When the last bell rings and your students pile out of the classroom, how do you normally feel?
If you feel exhausted, you are not alone. Forty two per cent of teachers say they feel extremely tired or completely exhausted at the end of the day, according to a 2012 University of South Australia study into the workload and wellbeing of teachers.
This is understandable, given the high mental and emotional demands teachers face every day - but it is also alarming. While it’s normal, even healthy, to feel tired at the end of a full day’s work, ongoing exhaustion signals that the way you have been working is unsustainable, and that burnout looms.
It’s not only teachers who are struggling – a third of full-time workers in Australia say they are extremely tired or completely exhausted on a regular basis. This rises to almost one in two among full-time working mums. Globally, “the overwhelmed employee” is among the top concerns of HR practitioners, according to Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends.
So, what’s going on?
As well as the intensification of work that’s affecting many industries, I believe there are some universal patterns of behaviour that lead to depletion of energy. They have contributed to the Earth’s energy depletion, and they also erode human energy stores. Here are three tendencies – can you relate to any of them?
1 Ignoring the early warning signs
When it comes to global warming, how many decades has it taken to heed climate change scientists’ warnings? And in the case of human burnout, all the sufferers I have worked with or interviewed say without a doubt that they over-rode those early warning signs of feeling overwhelmed, increasing tiredness, loss of joy and narrow, reactive thinking.
2 Over-relying on non-renewable energy sources of energy
The first most traded commodity in the world is oil. Do you know what the second is? It’s the coffee bean. You could argue that humans are running on non-renewable sources of energy, that is, the short-lived adrenaline burst we get from caffeine. It seems that the more tired we become, the more we reach for the non-renewables: a coffee to get us going in the morning, a sugar hit to get us through the afternoon and a good dose of stress that keeps us wired.These are sure ways to over-ride tiredness and get us through the days, months and even years, but ultimately, they borrow from the future.
3 Disregarding our physical limitations
There is only so much oil in the world. And we only have so much capacity for work before we need to rest. That’s due to the fact our body rhythms are designed to oscillate between activity and rest, in synchrony with the 24-hour natural cycles of light and dark each day. So as long we are grounded in this human body, we all have legitimate limits that warrant respect: eat when hungry, rest when tired, say “no” when too busy.
Unfortunately, acknowledging and accepting our limits can be seen as a sign of weakness, especially in a culture that says “never say never” and that you can be and do anything you want.
However, when we work within our limits we are practising self-responsibility, setting ourselves up for a sustainable way of working, rather than exhaustion where someone else will need to pick up the pieces.
The good news about these three tendencies is that we do have some personal choice over them, irrespective of our working conditions. Simply exercising control over the areas of our lives that we can influence, no matter how small, is proven to enhance wellbeing.
Take a look at the three personal sustainability principles below and ask where are you are doing well, and what could you improve?
- Listen to your body when it’s talking to you rather than wait until it yells and screams.
- Reduce reliance on non-renewable energy (especially caffeine and sugar) and increase reliance on renewable sources of energy for the human body, such as movement, meditation, good food, healthy breathing patterns, sleep and powernaps.
- Respect your limits and integrate regular rhythms of renewal into your day and life.
For now, let’s focus on listening to your body’s early warning signs
To be able to hear your body “talking” to you, we need a sufficient measure of body intelligence (BQ).
You can think of BQ as the ability to connect with our body’s sensations or cues, listen to them, and respond in a way that enhances our overall function and quality of life.
Currently, our collective BQ is alarmingly low. Everywhere, especially in busy workplaces, we see otherwise intelligent people take leave of their senses and ignore even the most basic body signals.
What are some of the early signals of discomfort or imbalance that your body sends you, that you tend to minimise or over-ride?
You can begin to restore your body intelligence by noticing and responding to the simple, every day “texts” you receive from your body, that you might normally over-ride, such as thirst, tiredness, the need to go the toilet or the need to change posture.
Such attention builds your “intero-ceptive awareness” (IA), which is the ability to notice your internal state. Research shows that people with a higher IA are better able to manage their health, especially in areas such as regulating food intake.
Here’s a simple five-minute body scan to help you practise saying hello to your body during the day or before bed.
Averting a personal energy crisis begins by acknowledging that burnout or exhaustion never just happens. It always begins with small niggles, and small niggles don’t go away, but gradually grow bigger and louder or diversify to get your attention.
Attending to the small talk of your body is therefore the smartest thing you can do to set yourself up for a sustainable career.
Copyright Thea O’Connor, thea.com.au