Is our pursuit of perfection causing the modern woman to burnout? NH investigates…
Growing up in the Goop era, my younger sister and I were guinea pigs for the latest health trends. First, it was the juice diet that my sister attempted which lasted six weeks before our family dentist told her to stop or risk her teeth falling out. For me, it was the Metamorphosis Workout DVD devised by wellness figurehead Tracy Anderson, which promised to target certain areas, such as your arms and legs (spot reduction isn’t actually possible). I can remember dutifully practising moves that made me look like I was a helicopter trying to take off in my parents’ kitchen. Then, my sister went vegan before veganism was even well known. On a cold December evening, we spent two hours walking around Edinburgh trying to find a dairy-free fried Mars Bar. Of course, all these health trends were short-lived. We’d fully dedicate ourselves to the promise of feeling (and looking) better than ever before, only to feel an obligation to see them through, fatigued and never feeling quite as good as we’d imagined we would. Wellness, on the surface, promises to improve your health. But scratch at it, and there’s a growing concern that some people, particularly women, are taking on too many of the ideals and finding themselves becoming burnt out. To find out more, we spoke to the industry experts who are seeing it first-hand.
If you have a piece of paper near you, grab a pen and write down what wellness means to you. If you’re doing yoga every day, eating plant-based, smudging and trying to master the art of meditation, but finding yourself energy depleted and running on auto-drive, then it’s time to assess if your lifestyle is actually making you feel healthy. “The trick is not to get pressured into thinking that the more wellbeing practices you take on, the better your life will be,” says Isabella Venour, mindset coach and NLP practitioner (mindstyle.co.uk). “Instead it’s about finding a combination that works for you. When we act on ‘shoulds’, we can feel drained and resentful. It’s more about empowering yourself to do things because we want to (or at least because we choose to).
Next time you think that you should do something, challenge this idea and ask yourself honestly, ‘am I doing this because I want to, or because I think I should?’”
Wellness reality check
Have a long, hard think about your ‘wellness icons’. Who are they? Whether it’s your Vinyasa yoga instructor who prescribes wild swimming every summer, or a Pilates influencer in Bali who juggles parenthood and running a gluten-free cafe, think, realistically, whether you can apply those ideals to your own life. What’s right for them won’t necessarily be right for you. Listen to your body and take note of how it feels after a specific exercise or eating a certain way.
“I once had a client come to me who had severe fatigue and felt a drop in drive and motivation,” says Isabella. “She was exercising two to three times a day, cycling to work, doing a lunchtime gym class and then cycling back home again. But she didn’t see this as a reason why she might be feeling tired. Her reasons were simple — the more you do the better.” Over-exercising is a common form of wellness burnout and if not tackled, can lead to bigger problems, such as hormonal imbalance, overeating and muscle loss. “If you’re tired and feel burnt out the worst thing you can do is over-exercise,” says Isabella. “It’s too much energy out and not enough in. Dialling down your expectations of yourself (and your body) can help, as Isabella explains. “We often put too much on our to-do lists and inevitably feel disappointed when we can’t complete something. Before you start your day (or even week), ask yourself what one thing you’d like to achieve that would make you feel happy, and satisfied for the rest of the week.”
Wellness reality check
If you have a lot of different supplements that you swallow down with your morning smoothie, take a moment to think about whether or not they’ve made a noticeable difference to your health in the time you’ve been taking them. Are they prescribed by your GP and if so, when did you last check in with them about it? Not all supplements are created equal and not everyone needs to be taking them long-term.
For Deborah Bullock, 39, wellness became another target to hit as she approached her late thirties. “After years of pushing myself to the max to have a successful career, stay fit, have the perfect social and family life, and of course the quest for beautiful body shape, I reached full burnout. On paper, it looked like I achieved them all, but each goal didn’t hit the spot quite right. Once I was on the treadmill and feeling exhausted it was hard to get off.
Burnout forced me off that treadmill and made me re-evaluate what was really important to me. You can have it all without burning out; you just have to know what your ‘all’ is.” Signs of burnout can include, but are not limited to; finding small tasks challenging; waking up after a good night’s sleep and still feeling tired; social interactions feeling like a chore; feeling as if you’ve lost your drive and motivation or finding yourself snapping at the tiniest thing. If any of this rings a bell, then you might be teetering on the verge of a wellness burnout. “Typically, I see burnout in overachievers and perfectionists,” says Rosie Millen, a leading burnout coach (missnutritionist. com). “These are A-type personalities who always put everyone else first and feel like they need to do everything in order to get a good job done. I also see women suffer from it more than men.”
If you’re worried that you might be on the verge of wellness burnout, Rosie has three ways you avoid going over the edge:
1. Take time out from your wellness restraints: This means having a breather where you can, even if it means you cancel your weekly yoga class for an evening on the sofa at home instead. Try and scale back your commitments for two weeks and see how you feel after that fortnight is up.
2. Prioritise: Most people feel overwhelmed because their plate is already full, but they keep on adding to it anyway. If you take a look at your to-do list and only do the things that are the priority then you are less likely to feel frazzled. Writing a ‘stop doing’ list is equally effective and surprisingly refreshing!
3. Focus on the good: Rather than spending time thinking about what you can’t do and don’t have, focus on being grateful for the things that you can do and do have. Write in your journal three things that you’ve achieved each day and three things you are grateful for in your life. Writing these down can help to put you in a good mood.
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