20 March, 2019

We’re wired to be driven in life – but that sense of ambition is making us sick.

Around half a million people in the UK suffer from work stress, while in the States, 57% feel paralysed by the impact of it.

Partly, this is due to the strain of being constantly on call. With the 5pm work exodus long gone, we can answer emails at all hours; and the expectation of this alone creates a major spike in the stress hormone cortisol.

But the boom in modern stress levels is also down to the sheer weight of responsibilities we carry around.

Today’s world brings with it a pressure to ace your job, meet family commitments, keep up a dazzling social life, work out regularly – the list goes on.

It’s a lifestyle illusion made worse by the perfectly edited lives we see every day on social media.

Burnout, and a moment of realisation

Recovering from work stress

Our brains aren’t conditioned to multitask, and so by our mid-30s, the hamster wheel of life starts to wear thin.

Rather than hitting full-speed on the treadmill, as we did in our 20s, we falter and lose momentum.

Research shows career burnout hits its peak in the 34-54 age group, and typically affects more women than men.

A psychological stress condition, it shows itself via exhaustion, apathy and a sense of detachment. And, however unpleasant it feels in the moment, it can also be a powerful wake-up call.

Read more: Simple micro-habits for a happier career and life

Take media mogul and editor Arianna Huffington, who fell and broke her cheekbone after pushing herself to the point of exhaustion 10 years ago.

“That day literally changed my life,” she writes in a post for Medium. “It put me on a course in which I changed how I work and how I live.

“It’s a prime example of how good things can come out of bad things  —  how, very often, events that come to define our lives in positive ways would never have happened without events that were painful and sometimes, yes, even bloody!”

Putting time above money and status

Huffington’s epiphany led her to write two best-selling books about finding balance in the workplace, along with launching the wellbeing website, Thrive Global.

Her experience is far from unusual. Many people reassess their goals in the wake of a burnout, and realise that —  hold the front page —  work isn’t everything.

Our current obsession with achievement is breeding a generation of wealthy, successful and miserable people. They may be affluent and have high-flying jobs, but they have zero time or energy to do the things that bring them joy.

Read more: The happiness habit of solo travel

Relationships, creativity, finding focus and flow: all these things fuel happiness; but they all need time to develop. You can’t just squeeze them in on a Friday night, between beers and a Netflix marathon.

We’re so conditioned to graft and grind that it can take hitting burnout to realise that the dreams we’re sold as 20-somethings (Aim high! Do more! Get promoted!) aren’t all that.

Instead time — that ephemeral, finite quality — is the currency to savour.

Becoming time affluent

Thrive Global defines time affluence as “having more of one’s own time to do as one wishes”, a value that makes us happier at work than either promotions or pay.

New York-based digital writer LeAnn is an example of this. She tells the publication that she feels so much better after quitting her demanding, around-the-clock role to become a bookstore events manager.

The transition has allowed her to build up sideline interests in podcasting, and pursue her passion project of writing a book. “I feel great!” she says. “I make barely over half my old salary and yet I’m so much happier.”

Read more: “I broke free from society’s plan for me”

Time affluence is also the reason why more and more employers are starting to recognise the value of a four-day working week. With more time to pursue hobbies and interests outside of work, people become more engaged when they are there.

Of course, money is still essential in everyday life, and not everyone has the luxury of choosing time above it.

But, if you can carve out the time for the people and things that you love, it will go a long way to burnout recovery.

Adventure travel, and taking a sabbatical

Burnout is characterised by a loss of identity and direction. So, you need the ability to create distance between yourself and the work demands that have overwhelmed you. You have to rediscover what it is that makes you you.

One route into this process is travel, and perhaps even a career break.

Read more: Life lessons to excel in your 40s, by Ed Stafford

When you head abroad on an adventure, you put physical distance between you and your stress triggers. With a dramatic change of environment comes the opportunity to find out where your passions lie — a world away from work.

“I’ve found a new appreciation for time and breathing,” says Frankie Flower (above), who quit her corporate job to train as a ski instructor in the Canadian Rockies last year. “It’s simple, but apparently I wasn’t really doing it back home!

“It really is like going back to school, only my skis are my desk and my poles, my pen. I didn’t expect to feel so excited to get up in the mornings, or feel so happy quite so soon.”

Finding your happy place

Jewellery designer Arabel Lebruson

The added perspective of travel may also serve to remind you what you loved about your job to begin with.

“In my day-to-day life running a business, creativity is almost shadowed by office work, emails and meeting customers,” says jewellery designer Arabel Lebrusan (above), who recently took a sabbatical to travel the world.

“At the beginning of our trip, I wasn’t that creative but then after a few months, I had this incredible burst of creativity. I couldn’t stop myself from weaving palm trees leaves, making sand sculptures or drawing everywhere I went.”

Most of all, whether you’re spending your days hiking in the jungle hills of Bali or partying in downtown Bogotá, you’ll develop a new awareness of your happiness.

Flashpacker Teha Kennard in the Philippines

And that’s something you can bring home with you, using it as a tool to ward off future burnout.

“I was once in a daily work routine that I thrived on, but it was very limiting,” says Teha Kennard (above), who quit her high-powered consulting job in 2017, and has since travelled to over 14 countries with Flash Pack.

“The value of my days used to be based on what I had accomplished, regardless of what I had accomplished really mattered. Now I take the days as they come, make the most of them, and enjoy them for what they are. This allows me to treat my mind and body well, and in a much more organic way.”

Ready to find your happy place? Check out Flash Pack’s repertoire of global trips right here.

Images: Shutterstock, Teha Kennard, Frankie Flower, Arabel Lebruson

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