mental wellness. In the event you are interested in digging into the research that Dr. Kim Cameron has done on positive organizational psychology, here is a great start for you:
Gratitude journals are a simple and effective way to focus on the positive aspects of your life. Write one line each day of something you are grateful for – I choose to do this during my morning reading. It can be small and still have a big impact on your mindset.
Number Three: I schedule 10 to 15 minutes to have an intentional mindful moment during the day
When I say schedule, I literally mean on my work calendar there is an event titled mindful moment. For those of you who are rolling your eyes and saying, “I don’t even have 10 to 15 minutes in my day”. I said the same thing when my therapist suggested this. Regardless, I gave it a shot and for me personally, I do this by stepping outside and soaking in the sun. I do not clear my head because that has yet to be proven possible for me, but I do push my thoughts to the side as they enter my mind – so shoutout to my therapist for this suggestion because it has made a huge difference in regulating my anxiety and stress during the day.
Number Four: Set Boundaries and stick with them
This is the hardest one by far. Boundaries are for you, and you must be intentional about maintaining them and openly communicating about them. This is something I am continuously working on and honestly, I catch myself overstepping my own boundaries here and there, but I am much better than I used to be. Boundaries for me meant analyzing the relationships I have in my life and how they currently served my goals, ensuring I was shutting down work at appropriate times and being present, and saying no when needed in both the professional and personal environment. Remember to provide yourself grace as you start this, it can be uncomfortable at first not only for you but for those around you but again boundaries are for YOU.
Finally, I want to leave you with this. Do things that fill your cup, or as a dear friend and mentor of mine says, wag your tail. I practice self-care every day and for everyone self-care is different. If you take anything away from this article to put into practice let it be this – do one kind thing for yourself each day. That can be as simple as taking 15 minutes to breathe, getting your favorite coffee, or enjoying an episode of your favorite show. Those of us who overachieve, tend to give so much to others and forget to give to ourselves. You simply cannot pour from an empty cup. So you have to get out there and fill it.
The most important lesson I have learned through these last few months is that pausing to breathe is important and overworking myself to fatigue is not a badge of honor. For me to show up as my best self each day – as an employee, as a student, and most importantly as a mom – I must make my mental health a priority each day.
Mental health and the subject of burnout is such a personal experience, I can only tell you what has worked well from my perspective and hope that this serves as a reminder to be intentional about taking care of YOU because you matter. From an organizational perspective, it’s critical to have a pulse on your employee’s wellbeing even those that tend to take on a lot of work and over-perform. Remind your staff about the resources available to them and take the opportunity to open the lines of communication. Your people are your greatest asset. It is also important to continue the conversation outside of months that focus on mental health awareness. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and allow others the space to be vulnerable as well.