Above the constant hum of circling city traffic, the Singapore sky was bright and cloudless. Humidity clung heavily in the air leaving a damp sheen on my skin, and as the day dawned, so did the realisation that I was not superwoman after all. After almost two decades of trying to be all things to all people, my body had finally collapsed.
I had been living in Singapore as a UK expat for a number of years, running a business I loved. On this particular day I wasn’t to know it was sunny outside, because I woke to discover that I was cemented to my mattress, unable to get up or physically move. At 34, I should have been in the prime of my life instead my body was battered and burned out from working hard, and playing even harder. My tank was totally empty, and if I was going to make it to 40, it was clearly time for a rethink.
On the edge of the ledge
As a coach, I’m naturally someone who gives a lot, being caring comes with the territory, however after 15 years of working with people I now know it’s not just the nature of my profession, it is also often a trait of being a woman. The tendency to try to make sure everyone around you is happy, silently shouldering heavy burdens, sacrificing yourself for others, staying when it is time to leave, giving up on dreams and feeling guilty about not hitting the mark, eventually leaves you feeling like a crazy woman standing on the edge of the ledge.
When this happens, it is easy to think that your experience is isolated, after all everybody else seems to be getting on with it don’t they? Layers of protection begin to build up over the suffocating self-doubt and gnawing anxiety. From the outside it appears as self-assuredness, confidence, and strength, however appearances are deceiving, and rather than feeling confident, many woman feel like they are crumbling inside and crave a return to normality and to simply feel happy again.
The blessings of burnout
My own experience of physical and emotional burn out eventually became a blessing, and I discovered some important lessons
- Pushing less creates more
- How I feel on the inside, affects how I am on the outside
- Self-care is not selfish, it is a necessity
- The more I take care of my needs, I more I can give to others
It took two years to fully recover; and during that time I completely overhauled my life. I left Singapore, returned to the UK and founded the Pause Retreats, creating a safe place people can turn to when life becomes overwhelming. Later I wrote Pause, a guided retreat in a book for anyone unable to physically attend a retreat.
Building emotional strength
If it feels like you are treading water at the moment, here are some practical ways you can rebuild your emotional strength. You don’t need to tackle them all (in fact I wouldn’t recommend that!), just select one or two that feel useful to you at this time:
- Consider what your needs are and take care of them first
- If you are overwhelmed, start with the fundamentals, food and rest at first
- Create white space, small amounts of time each week with nothing booked in
- Connect with nature and turn off your smartphone while you are there
- Share how you feel rather than push your feelings away
- Reflect on the question that needs your attention right now
- Do what is best for you even if it means being different
- Find someone you trust who you can talk to and who will listen to you
- Practise saying no, even when it is difficult
- Create a simple daily ritual that is meaningful to you
Be well, Danielle.