June 9th, 2021

If there ever was a year to test the resilience of women, it was 2020. So many women juggled it all: managing the household, raising children, supporting their extended families, giving back to their communities — while still holding onto their place at the top ranks of leadership. It’s no wonder more than 53% of women reported experiencing burnout in the past year, according to a recent CNBC study on women at work.

Lack of sleep. Mental fog. No motivation. Pure exhaustion. Burnout presents itself in a variety of ways but it’s more present than ever across women since the Covid-19 pandemic, as women spent more than 20 hours a week on caregiving and household duties alone and reported skyrocketing levels of anxiety related to work, McKinsey reports.

While corporate America is still coming to terms with a new way of working, examining how they will provide more support for women and mothers, there are simple and effective strategies you can employ in your day-to-day life to reshape your outlook and rejuvenate your mental health. From meditation and breathing techniques to walking and coaching, read our recommended actions below you can start today to make healthy changes.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a very real, and potentially serious, mental health condition. A recent HBR article described, burnout as “a serious work issue, as the pace and complexity of our work environments have rapidly changed.” In May of 2019, the World Health Organization updated the definition of burnout as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

For many leaders, burnout may start small. A symptom one week, two the next; it snowballs from there. Leaders who experience burnout may feel like they are stuck, ploughing through mud throughout their workday versus feeling energized by their tasks. They may become cynical, detached, or severely foggy, feeling as though they are not operating at their best.

Nataly Kogan, founder of Happier at Work, spoke at an Athena Salon on happiness and resilience. She reflected on her own burnout, saying: “The way that I can describe it most accurately is that I had lost all hope and all drive that I relied on my whole life, and I couldn’t function as a leader. I couldn’t function as a mom. I couldn’t function as a human. It was really, really scary.”

How to reclaim mental wellness

The good news: there are proven strategies for tackling your burnout. And, “self-care” goes far beyond facials and massages. The following are proven tips to regain a sense of balance, wellness, and control in your life.

Get comfortable with boundaries. Simply put, burnout occurs when you’re doing too much. Your workload extends far beyond the time, resources, and tools you have before you; it’s unsustainable. One of the toughest, yet smartest, ways to fight burnout is to get comfortable with shifting timelines, reprioritizing workload, and possibly (probably) saying “no”.

Take a walk. Or, exercise any way you choose — just move! According to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America, “studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.”

Find support in a coach. Whether it’s a professional executive coach or a close friend, burnout can cause brain fog and exhaustion. It’s helpful to have someone in your corner to serve as a sounding board for decision-making and navigating your path forward to wellness.

Prioritize exercise and sleep. Sleep matters. Movement matters. The foods you eat to fuel your body matter. Burnout is a signal for you to take a fresh look at the patterns in your life; it’s an alarm telling you to establish new ones. Not only does sleep provide you with physical recovery, it allows you to stay cognitively sharp, make sound decisions, and more calmly get through stressful times. And, consistently getting less than 8 hours of sleep is proven to increase your mental stress.

Meditate: Meditation, when integrated into daily life, can change your outlook on stress, confusion, and mindfulness. Meditation makes you present in the moment, even if there are distractions around you. Meditation can range from 3-minute to 3-hour sessions, and it can happen within your comfort zone. The main goal is to make you aware of your thoughts and surroundings, and choose which you want to identify yourself with.

Meditation for the busy leader

Meditation has rapidly moved from the fringes of society to the mainstream. The meditation market in the U.S. is valued at over $1 billion, with meditation and mindfulness practices being adopted by companies such as Apple, Google, Nike, and Aetna. As Athena member learned in a recent Salon, Meditation for Professionals, “ companies report over $300 billion in annual losses due to stress-related absences, [and] meditation offers promising low-risk solutions to help boost productivity and raise company morale.”

When it comes to meditation, there are a number of simple ways to get started. Begin by observing your surroundings and how you interact with them. Then, observe yourself and your mind. Think about how your body feels and what thoughts pop into your head.

One approach to help you focus is to imagine all your thoughts as though they are different internet tabs on your computer. As you browse through those thoughts, decide which are important enough to give your energy. Close out the rest.

There are also many types of breathing exercises you can do to de-stress. One example is doing four quick breaths in and four quick breaths out. Box breathing is also an option; it’s breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds, and holding again for four more seconds.

Invest in your health and career, this year and beyond

Athena helps its members become more effective leaders, with meaningful connections to other women executives, powerful access to career opportunities, and access to the most current executive learning on the market. Learn more about membership here.



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