How can you bounce back from burnout as a leader?

The pandemic saw many of us work longer hours than normal to spread the load of our teams. In some cases, doing twice the workload! That has inevitably had a huge impact on our work-life balance, and consequently on our physical and mental health, happiness, and relationships.

Many women I coached were juggling a lot in their personal lives too – from home-schooling, sorting out the weekly food shop, and the endless washing to stay on top of all whilst ensuring the well-being of those around them. These small ‘hidden’ tasks can leave a big impact on women when they’re already feeling stretched – it leaves them feeling stressed and anxious and without any respite. Ultimately, it leads to burnout.

From the conversations I’ve had, many feel like they’ve lost their mojo. They’ve lost that passion and spark for their roles and it’s no surprise that it’s led to less motivation, engagement, and fulfilment in their careers. I too experienced the effects of burnout towards the end of lockdown – that same sense that I’d lost my mojo after being on the hamster wheel working. It’s ironic as I spent much of the pandemic delivering workshops to leaders about resilience! But it gave me even more vital insight to help my clients who are feeling the same way and how I could help them bounce back.

What is burnout?

Your body and mind can only tolerate high levels of stress and overwhelm for so long and eventually, can take its toll. It not only shows up as physical symptoms but it can impact us emotionally and mentally too. Symptoms can include:

  • Body fatigue,
  • Aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low energy levels
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low motivation or apathy
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of helplessness and overwhelm
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Increased irritability

How can we bounce back?

Building resilience is one of the cornerstones of excellent leadership and will enable you to bounce back quickly from challenges and setbacks, and you can start to understand and prioritise your own needs.

However, getting to this point can take work.

As human beings, we are constantly adapting. This means when we are overworked and overwhelmed, we cope by recalibrating and accepting these high-stress levels as the ‘new normal’. You’ll probably recognise this acceptance in the things you or your colleagues say about your life and work, things like ‘everyone is working hard at the moment’ or ‘that’s just the way it is in this team’. We come to expect this low baseline of constantly clinging on, barely making it through.

Below are some steps you can take:

Identify your red flags

Your red flags are the things that can cause your heart rate to rise, make you feel stressed or overwhelmed and can make it hard to focus and think clearly.

Warning signs could be:

  • Your energy levels are low
  • You lack patience with your children or family members
  • You are disconnecting from friends
  • You notice you are getting very triggered by challenging situations at work
  • You put things off you know will help you – such as exercise

Make it a daily habit to step back and plug into how you feel. Many people find that journaling is a good way to check in and start noticing patterns of emotions or behaviour. Writing can be a very cathartic way to release all the emotions and frustrations you’re experiencing. Going for a short walk in the morning can also give you a chance to reflect. Just being outdoors can give you a new perspective on things and boost your mood!

Identify your green flags

Your green flags are the things that help you to feel calm and energised.

Be aware of the days when you feel like you’re flying along and at your best. This will help you to understand the things that show you are thriving:

This could look like:

  • You feel calm and centred even when faced with a challenge
  • You are making good choices around bedtime, food and exercise – getting back to basics and ensuring you’re getting enough sleep, exercising, hydrated etc
  • You are present with friends and family
  • You find it easy to set healthy boundaries

The better you understand who you are and what you need, the more empowered you will feel to make the right choices for your leadership practice. The key here is to notice that small steps and little tweaks are powerful. If you are time-poor, focus on these small steps:

  • Take just 5 minutes outside
  • Use 30 seconds between calls to stand, breathe and stretch
  • Reset in a 20-minute lunch break listening to music or a podcast away from your desk (few leaders I know can take an hour)
  • Is there a meeting you can take while you ‘walk & talk’ outside?

Change the stories you tell yourself

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’ – William Shakespeare

The way you see a situation or experience may not be the way it actually is. Your view is shaped by your own internal stories, beliefs and assumptions. These narratives are, of course, in turn, shaped by many factors including past experiences, culture, those around us, or even tiredness. It can help you to identify the narratives that do not serve us, and pinpoint where we need to focus on ‘flexing’ our thinking.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the story I am telling myself here? How else can I look at this?
  • What is the narrative that I’m creating? What else might be true?
  • What are my assumptions and how well do they serve me?
  • What can I control here?

Learning to challenge and change any unhelpful assumptions beliefs and stories will help you be at your best as you lead. The story you are telling yourself is often the missing link when you are not leading or living at your best.

Speak up

Working under high levels of stress and burnout is not sustainable – you will not be performing at your best. If your workload is too much, delegate where you can or ask for help. Set clear boundaries with others and yourself so you don’t take on too much. You wouldn’t expect your team to suffer in silence, and neither should you! Who can you reach out to today?

How are your energy levels?

How would you describe your level of resilience or wellness right now?

How would you like your life to be different?

I specialise in helping my clients develop the right tools to bounce to go from surviving to thriving. If you would like a virtual coffee and a chat about this, please book a call here.


+44 7947 211 959