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Avoid burnout and prioritise you: The importance of self-care

‘Not enough left in the tank’. This was how Jacinda Ardern, the outgoing Prime Minister of New Zealand described herself when she recently made her shock announcement that she was stepping down from her role. As a 37-year-old woman with a young child and partner, the pressures and stresses of a high-profile political career must have created tensions and challenges for her both physically and mentally. She has often been held up as a global icon for women and their ability to challenge existing leadership styles, bringing with her a very different empathetic and compassionate approach to the role. The cynics may say that rather than burn-out or personal reasons the explanation may be more political, given recent indications of a fall in her party’s popularity. Perhaps she is jumping ship before the next set of elections was the view of some commentators.

Honesty is the best policy

No matter the reason, it does provide a salutary lesson when we hear of high-profile figures admitting to succumbing to burnout or stress. Several well-known women such as Lady Gaga and Sandra Bullock have spoken publicly about the effect of burn-out and being prepared to step down from work in order to give themselves self-care. Sandra Bullock expressed it perfectly:

“I’m so burnt out. I’m so tired, and I’m so not capable of making healthy, smart decisions and I know it.”

What is burnout?

Burnout was officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2019. It is a recognised occupational phenomenon which is a state of ‘physical and emotional exhaustion’ that occurs as a result of long-term emotional and/or physical stress in a job. Several specific symptoms may include feeling excessively tired regularly, feeling overwhelmed or defeated, loss of confidence, self-doubt, and a cynical or negative outlook.

What are the effects of burnout?

Work may take a lot longer to do because of the loss of both physical and mental energy. Ultimately burnout will have a significant effect not just on our ability to perform our job but on us personally. Of course, for many the situation may not be as extreme as burnout, but may involve feeling continuously stressed or tired due to workload pressures.

How can we address burnout?

Addressing burnout or stress and seeing the importance of self-care is vital. Self-care can have two components. First, we need to be able to recognise the signs of burnout or stress in ourselves which is not always easy when the work that we do forms part of our identity and validation of who we are. Being able to admit to not being able to handle the situation can be counter-productive to our motivation to maintain the status or identity that we derive from our work. As Sandra Bullock stated:

“I realised it (work) possibly was becoming my crutch. It was like opening up a fridge all the time and looking for something that was never in the fridge. I said to myself, ‘Stop looking for it here because it doesn’t exist here. You already have it; establish it, find it and be OK not having work to validate you.”

SELF-CARE: Self-reflection and boundary setting

Seeing work as a constant source of validation and a crutch to who we are can drive us to work and work and work to achieve what we believe will give us self-worth. So, the first element of self-care is being able to self-reflect and recognise why we may be over-working. Is it the job itself or is it also aspects of our own drive and desire to achieve or be recognised? Is there a reason why we cannot say ‘No’ and set boundaries that protect us against overworking and potential burnout?

SELF-CARE: Explore your mental mindset and make adjustments

Having recognised the state we are in, the second element of self-care is then to explore our mental mindset about our work and be prepared to make adjustments. This often involves talking with others, including those closest to us such as family or friends or also colleagues or line management. It may also be important to consult and gain external support such as from a doctor or well-being expert for physical support, or to look at behavioural change. This is where coaching can be important to address longer-term changes to the relationship we have with our work.

Prioritise you

The two steps of recognising your situation and then working with others to create change are both equally important to self-care. Being prepared to recognise when there is a conflict between the work we do and our own responsibility to care for ourselves is important in order to do a good job. These are well summed up in the resignation announcement of Jacinda Ardern:

“I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility – the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple,”

If you would like to learn more about how coaching may be able to support you in self-care contact me at or visit for more information.

Burnout and self-care: How coaching can help | Rose + Bloom Coaching


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