Burnout – knowing when enough is enough…

We’re busy people here at The Voice College – going ‘above and beyond’ is our ethos after all! But there comes a time in every singer and singing teachers’ life where you may just find yourself on the brink, whether it’s from a seemingly unrealistic number of gigs to get through, all your work starting to pile on top of you, or you’ve accidentally committed to thing after thing after thing and now you’re stuck in an endless loop of “when will it end?!”. How do we even begin to deal with the ugly monster that is burnout?

Believe it or not, some stress is actually good for you, as when we are under stress our body is primed to fight any situation it faces. The ‘fight or flight response’ fills you with adrenaline, your heart and lungs work harder and more efficiently, and as such you become more capable of getting things done. And once the stressful task has been completed you’re often left with a sense of euphoria as you relax and reflect about what you’ve accomplished.

However, as humans we are not meant to be in a permanent state of stress! That initial stress response is supposed to be temporary. Stress left unchecked and pushed too far becomes ‘distress’, which is where things start going wrong. You know you may have bitten off more you can chew if you find yourself getting a bit emotional or irritable about even the slightest things, or you’re not sleeping as well you used to. This kind of stress often comes about from ‘instant stressors’, such as a sudden increase in workload, loads of last minute gigs, or leaving all your coursework until the last minute! However, horrible though this can feel, distress is a situation you can quickly recover from or resolve if you recognise you’re being pushed past your limits. Sometimes hitting a point of distress can be enough to make you realise you need to step back a bit and review things.

It’s when distress goes too far that we reach the dark stealth bomb known as burnout. It develops slowly over the course of a few months or more, often because you didn’t recognise several cases of distress one after the other. You become mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted, and find yourself unable to meet any demand that comes up in your life. The fires have burned too hard and too long, and now there’s nothing left. You have no energy, your immune system is shot to hell, you may have started binge eating, or not eating enough, and you may have retreated back in on yourself. Most of us have the odd day where we feel overloaded or unappreciated, but it’s not an all encompassing feeling. Burnout left unrecognised and untreated can lead to even more serious health concerns like depression and anxiety. But, the good news is that because burnout is accumulative, it can be prevented before it even appears. So how do we do that?

1) Be good to yourself — allow yourself to sleep, eat well, get some exercise, and treat yourself to some quiet time. There is always time to look after yourself, and if you think there isn’t, then you’re probably on your way to burnout — remember, you are no good to anyone if you are broken, so make time to look after yourself.

2) It’s okay to say no — know your limits and think about whether you can effectively commit to everything asked of you. It can be really flattering to be thought of as that ever reliable person who can help other people out at the drop of a hat, but also remember that people generally want things done, and they want them done well! If you take on too much you spread yourself too thin, so you’re inevitably going to end up giving less than stellar results, essentially letting people down by not wanting to disappoint them! There is always someone else that can do the job; you are not Superman or Wonder Woman! You are human — learn when, and how, to say no!

3) Ask for help — don’t ever feel like you have to go it alone, especially if you’re struggling to meet demands, or are beginning to feel overwhelmed. One of the great things about The Voice College is that the core team have all studied through The Voice College before becoming a tutor, so they 100% know what it is like to feel the pressures of the workload and how challenging it can be sometimes. Help is never more than a message away, and asking for help is the most sensible and mature thing you can do when you’re struggling, in any area of your life, so never suffer in silence!.

And finally, remember that life is not all about work, it’s about balance. If you do find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed, then just remember this little mantra that has helped me through a lot of tough times and hard decisions:

“Everything in moderation…. including moderation!”

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