Imagine being a leader of a country. A Prime Minister but also a new mother. You are responsible for taking decisions on matters such as mass shootings, deadly volcanic eruptions, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Thinking about it makes my stomach sick with anxiety, but Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, led the nation in these tough times.
So how do world leaders deal with such stress?
Many don’t! They continue working with exhaustion but not Jacinda Ardern. She took a step back, keeping her mental and physical health a priority for her and her family!
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term stress. It can result in hopelessness, frustration, and a lack of satisfaction. If left unchecked, burnout can develop into depression, a mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
Burnout among leaders is not a “new” concept. It has been there for ages, without people understanding it. Some of the most successful leaders in history have struggled with intense exhaustion and burnout.
The former President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, suffered from chronic depression and exhaustion while he led the country through one of its most trying times. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II, suffered from exhaustion and depression. He took breaks from his duties as well to recuperate.
The pressure and stress of leading a country can take a toll on anyone, and leaders need to recognize when they need to take a step back and take care of themselves.
Leaders from all backgrounds and industries are not immune to burnout. Executives in fields like law, consulting, and finance have traditionally been linked to burnout because of presenteeism, which frequently results in unusually long hours and overwork. However, it is becoming more prevalent across a variety of sectors and is increasingly affecting diverse demographic cohorts, particularly young people.
"I ended up in the emergency room three times."
TeLisa’s story: “I was doing everything from 2015 to 2017, and everyone believed I was killing it. Actually, I was killing myself doing all of these things! Prior to visiting the emergency room three times in October 2017, I hardly ever said "no," rarely rested, and hardly ever paid attention to my body's warnings. I was aware that a lot of changes were necessary because my health and well-being are directly related to how long my company will last.”
"I needed a three-hour nap to recover from a meeting."
Patricia’s story: “Burnout struck me in my third year of business. I was constantly exhausted, and even the simplest and previously enjoyable tasks gave me anxiety. I remember vividly one day in November 2016 when I needed a three-hour nap to recover from a 30-minute meeting; that day, I knew everything had to change.”
“I felt dead inside. I’d pushed myself too far, for too long. The well was dry, there was no water left to pour, my cup was empty.”
Stephen’s story: “On weekends, I'd always bring my backpack with me, loaded down with my laptop, gym gear, journal, and the latest self-help book I was reading. I even took my laptop to a friend's wedding in Malta. I was in a junior position working on a general election campaign in the UK, but I felt important and indispensable enough to check my emails frequently during the trip”
“I was at home on the phone and checking emails when I passed out, fell, and woke up in a pool of blood, with a broken cheekbone and a cut over my eye”
Arianna’s story: Huffington had been working for 18 hours a day, building the Huffington Post website. After this incident, her medical tests indicated that she passed out because of exhaustion! Now recovered, she says that she tries to get more sleep and is grateful for the "wake-up call that changed my life."
These are a few stories from leaders in their fields who have felt the excruciating feeling of burnout. These and many other stories show how diverse are the effects of burnout! For some, it creeps up on them gradually over time; for others, it strikes without warning. It's not always easy to recognize that you're on the verge of a breakdown when you're consumed by working hard toward your goals.
Jacinda Ardern was bold enough to call quits before it was too late but not everyone can walk away from their responsibilities. Although, they can work towards not reaching the tipping point!
In today’s time, there are many companies, researchers, and influencers working towards spreading awareness about ways to overcome burnout. Some of the basics are:
- Breathing exercises
At Glimp we believe in giving people a concrete, tactile solution to this issue. Our Pebbles help in making the above-mentioned tips easier to practice, while it tracks your recovery.
Try this for yourself! Your work should be enjoyable and not deadly. Say NO to burnout just like Jacinda Ardern who gave her job and family justice by recognizing burnout before it was too late!
Allan B. Schwartz, F. the I. (2017, November 24). Medical mystery: Winston Churchill's most secret battle. https://www.inquirer.com. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.inquirer.com/philly/health/medical-mystery-winston-churchills-most-secret-battle-20171124.html
BBC. (n.d.). Is Burnout finally 'high-profile' enough for leaders to act? BBC Worklife. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20230123-is-burnout-finally-high-profile-enough-for-leaders-to-act
Business Insider. (n.d.). 15 stories of burnout from successful female CEOS, founders, and leaders, and their advice for avoiding the same fate. Business Insider. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.businessinsider.com/female-ceos-founders-leaders-burnout-confessions-advice?international=true&r=US&IR=T#1-i-fell-into-a-year-long-depression-1
Cotliar, S. (2014, May 7). Arianna Huffington: The wake-up call that changed my life. Peoplemag. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://people.com/celebrity/arianna-huffington-the-wake-up-call-that-changed-my-life/
Salyers, M. P., Hudson, C., Morse, G., Rollins, A. L., Monroe-DeVita, M., Wilson, C., & Freeland, L. (2011). BREATHE: A Pilot Study of a One-Day Retreat to Reduce Burnout Among Mental Health Professionals. Psychiatric Services, 62(2), 214–217. https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.62.2.pss6202_0214
Shenk, J. W. (2005, October 1). Lincoln's Great Depression. The Atlantic. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/
Lynch, S. (2021, April 16). How I rebuilt my life after burnout: Stephen's story. Happiful Magazine. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://happiful.com/how-i-rebuilt-my-life-after-burnout/
Maslach, C., & Goldberg, J. (1998). Prevention of burnout: New perspectives. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 7(1), 63–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0962-1849(98)80022-x