Why we need to stop putting sticking plasters on a broken window – and protect our wellbeing with a primary intervention approach

Are you struggling to juggle all your responsibilities? Find out why we need to stop putting sticking plasters on a broken window – and protect our wellbeing with a primary intervention approach.

Growing your personal talent in a highly competitive market can be exhausting – to the point where you must make some gut-wrenching choices – focus on the job versus quality time at home – or face burning out.

Unfortunately, the signals that you’re sleepwalking your way to burnout can be subtle (feeling tired, getting irritable, increased headaches, feeling anxious, and so on) that we simply dismiss them as symptomatic of leading a busy life.

Your superhuman efforts to manage everything perfectly often go unnoticed and unappreciated, compounding your already frazzled state of mind, sometimes to the point where it’s an effort just to get out of bed in the morning.

Adding yet another sticking plaster (often caffeine) to your already fragile emotional state gets you through another day – just! As more and more cracks appear in your facade to hold everything together, there are only so many sticking plasters you can use before your attempts to mend that ‘broken window’ fail and your glass façade shatters.

Why we need to prevent burnout – not find ways to cope with it

It is far better to prevent such a scenario, rather than deal with the aftermath once it has occurred. The fallout of how pressure changes your behaviour towards others can be damaging to those relationships you cherish most.

Typically, we think of preventative measures as positive affirmations – staring into the mirror telling yourself you can do this, you’re strong and can cope – with as much gusto and belief as you can muster! Eating healthily and going for a run at the weekends are bound to keep you sane and resilient! All well and good – these are important.

However, at some point, you really can’t do this anymore because you’re exhausted! Every one of us has a tipping point and all the affirmations, apples and sweat bands in the world cannot change the inevitable.

How to protect your wellbeing, performance, and relationships

To avoid the destruction of your wellbeing, performance, and relationships you require a whole new level of thought and preparation, and it starts now – before any of the above pushes you to a feeling anxious every time you think about your job and/or kids/partner/wellbeing.

Tackling those gnarly primary sources of pressure is crucial in preventing poor wellbeing. That means looking at where your pressure comes from – is it the volume of work, your deadlines, your targets, your clients, your manager, your employees, all the above?

Start by understanding the source of your pressure

Understanding the source of the pressure is a good starting point. It enables you to target those sources that cause you the biggest concern.

Whatever the source(s) of pressure, one thing is for sure – your boundaries are not being enforced. Another client said she emphatically maintains her boundaries, explaining that her projects are increasing, are beyond her capability and leave her feeling like she’s running a losing race every day, on top of a very demanding home life! Tell me that’s not a boundaries issue!

Then work out what your boundaries are

Boundaries are what you personally deem fair and acceptable for you and your organisation. Most people want to be as helpful as possible, never being completely truthful about how much they already have to cope with, what they’re capable of, or what is not actually part of their job at all. They cheerily accept every request – because they’re ‘such a nice person’.

To maintain boundaries, you first have to work out what your boundaries are – it’s not one size fits all. It is, however, recognising that you, like everyone else, need downtime physically, emotionally, and mentally to recharge your batteries. Running on empty will fast-track you to burnout.

Boundaries are not just time related – how many hours a day you work or think about work. They can be related to content (what you are/are not prepared to get read/look at), activities (what work/after work events/activities do always you say yes to), and even physical proximity (how close is too close). Working out your boundaries in relation to your sources of pressure gives you a clear indication of when and how often they are being trampled.

Next, lose any guilt attached to boundaries

The challenge is to lose any guilt attached to boundaries – this often overrides your need to maintain them. There are two types of guilt: proportionate (when you’ve done something wrong) and disproportionate (when you haven’t). If you’ve done something wrong, own up and make amends – guilt gone! Holding your boundaries is not wrong.

Imagine the outrage if your child’s school no longer allows morning, lunch, and afternoon breaks. Yet how often do you skip lunch, slaving at your screen for hours on end without a break? Remember, there should be no guilt attached to maintaining your boundaries.

Discussing boundaries is extremely important, ensuring everyone knows what they are and why they are important to you. Linked to sources of pressure they are one of the best primary interventions to prevent poor performance and burnout.  

Vicky Smith is passionate about sharing her knowledge and has more than 20 years’ of consulting, coaching, facilitation, and training experience in locations across the globe.

She holds an MSc in Organisation Development and Consultancy, an MSc in Psychology and an MSc in Applied Health and Exercise. She is working through a PhD, researching psychological safety in organisations, and is also a qualified NLP trainer, psychotherapist, and executive coach.

She is also the co-author with Lesley Cooper of Brave New Leader: How to Transform Workplace Pressure into Sustainable Performance and Growth.