Clinical psychologist Lara Kocijan has come full circle. Last year, she took three months off to recalibrate after quitting her job. She was, she told Future Women’s Sydney Social Club at The Indigo Project last week, “feeling completely annihilated” by work. Now, Lara is helping women in the same position recognise the psychological and physical impact professional burnout can have.
“I am a perfectionist and I’m a people pleaser,” Lara told Future Women’s members. “I did everything that was asked of me [in my last job], and I did really well. I got promoted to the point where I would say, ‘I’m going to resign now and I’m going to go travel’ and they would say, ‘Come back and we’ll give you a more senior position’. I left there as the clinical director of the hospital – and I was completely burnt out. I did nothing for three months. I went to the beach and I meditated and I tried to get myself back. The work was amazing, so meaningful, but it was so exhausting by the end. So this topic feels incredibly moving for me. I now work less and I have a lot more free time. I have rearranged my entire lifestyle.”
“I did nothing for three months. I went to the beach and I meditated and I tried to get myself back.”
If you can relate to Lara’s experience then you’re far from alone. Burnout is now recognised as a mental health concern by the World Health Organisation, with one study Lara cited suggesting 62 percent of us could be suffering from “overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment, and a real negative perception of self, job and the world.”
But, Lara explained, burnout doesn’t always present as “clean cut” and can take different shapes for different people. That said, “one of the common symptoms of burnout is that we isolate; we don’t want to see anyone anymore”.
So what can you do if you’re on the very top of burning the candle, or beginning to identify that something is not right?
Lara tells her clients to break burnout down into manageable chunks, then deal with them one at a time:
“Get to know your gremlins. I mean by gremlins those things your head tells you. They’re usually on repeat – and you’ve usually got a storyline that runs: ‘I’m not good enough. No-one likes me. I don’t belong here.’ Those really awful gremlins you have so you know to challenge them or disconnect from them.
“Know what your limits are in terms of what your boundaries are. Knowing when to say no, in terms of what you’re not capable of doing anymore – and doing that in a really compassionate way. Often if we’re those perfectionistic, really high achieving [people] we’ll whip ourselves into the ground. So moving to a place of compassion around how we care for ourselves in that.”
“Learn how to share those boundaries assertively. [That means figuring out how] to say no in a really effective way, and then asking to have your needs met. A lot of the time we go down this cycle of burnout. We retreat more, and complain that no-one is helping, but we’re not asking anyone for help. We become more resentful and cynical about how unhelpful [something is] without doing anything to help ourselves. Ask yourself, what can be taken off my plate? What is just too much?”
“Manage the ‘no’ we sometimes get when we ask for help. If people can’t or won’t help, how do we manage that no without becoming resentful and cynical? What are we okay with, and not okay with? Where’s our personal limit? Does it get to the point where, if we’re not able to have this need met, then we have to reassess whether the role or organisation is right for us? Zooming out and getting some perspective can help. Clarifying your values, asking whether this is okay with me, can too. Mentorship is really helpful here. Having someone who has that perspective of you in your industry can help guide you a little bit – and tell you when to take a holiday.”
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