Whether it’s feeling that your inbox is overflowing, and you can’t seem to get on top of it, or you struggle to find any energy to look after your physical health, guilt can start to creep in. Our inner critic gets louder and louder; the voice in our head that says “you’re failing, you’re weak, you’re not trying hard enough”. This exacerbates the problem - the cycle feels unbreakable!
We know from multiple pieces of research that women shoulder household responsibilities. The pandemic shone a pretty stark light on gender inequality at home. There’s also evidence that women perform far more cognitive and emotional labour than men. Whether it’s planning the family calendar, supporting elderly relatives or leading on organising social activities, it all tends to end up on women’s to-do lists! Colloquially, this has be-come known as the ‘mental load’.
When you combine this ‘load' with a demanding professional life - it’s not surprising one recent study found women are much less likely to have ‘flourishing mind health’ compared with their male counterparts.
If you’re running on empty and desperate to get some balance back, here are three tangible steps to take…
Block out one weekend a month
It’s really easy to confuse going to someone’s wedding abroad, or having a weekend away with friends, as a ‘break’. Much as these trips are fantastic but you’re still switched on and having to bring that positive energy constantly.
You need adequate time to recharge your batteries, without any specific commitments over your weekend. I always advise my clients to map out a minimum of one weekend a month for ‘no plans’. Of course, you can book in things last minute if you feel energised, but make sure there are boundaries in place to protect this ‘rebuild’ time.
Go back to basics with movement
When I founded Ladies Who Crunch, I wanted to build a community that would help busy women carve out a sliver of time to give back to their bodies. It’s farcical to expect anyone on the edge of burnout to find the headspace for complex exercise routines, so I built the ‘Mood Glossary’.
This helps our members navigate the library of classes via emotions (think ‘angry’ or ‘exhausted’), as well as via life scenarios (‘long day at the office’ or ‘sleepless night with little ones’, for example). These sessions are targeted and simple - think 10-minute yoga flows, or 20 minute bodyweight pilates sequences.
The glossary also includes instructions like ‘leave your phone and get 15 minutes of fresh air’, or ‘give yourself permission to rest’. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that less really is more.
Activate the ‘downtime’ setting on your phone
Even if you manage to finish work at a reasonable time, you’re inundated with notifications on your phone. Scientists have tracked the impact of excessive smartphone use on burnout symptoms and it won’t be a surprise to hear it’s far from helpful.
Less time scrolling and messaging has been proven to have a really calming effect on our central nervous system, which tends to take a battering from cortisol when we’re in phases of high stress.
Not enough people know you can set up time limitations on specific apps, as well as create a ‘downtime’ setting during certain hours of the day, to reduce screen time.
Nancy Best is a women’s health expert and the founder of Ladies Who Crunch, a female training community.