Always being on the phone, constantly checking your emails, being perennially worried about the next crisis, not eating—or binge-eating—thanks to the stress: such scenarios will be familiar to anyone who has spent some time working in public relations, considered one of the most stressful professions to work in today. In fact, it is a miracle that some of us manage to survive the stress that comes from balancing several stakeholders at the same time and managing your own mind to prevent it from spiraling into a full-blown panic attack. I am one of those who have survived and thrived. And here’s what I’ve learnt about beating burnout.
Dealing with burnout …
Burnout is a grim reality in public relations. I went through the whole routine of a rising quickly, to nearly burning out, to gaining the courage to find my own voice and backing it up, irrespective of what others said. When I look back, there were signs along the way that would have helped me so much…had I only stopped to listen. But you can. Here’s how.
Stop. Stop multitasking. Stop taking on more. Delegate. Reach Out. Do whatever the business mantras tell you to do to reduce your workload in such situations. There are so many things in our profession that we cannot control, yet we like to control as much as possible and are paranoid about giving up that sense of control. I was trying to control impossible situations even through my worst migraines. A cherished mentor told me at that point that it is not always you who has to be in control. Let your team members take over.
My immediate reaction? ‘Nice. But bah! I can do it all, and better!’
Take breaks. Owing to my fear of letting go of control, I only took breaks in between jobs and never once missed work. But was it good for my mental health? Trying to start the brain with more and more (and then some more) coffee every day, without taking the time to unwind or care for yourself is unhealthy, to put it politely.
I used to be forever exhausted, with sunken eyes, and parts of my mind just switching one by one till I could barely see through my sozzled eyes and muddled brain. Still, those things did not deter me from my early morning meetings. I was up bright and early, and was usually the first one there. But what it did affect was my health—mental and physical. A kind mentor pushed me to invest in having a life beyond work. Drop everything and move out. Do nothing. And stop giving in to this silly pressure of articulating the miraculous revelation or ‘cool things’ that you had or did during your break.
Enjoy the nothingness and take pleasure in existing.
My immediate reaction: “Is she for real? What life?”
Learn to say no. There’s something called the curse of being a good child. You are taught that obedience and good etiquette means never saying ‘no’. Hence, you end up taking on every responsibility there is to offer, burn the midnight oil, and then do a good job because that’s what a good child does. In the process, even though you become the management’s blue-eyed child, you lose your friends and family because you were buried neck-deep in work when they were trying to reach out to you. This was a regular routine for me till my father recognised the signs, sat me down, and made me repeat ‘No’ like 50 times a day, and ‘Yes’ to the things that matter. He tried to help re-condition my brain.
My immediate reaction, “More work? Indian head nod!”
Reconnect. With self and friends and family who are not from work. Concerned seniors did push me to just get out and speak to people beyond work. If you have lost touch, pick up the phone and call them. Volunteer at a people or animal shelter. Reconnect with what it means to be you. Meditate. Pick up a book. Go for a swim. Sit in a park. Just be.
My immediate reaction: “What?”
I ignored the advice at the time and took my time to come around to it. Maybe if I had listened then, I could have avoided the near-burnout stage that was to follow. But the advice stayed with me, and now when I see youngsters in the profession move dangerously close towards the burnout line, I insist on advising them and sharing the lessons that my mentors wanted to hammer into me.
It’s also important here to find the right team to work with, and the pace you want to grow. Because everything comes at a cost. You need to decide what is worth trading in for.
Is there life beyond burnout?
Yes. There is life beyond burnout. It is about how you view it. You can jump back into the same madness with a self-appointed time-out every day, take it in measured breaks, or work at your own pace.
At the end of the day, your perception about yourself is all that matters. It’s all in your head. The people who really care about you just want to see you happy. While I was pottering around with nothingness and wandering in bookstores, I came across ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom. It changed my life and helped me realise that my definition of success was skewed towards popular beliefs. And that there can be more than one way of defining success. It was never about money or power. It was always about the relationships you earn and the trust you create. Now isn’t that what PR is all about? I stepped out of the circle only to realise that living a successful life is possible with my own definition of success. I began to put more value on happiness and work satisfaction, cultivating a healthy relationship with good people across the client, team and media spectrum and my own family…and loving the life I live. And you know what? It’s great!
And all it requires you to do is find the courage to live that life.
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