I thought I was immune.
I thought I was too smart ever to let it happen to me.
Working as a doctor, I treated many patients who suffered from burnout over the years: men and women who worked under so much pressure that they eventually imploded, both physically and psychologically. I am well acquainted with the warning signs of impending burnout. I know how damaging burnout can be, in the short- and long-term. I know what to do to avoid burnout.
I thought it could never happen to me.
After all, I no longer lived in the city, working every hour that God sent, sleeping very little, with barely any time to take care of myself. I live in the countryside, on a small patch of land, in a 400-year old house, surrounded by vineyards, sunflower fields and lush green meadows and in the company of a small herd of horses. The life I have always dreamed of living.
Here, I host residential equine-guided personal empowerment workshops, something I love doing, and that doesn’t even remotely feel like work. Even the books I write about what I learn during these workshops don’t feel like work, I find writing revitalising.
Still, it took me less than 13 days to burn myself out completely.
I let my guard down.
I make the most amateurish of all mistakes. I forgot that I needed to recharge my batteries.
One of my favourite ways of unwinding is to spend time in nature. You would think that living where I live that would happen automatically. It does, to some extent. To fully recharge my batteries though, I need the sea. I worked for 12 years on an island, in very stressful circumstances, but the sea was always close by, and I never had to worry about burnout. I live only 2 hours’ drive from the sea now, and I usually make sure that I spend a couple of days on the beach every few weeks. This year was so busy that I never once had time to get away, not even for a single day.
Stupid of me, I should have known better.
The stress of moving house bought me to my knees, within 13 short days. During the last two years, I coped with several eye operations and knowing how stressful that would be, and I made sure that I escaped to the sea regularly. I even had one of the operations in Biarritz, on the Atlantic coast. Since the last operation in March, I have been busy selling, buying and moving house. The last time I spent some time by the sea was in January. The summer sped by. By now I usually have visited my favourite beach, St Jean de Luz, at least 3 or 4 times, between workshops. Knowing how powerful a stress management strategy this is for me, I should have gone even more often, this year. So, if I woke up this morning, after a night of rolling around in bed, unable to sleep and more tired than I was when I went to bed, I only have myself to blame.
A recent review revealed that people who regularly visited blue spaces in their free time reported greater well-being, compared to those who didn’t make such visits. Another review of 35 studies, led by researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, showed that people who spend time in blue spaces report higher levels of physical activity, and that interaction with blue spaces can have a positive effect on mental health — particularly in terms of stress reduction and perceived wellbeing.
Additional ways to avoid burnout:
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Spend time with supportive friends and family
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Be kind to others
- Do something that makes you laugh
- Do something creative
- Ask for help
It is easy to become complacent about burnout, to think “this will never happen to me.” It can happen to anyone, even when they know exactly how to avoid it.
Don’t make the same mistake I made. Make time to recharge your batteries.
Spend time in nature, in blue spaces, or in green spaces, or wherever works for you.
Dr Margaretha Montagu is a recycled medical doctor, a rogue writer of self-help books and passable presenter of mindfulness and meditation retreats. She lives on a small farm in the not-always sun-blessed south of France with five opinionated horses and two battle-scarred dragons. All her books are horse-inspired, subtly French- flavoured and hopefully life-enriching. She shares her somewhat-outlandish ideas with you on her blog, Twitter and LinkedIn. To connect with Margaretha, her horses and her dragons, follow her here on Medium or subscribe to her blog.