When I finally got diagnosed with burnout 10 years ago, I was shell-shocked.
I’d been looking after my health ever since my mum passed away suddenly seven years before.
Wellbeing had become a priority in my life…..or so I thought.
So when I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, I couldn’t understand how it had happened.
I then got fiercely curious – I *needed* to understand because if I didn’t, I wasn’t sure how I could stop it from happening again.
It turns out I’d been making some wellbeing mistakes.
And from working with my clients over the past decade, I know I’m not alone in these mistakes.
It’s important to say that there is no shame in making these mistakes.
They’re not our fault – many of them are cultural and societal.
But I’m a big believer that knowledge is power.
The more we know them, the better we are to avoid or mitigate them.
- Taking too narrow a view of wellbeing
When I hit the burnout wall, I couldn’t understand how it had happened because I’d been looking after my health.
It turns out wellbeing isn’t just about your physical health.
Yes, exercise and nutrition are essential but they aren’t the only factors of wellbeing. Wellbeing isn’t just the absence of physical health issues. Genuine wellbeing is far more than that.
Some of the world’s best ultra athletes wouldn’t claim to have optimal wellbeing. That’s because wellbeing is made up of the following holistic factors:
- Social Wellbeing – is all about your interpersonal relationships. It’s the ability to develop and sustain meaningful relationships. Within the workplace, this relates to your sense of belonging, trust and collaboration. It’s about the way we communicate with one another, how we connect with our colleagues and how we feel valued at work. Outside of work, it is about being respected and loved by the people who matter most to you. Research shows that social wellbeing is the most significant predictor of a long and healthy life! And if your place of work lacks psychological safety, research shows that your risk of depression increases by 300%!
- Spiritual Wellbeing -is all about finding meaning and purpose in life. It’s about whether you feel you are making a contribution in your life to the things that you truly consider important. Having a sense of meaning and purpose are powerful factors in helping us to navigate the challenges that life can bring and support our wellbeing, particularly during difficult times. Studies show that those with a purpose live longer, sleep better, have a more robust immune system, and lower stress levels and better cognitive function.
- Emotional Wellbeing – is all about inner strength and emotional evenness. It’s about how tough you are on the outside to deal with life’s challenges as well as how calm, centred and grounded you feel on the inside during times of adversity. It includes being able to acknowledge, understand & respond constructively to your emotions. Whilst also being able to regulate your response in emotionally charged situations and balance your own emotional needs with those in your life. We’ve all experienced times when our emotional wellbeing impacts our overall health and wellbeing. The connection between our brains, hearts and bodies can’t be denied.
- Physical Wellbeing – is all about the traditional indicators of health, which include energy and vitality. It’s all the stuff we know we should be doing; sleep, movement, nutrition and hydration. But most importantly, it’s about being in touch with your body and understanding the signals it’s telling you. When most of us live in our heads and are disconnected from our bodies, this can be easier said than done!
- Mental Wellbeing – we hear a lot about mental health. It’s remembering that we all have mental health and mental wellbeing isn’t just the absence of mental illness. It’s about having the psychological flexibility to be aware of your thoughts and feelings, accepting them without judgment and taking effective action guided by your values and goals. Mental wellbeing isn’t about always having positive thoughts and being optimistic. It’s about consciously choosing the action you want to take to live a meaningful life even when you experience unhelpful thinking or difficult situations.
- Intellectual Wellbeing – is all about how interesting and absorbing you find your work. It’s an often overlooked part of wellbeing. We still live in a culture where we see our work as a way of earning money, not necessarily as part of our wellbeing. Do you do what you love? Is it providing the right level of challenge and stimulation? Can you express your creativity in ways that feel good for you? Are you able to learn, grow and develop? Are you able to use your strengths to the best of your ability? Intellectual wellness allows your brain both stimulation and rest for critical thinking, curiosity, and creativity.
As this shows – wellbeing is far more multidimensional than we often think.
So my burnout experience was influenced by far more than what I ate and how often I moved my body!
2. One size fits all
It’s easy in our online world to see the latest fitness or nutritional trends and feel like we need to jump on the bandwagon to experience the benefits. But we can find ourselves doing things for our health that may not actually be useful.
Wellbeing is a highly individualised state that is influenced by a complex combination of our individual circumstances. It varies from person to person because each of us has a different combination of psychological, emotional, social and physical resources that we draw upon.
What works for one person may not work for the next. In fact, it’s unlikely.
Fasting may be great for one person but not for another. A vegan diet may be fantastic for one person but not for another. Likewise, any wellbeing initiative needs to be passed through your individual filters to check if it actually will be beneficial to you.
Therefore it’s vital that you self-source your wellbeing. By self-source, I mean you use your own body to measure its impact and usefulness, not any external measures. And for that to happen, we must be in tune with our bodies. Only then can we tailor our wellbeing strategies to our unique needs and challenges.
3. Ignoring personal development
I used to think of wellbeing as more about physical health. But this is more wellness than it is wellbeing.
Wellness is about adopting a proactive and preventive approach to health, focusing on maintaining and improving physical wellbeing through healthy habits, preventative measures, and self-care practices.
Wellbeing, as we’ve explored, goes beyond the physical. When I experienced my burnout, I couldn’t understand why when physically, I thought I was doing all the right things.
In hindsight, I now realise I’d been neglecting my intellectual wellbeing. Becoming a mother was one of the biggest blessings in my life. But it was also one of my biggest challenges.
Being thrown into my role as a parent, I’d underestimated how my professional identity was important. As I focussed on my new baby, I hadn’t factored in my need for intellectual engagement and flow. Something that I couldn’t really get in my first year of motherhood and something that I now realise is a vital part of my wellbeing.
If the intellectual demands on us are too high it can impact our wellbeing
But if the intellectual demands on us are too low, that too can impact our wellbeing.
We need to feel like we’re being challenged in a way that supports our development and growth to fuel our wellbeing.
4. Neglecting leisure and enjoyment
Most of the research and data on wellbeing focuses on wellbeing in the workplace. While wellbeing at work is vitally important, it doesn’t account for us as a whole person. We need to work *and* live well.
Our wellbeing needs to be considered in all domains of our lives – including personal as well as professional.
When we become parents, it’s common for our personal lives to get squeezed out – between work commitments and family commitments, there’s often no time for leisure and enjoyment. They can fall to the wayside – they become almost non-essential. Something we’ll pick back up when we have more time in a different season of our lives.
But the research shows that leisure time is so important for our wellbeing. Being able to tap into our unique expression of creativity and find purpose allows us to live a happier, more fulfilled life.
It’s what Eve Rodsky calls Unicorn Space (because it feels like a mythical and unobtainable creature as a working mum!) – it’s what makes us interesting. Eve makes a really compelling case for Unicorn Space in her book and explains why it isn’t just a luxury. The research is clear that it’s necessary for our mental health, physical wellbeing, and sense of self.
5. Ineffective stress management
As working mums, many of us live in a constant state of busyness, juggling multiple responsibilities and feeling the pressure to keep up with societal expectations. The physiological and psychological effects and the impact on our nervous systems can’t be underestimated.
It can cause our body’s threat system to become highly activated.
When this happens, we experience stress responses, including increased heart rate, heightened alertness, and feelings of anxiety or fear. This response is meant to prepare our body to cope with the threat or initiate protective behaviours.
While the threat system serves a vital survival function, chronic activation of this system can negatively affect wellbeing. Prolonged or excessive activation of the threat system without adequate recovery can result in chronic stress, anxiety disorders, and other adverse physical and mental health outcomes.
It’s crucial to develop effective coping strategies and stress management techniques to regulate the activation of the threat system and reduce its impact on wellbeing. But the starting point is recognising that the over-activation of our stress system has become our’ negative normal’, because most of us aren’t even aware of it.
I know I wasn’t and that played a huge part in me ending up with adrenal fatigue – I literally burnt my adrenal glands out!
6. Letting perfectionism and self-criticism steal wellbeing
So many women I work with are high striving. They strive for excellence in everything they do and have high standards. These can be positive traits, but when taken to extremes, they can lead to negative outcomes, particularly for our wellbeing.
The constant striving for perfection can result in chronic stress and anxiety. The fear of making mistakes or falling short of expectations can create a perpetual state of worry and unease.
Perfectionists often struggle to find satisfaction or enjoyment in their accomplishments because their focus is primarily on flaws or perceived failures. This can rob us of our joy and fulfilment and ultimately undermines our wellbeing even if we think we’re doing all the other wellbeing initiatives perfectly!
7. Failing to address the impact of technology
Technology is designed to addict us. We use our smartphones for everything, from telling the time and taking photos, as an alarm clock, to play music and as a purse or wallet.
Our phones are often the first thing we touch in the morning and the last thing we touch at night.
The overuse of technology has an impact on our mental health and is known to contribute to feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression. It can also impact our neurobiology influencing our hormone balance, impacting our immune and stress systems.
Being clear on your relationship with technology and developing digital wellbeing goals is crucial to your overall wellbeing.
8. Falling into ‘once and done’
Once you’ve put in place a robust plan for your wellbeing that’s enough isn’t it?
Unfortunately, it’s not.
What supports your wellbeing not only changes based on what season of life you’re in.
Do you have young children?
Demanding project at work?
It also fluctuates from day to day.
Not enough sleep last night?
Time of the month?
The truth is that your wellbeing is highly dynamic. It’s a delicate balancing act between your psychological and physical resources. And the particular social, emotional, psychological and physical challenges you face in life and work at any given time. So it constantly needs attention.
Understanding these common mistakes that can hinder our wellbeing is crucial to cultivating a healthier and more fulfilling life. By being aware of them, we can empower ourselves to mitigate or avoid their unhelpful impact.
It’s now more important than ever to manage your wellbeing.Enabling you to make the highest contribution in your life in a sustainable way!
Using your energy sustainably to make an impact in your professional life while also being able to show up in your personal life in a happy and healthy way!
Here’s to your sustainable wellbeing.
P.S. Would you like my support to understand, build and maintain your wellbeing this year? Get in touch for a chat to learn more about my Global Leadership Wellbeing Survey and how it can support you. The survey provides a full and unique picture of what’s sustaining – or detracting from your wellbeing and identifies key focus areas to create a practical and individualised action plan to maintain wellbeing on a holistic level