How to beat burnout

A hand reaching for its own reflection in the sea.

Courtney Carlsson, the founder of new emotional identity coaching app, Paradym, shares her experience of confronting burnout and why we need to reframe our idea of productivity

By Courtney Carlsson   Tue, 28 July, 2020

‘For me, burnout came in the form of a slow onset of exhaustion, like a lobster slowly being boiled to sleep. 
‘I had the life that I had strived for and yet nothing was ever enough. I was working at The Row in New York in a role I enjoyed, in a city that I was completely in love with, and I had close friends – although I barely saw them because I was so busy. 

‘The always-on lifestyle that I first thrived in began to suck my energy. By 27, I’d worked at a hedge fund, Celine (LVMH), and a billion-dollar fashion start-up, and lived in New York, Singapore and Paris. But it wasn’t until I started my MBA programme in 2014 that I was able to challenge my way of thinking and really consider how I wanted my life to look.

‘The first thing I knew, without much reflection, was that I didn’t want to work all the time. I also knew I wanted a good relationship with a stable partner, and that I cared about the close relationships in my life: family and old, trusted friends. I also wanted some autonomy in my career – I was tired of being constrained by a company’s objectives and timelines. 

‘Realising I had no idea where to start, a close friend told me of a therapist her friend was seeing, and I started a long journey of introspection and reflection. In fact, I found the process so transformative that I wanted to share the tools I learned, making them as accessible to as many people as possible. 

‘This was the beginning of Paradym, an emotional identity coaching tool that I launched to help us all break negative patterns such as burnout and feeling inadequate. The principles of Paradym are based on emotional identity – knowing who we are through the lens of our feelings. Our emotional identity can be incredibly complex, because we have deeply ingrained patterns – or learned behaviour – from childhood. Noticing consistent behaviour in your reactions will tell you all about your emotional patterns. Identifying those patterns is the first step. The next step is choosing whether they still serve you. 

‘Burnout is one of the difficult emotional patterns to beat, and it stems from feeling the need to prove something to yourself or others. The trick here is to try to understand why you don’t feel like you’re enough as you are. Why do you need to keep achieving? If you come to work depleted of energy, you can’t be creative or thrive. So why don’t you feel like it’s ok – necessary even – to take a break? 
‘While I was asking myself these questions five years ago, it’s been at the top of my mind in recent days. Lockdown has helped many of us see how effective we can be at home, perhaps even working fewer hours. We’ve gone back to basics and productivity has been redefined.

‘Sometimes, people think being productive is about being “busy”, but it’s really the opposite. It’s about working smarter to accomplish more with your time. Of course, that hasn’t been without its challenges, and when you live and work in your office, you have to be hyper disciplined to make it effective. The working from home effectiveness spectrum stretches from leavism, the inability to switch off from work, to being unable to focus at home due to the distractions of domestic responsibilities. 

‘Whatever situation you’re in, whether you’re overproductive, underproductive, or anxious about heading back to work, the most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself. We know from cognitive behavioural therapy that our thoughts influence our behaviour and physiology. If you’re punishing yourself or feeling guilty about your current state, you might develop unhealthy behaviours, including eating too little, an inability to sleep or being indecisive. This may lead to even more anxiety, which in turn could cause more cortisol production or a faster heart rate. And so, the cycle perpetuates. 

‘This is a really challenging time for all of us and it’s hard to make concrete plans with the ever-shifting sands. With that in mind, I’d like to share a couple of tips on finding and maintaining balance, and avoiding any kind of burnout: 

Be kind to yourself. I’ve said it once, and I’ll keep saying it again, because it really is the most important point.
Keep reflecting. What is giving you energy and what is taking it away? Do more of the energising stuff. 
Try to carve out some time for yourself before bed. Establish a sleep ritual that’ll help you decompress after particularly challenging days. 
Create working rituals to keep productivity momentum. And reinvigorate your working space with pictures, crystals and candles – whatever helps. 
Listen to your body and mind. If you’re losing focus because you’re exhausted, take a break. It’s easy to forget to go for a walk when you’re working from home, because you have everything there. But take those walks – they’ll really clear your head. 
Be good to your body. If you fuel yourself with nourishing and nutritious foods, you will have more energy and be able to maintain focus for longer. Sugar and simple carbs, such as bread, will cause spikes in your energy levels.
Know your boundaries. The lines between home and work are so blurred now that we need to know when to separate one from the other. Create a schedule and stick to it. I like to set an alarm at 7pm for my hard stop, meaning I force myself to leave my desk and have dinner with my family.’

For more tips on burnout and to begin your Paradym Process, download the Paradym here free until September and then discounted for Soho house members.
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