Six years after capturing the global gaze as a woman who led her country with strength, resilience and compassion through uniquely testing times, Jacinda Ardern shocked the world by announcing that she’s stepping down as Prime Minister of New Zealand.
The 42-year-old politician revealed during an emotional speech that she “no longer has enough in the tank” to do the role justice.
My instant reaction was to feel a knowing nudge that the 42-year-old leader was exhibiting signs of a condition that so many of us, myself included, have experienced in our lives and careers – burnout.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress, which has become an alarmingly common occurrence in workplaces today. It’s a widespread problem that we see across industries, organisations, countries, cultures and genders.
However, the research shows that burnout is particularly impacting women with the latest women at work survey finding that 53% of women have experienced increased stress levels in the last 12 months and 46% of women feel burned out in 2022.
According to the original definition of burnout, first coined in 1975 by Herbert Freudenberger, it features three key components:
1.Emotional exhaustion – the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long.
2.Depersonalisation – the depletion of empathy, caring and compassion.
3.Decreased sense of accomplishment – an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.
What Emily and Amelia Nagoski found in researching their book, Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle, is that burnout tends to manifest differently for men and women. According to a study on the Gender differences in burnout whilst men experience more of the depersonalisation of burnout, women will find themselves feeling more emotionally exhausted.
Regardless of which component of burnout you relate to more, what we know is that burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. When you’re burnt out, you’ll likely feel that you have nothing more to give, or as Jacinda Ardern put it, “no longer enough in the tank”.
As an expert in women’s leadership, empowerment and well-being, I encounter and help women around the world, all of them supremely competent and committed trailblazers, to identify burnout (which differs from what we commonly call “stress”) through the following warning signs.
Warning Signs Checklist:
- Feeling exhausted, drained and empty
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Increased cynicism
- Loss of motivation
- Feeling helpless, trapped, hopeless and defeated
- Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
- Detachment, feeling alone in the world, withdrawing and isolating yourself from others
- Decreased compassion and empathy
- Change in appetite or sleep habits
- Frequent headaches or muscle pain
- Depleted immune system – getting sick frequently
- Finding it hard to focus and concentrate on tasks
- Difficulty solving problems and making decisions
- Increased forgetfulness
- Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
- Taking out your frustrations on others
I encourage clients and participants in my Women Rising program who are experiencing burnout to sit with the question what is the story they are telling themselves which is getting in the way of being their most authentic self? From there, I suggest following these 5 steps:
How to Overcome Burnout:
- Seek connection and support
- Set and maintain your boundaries – manage the stressors
- Complete the stress cycle – manage the stress
The 8 strategies that you can use to complete the stress cycle are:
- Physical activity
- Positive social interaction
- Lean into your values and sense of purpose
Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life isn’t working, which is a good indicator that it may be time to revisit your hopes, goals and dreams.
- Practice self-compassion
Regardless of what caused your burnout, one thing’s for certain: you’re going to need a gentle approach to recover, restore and heal from it. This is where self-compassion and kindness comes in.
Jacinda Ardern spent her premiership urging kindness as a national action plan for community and personal well-being. I trust she’ll follow her own advice and be acutely kind to herself so her tank will again be full and ready for the next new and exciting journey.
Megan Dalla-Camina is one of the world’s leading experts in women’s leadership, wellbeing and empowerment. As the Founder and CEO of Women Rising, and a women’s mentor, speaker, researcher, coach and author, Megan supports women to step into their power, thrive in their careers and be authentic leaders that make a difference.