How To Reduce Overwhelm & Prevent Burnout
With Jaimie Sarah
Starting up a business + being a mother = overwhelm
Are you familiar with overwhelm? If you’re anything like I am, I suspect you are. When you’re starting up a business, the potential for overwhelm is large at the best of times, same too if you’re a mother. When you’re both a mother and starting up a business, it’s virtually guaranteed.
Longer holidays + increased ‘mental load’ = increased overwhelm
In the recent holidays I had ‘mental load’ overload, which led swiftly into total overwhelm. There was too much to think about, too much to do and not enough time to do it.
If you don’t recognize the term ‘mental load’, you’ll definitely recognise it. Made popular by a French Cartoonist Emma Clit in her cartoon ‘You Should Have Asked’ – it depicts the ever-running ‘To Do’ lists we live with as women and how, in most households, we are the ones to project manage and address everything that needs to be done.
The standard ‘mental load’ that accompanies my role as mother (and CEO of the home/family) is bad enough. Once it’s school holidays however, the size of this load and my inability to address it seems to grow in proportion to the length of the ‘break’.
Overwhelm and self-care
When I get overwhelmed, it’s probably when I need self-care the most. In reality though, self-care gets relegated so far down the list of priorities that it almost drops off the end.
When I felt overwhelmed in the holidays, I wrote down everything I was thinking about – at all times – on a large piece of paper, listed under ‘Me / Family / Work’ categories and handed it to my husband. I did this a) to fully appreciate the enormity of the To Do list in my head; b) to explain my increasingly stressed behaviour and c) see if he could help me anywhere.
Seeing a visual representation of the amount of things I’m trying to achieve all at once, spurred me into action. Prolonged overwhelm leads to ‘burnout’ (defined as ‘a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.’ Nobody wants to burnout.
Fitting self-care into your week
I’ve blocked out a plan for my ideal week once it’s term time. I’ve blocked out time with the children, time to work ‘in’ the business and time to work ‘on’ the business. I blocked out a ‘date’ night when I will promise to *not* be on my laptop or phone and try to pay my husband some attention.
This time, I’ve also tried really hard to insert ‘self-care’ time into my schedule. For me this looks like some exercise – some early morning yoga (I swear by online sessions with @movementformodernlife), some jogs and a new weekly exercise class. It also means some boundaries – stopping work an hour before bed and having some evenings during the week when I will try *not* to work.
The finished ‘week’ looks great. Will it work? I’m not sure. I remain reluctantly unconvinced that I’ll be able to follow it and still get sufficient work done in the time I have available.
Anti-Burnout Queen - Jaimie Sarah
The exercise got me thinking about Jaimie Sarah. If you don’t know her yet, Jaimie is a success coach, with a young baby son and a thriving business.
On social media Jaimie describes herself as an ‘Anti-Burnout Queen’ and since following her, I’ve noticed she really walks her own talk.
Jaimie is BRILLIANT at seamlessly integrating self-care into her successful business.
Balancing motherhood and business, with a focus on well-being and self-care is a skill all #amotherbrands could benefit from learning. I decided to seek Jaimie’s advice about how to ensure I reduce overwhelm and prevent burnout, by fitting self-care into my week.
1) First things first Jaimie, you describe yourself as an ‘Anti-Burnout Queen’ – why is this something we should be worried about as entrepreneurs?
The threat of prolonged overwhelm leading to burn out is very real to entrepreneurs. I have lots of entrepreneurs coming to me, at all stages of their business, with burn out and many don’t realise it. They feel so tired and so terrible, but they don’t know why. It’s much harder to see the picture when you’re in the frame.
I have experience of burn out first hand and it is very expensive personally. There is no greater wealth than our health. Without good health, it can prove very expensive for us, both emotionally, physically and financially. For the majority of entrepeneurs, we need to be alive and well in order for our businesses to thrive. There’s no sick leave and our business doesn’t keep running if we’re laid up in bed, exhausted and suffering from adrenal fatigue.
2. What are the signs of burn out that we should look out for?
There are a number of possible signs that you might be suffering from burnout.
• Feeling exhausted no matter how much sleep you get.
• Not being able to think clearly.
• Having a short temper.
• Getting sick – if you’re getting sick a lot that’s a good sign that you’re burned out.
(If you think this description describes any mother, you’d be right! Most mums are really burned out and especially working mothers.)
3. What can we do to reduce overwhelm?
To reduce overwhelm we need to take a look at what we are doing and work out what we need to keep and what activities we outsource or stop doing. My business is called ‘Definitely Definitely’ because I truly believe entrepreneurs need to get super clear on what’s a ‘definitely definitely’ for them and what isn’t.
A ‘definitely definitely’ is something that is an absolute ‘hell yes!’ Something that is meaningful for you, which you enjoy and that is moving you forward in pursuit of what matters to you. It might be quality time with your family or making a certain amount of money. What matters to you will be different for different people and that’s totally fine. The key is to make sure you’re spending as much as your time as possible on these activities.
It’s important to be realistic. Some things – like putting the bins out – we may have to do, even though they are not a ‘definitely definitely’ for us. The goal isn’t to eliminate everything that isn’t a ‘definitely definitely’ as that may not be realistic, but the goal is to have those activities under control, in a way that works for you.
If you don’t like cleaning, you have a budget to outsource it and you can use that time to make at least double the cost of hiring a cleaner, then that’s a great thing to outsource. Or it might be that you need to have a really clear conversation with your spouse about the division of labour at home, so you have more time to work on the bits of your business that make the most difference.
4. When we talk about ‘self-care’ – what does this really mean?
‘You can go to spas and have massages every day but if you’re talking to yourself like shit, it won’t do anything.’
A) How you talk to yourself is the single most important part of self-care.
Self-care is primarily an internal conversation. It’s about how you relate to yourself and the conversations you’re having in your mind.
You know the sort of messages:
‘I’m not good enough.’
‘Everyone else is better at this than me.’
‘This is so bloody hard, why did I choose this?’
B) Secondly, you need to cultivate a natural sense of wellbeing.
By this I mean a physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. This will look different for different people. For one person a high impact workout will make them feel great, for others it might be relaxing yoga session by candlelight or a walk in the park. It’s important to understand that what works for someone else, might not work for you. So many people follow the ‘self-care’ rituals of other people and end up being more burned out! You’ve got to be really honest with yourself about what selfcare looks like for you.
5. How do we fit self-care into our week?
The key is to make self-care non-negotiable. I put workouts in my diary (and book my son into the crèche for them) in advance. These self-care appointments are just as important as a business meeting.
I used to move my self-care appointments if I got more work in but eventually I was working 7am-9pm every day and I burned out. I had very bad adrenal fatigue. As entrepreneurs and mothers we need to go through a process of ‘unlearning’ in order to avoid burn out and to create sustainable success.
When you do your self-care activity, you will be more productive when you get back to work. You’ll bring a better quality to whatever you’re doing. You’re more likely to achieve the results you want in less time. When you’re in a really good, expansive energy you it feels like you can warp time, you get in flow. It feels like you get three hours work done in one hour.
6. What would be your top tips for integrating small windows of low-cost and easy ‘self-care’ activities into your day?
It’s about finding a crack in time and making it non-negotiable. It can be something relatively short, such as:
• Find time for a 20 minute work out
• Take a 20 minute walk in nature
• Spend 10 mins meditating while your baby is napping
• Invest 10 mins journaling in the morning. Connect to yourself and to what you’re committed to creating.
• Stop once an hour for 2 mins to concentrate on your breath. Consciously breathe deeper for those 2 minutes.
These are small wins but altogether, they’re massive.
7. What would you say to someone who says they just don’t have time to exercise or meditate for example? That they’ve got ‘too much’ work to do?
You can’t afford not to look after yourself. It will cost you not to do it. It will cost you in terms of health, clarity and missed opportunities.
When you are stressed out, a brilliant opportunity could be dangling in front of you and you wouldn’t be able to see it. When you are in a good place and not full of stress hormones, you receive ideas and see opportunities more clearly.
8. What would your top tips for goal and task setting for the day / week / month?
Have no more than 3 non-negotiable high-priority tasks on your to do list for any one day. If you’ve got a list with 100 things infront of you, it’s just going to stress you out and you’re more likely to feel like a failure when you’re not succeeding in doing them all. Too many things on your list can paralyse you with pressure and you don’t move forward.
Get your top priority tasks done, then move along to the next three. Get 3 done – then move the next along. Under promise and over-deliver when to comes to what you’re going to do on a given day.
9. I feel the constant need to create content for social media a bit overwhelming at times. Do you have any tips for that?
You’re better off writing one really powerful piece of content then lots of less meaningful posts. Create a post about one topic on your preferred platform and then repurpose the content (or if possible have a Virtual Assistant repurpose it for you) across other channels.
10. Any other top tips for improving the well-being of a busy mother who is starting up or growing a business?
Investing in at least a small amount of childcare is integral. It may be uncomfortable at first – you may not have a lot or even very little to invest, but if you focus during that time strictly on income generating activities that will get you a fast return on investment, then you can expand your investment from there to create still more time, more impact and more return.
With many thanks to Jaimie for her kind advice.
I’m definitely going to work on having self-care scheduled in to my week as a non-negotiable. Given the choice between feeling stressed and missing out on opportunities or working less, looking after myself and having greater clarity and creativity… it’s a no-brainer. What about you?