As the General Manager of health retreat Golden Door, Brigid Walsh is all too familiar with the impact that corporate burnout can have on our careers – as well as our minds, bodies and souls.
Recounting her own personal experience with chronic anxiety and loss of control – and the way it changed her life – Brigid gives us an inside look at the health issue affecting our workplaces.
I’ve come across corporate burnout many times in my life, personally and professionally.
Corporate burnout is a form of work-related stress, but it’s reached chronic proportions. In some ways, everyday stress is important to us and can keep us motivated. But if we don’t manage that stress, it can become chronic. Chronic stress can lead to burnout.
If you can’t get out of bed any more, if you become disorientated or if you have a sense of hopelessness – that’s when you’ve reached the point of burnout.
We see corporate burnout at Golden Door frequently. People say, “I’ve reached the point in life where I am one step away from booking into a facility to help with my mental health.” Or they say that they have reached the point of absolute exhaustion and have the sense that they just can’t cope any more. They have lost their direction and purpose and this affects their relationships.
Most commonly, our guests feel depleted of energy. That’s the chronic health problem we are facing these days. People are just exhausted with the busy lives that we lead.
Time to reconnect
I still remember a business owner called Richard who came to Golden Door about seven years ago. He didn’t display typical signs of burnout and he didn’t say much about his reasons for visiting, but he did say, “Brigid, I haven’t had a break in three years.” He booked himself in for a week’s stay.
He quickly extended his stay to three weeks. The experience of stepping back had given him the opportunity to realise just how much he’d lost control of his life. He went away promising to find more balance in his life.
He returned to Golden Door recently and told me that when he went back to his business, he’d made time to surf again and to start studying. In the years since his first visit, he changed his whole career – and his whole life. It was amazing to see the transformation.
When my life came to a complete standstill
I’ve been there myself. About 12 years ago I suffered from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. I found it very difficult to work and I had to hide how I was feeling from my colleagues. Getting through each day was a real struggle. I was referred for counselling and was eventually put on medication. Like Richard, I ended up changing my career when I came out the other end.
In hindsight, I can see why the situation exacerbated. I started to see signs of stress in my previous job and, when my husband and I moved interstate, I was in a new place with no job or connections to others.
But I was such a stoic person and always very much in control. I’d been in management positions before and I thought, ‘How could this happen to me?’ I felt like I was going crazy and losing control. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
What it meant for me
In the short term, it affected my self-esteem and my self-confidence hugely. I didn’t want to be seen having a breakdown at work and would work hard to cover it up. It felt incredibly hard to deal with all the ramifications every day.
I still hadn’t got the panic attacks completely under control when I eventually got another job, so I would drive an hour’s commute with a plastic bag next to me in case I needed to throw up.
In the long-term, though, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. About a year or so after the attacks were at their peak, once I had been through counselling and managed to regain some control, I was offered a job at Golden Door in Queensland. That was life-changing.
The environment offered me an incredible transition. I was exercising, eating good food and learning. I was involved with a business that was all about caring for yourself. Suddenly I was meeting all these people who were going through exactly what I’d been through.
I was in a position to empathise and I found myself slowly opening up. I’ve gone from trying to cover up my anxiety to openly sharing my stories with people who take strength from my experience.
Golden Door provides an environment to help nurture the body, mind and spirit. It does this through the most caring and passionate and talented staff to support people’s goals, what their individual goals are. Then the experiences are transformative.
Photo credit: Golden Door, StockSnap