Back from the Brink
Jayne Morris is an expert in burnout, helping people to recover from the potentially devastating effects of driving themselves too hard. She knows only too well how devastating this can be after her own perfectionism, guilt and addiction to overwork led to a total physical and emotional collapse. Only by reconnecting with her inner power could she bring herself back from the brink.
Bedridden for six months
At the age of 28, Jayne Morris suffered a complete physical and emotional collapse. Bedridden for six months, suffering from post viral fatigue and unable even to lift her head off the pillow, Jayne had plenty of time to reflect on the beliefs and behaviours that led to her catastrophic burnout….
A desire for approval
It began when she was a young child. Jayne recalls moving from her native Scotland to England. The headmaster of her new primary school took the nervous six-year old under his wing, showing her to her new classroom and offering her warm words of encouragement. “I was grateful for his care and kindness,” says Jayne, “and formed a strong desire to win his approval. His motto was “Good, better, best – you will never rest until your good is better and your better, best”. He wanted us all to strive to be the best we could be and this became my mantra, too.”
Addicted to over-achieving
Throughout primary school, Jayne’s ambition was to win as many gold stars as she could in order to impress her teachers. This continued into secondary school where Jayne strived to win merits and be named as the Student of the Year. By university, the desire to please others and receive recognition for her efforts meant that it had become the norm for Jayne to go above and beyond what was expected of her.
“I became addicted to over-achieving and always set the bar so high that I would then struggle to deliver on the promises I made to myself.”
Jayne’s difficulties really began, however, once she entered the world of work. Her ambition to prove herself led her to seek out jobs with high level entry requirements and demanding schedules. For three years after graduating, Jayne worked in Japan as a full-time English teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET), alongside presenting a TV programme on British customs. “I put my heart and soul into both. I became quite well-known in Japan because of my TV appearances and this just added to the pressure I was already putting myself under. I wanted to make it really special for the children when I visited them so I felt I had to put on a show. I remember visiting a school one Christmas and just feeling really exhausted. I said to the teachers “do you mind if I just make Christmas cards with the children today?” They were all really disappointed and I felt so guilty.”
A dangerous place to be
Death from overwork is a growing phenomenon in Japan– they even have a word for it, Karoshi . The problem is endemic, as Jayne explains: “People are encouraged to overwork – there are vending machines in railway stations selling toothbrushes and capsule hotels where people can grab a few hours’ sleep before continuing with work.”
Karoshi was legally recognised as a cause of death in the 1980s, with people in their 30s and 40s dying from sudden heart attacks and strokes linked to stress. For someone like Jayne, with a tendency to overwork, this was a dangerous place to be.
When Jayne returned to the UK in 2006, she was physically and emotionally exhausted. However, her unrelenting drive to prove herself meant that she continued to push herself and, after several months of trying, she finally succeeded in securing her dream job at the BBC, working as a brand manager for children’s TV programmes.
It was in 2007 that Jayne’s body started to send her clear warning messages. Not only was she now physically and emotionally exhausted, but just a few months into the job, she starting developing debilitating Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in both of her wrists. “I took a week’s holiday but when I got back, the pain returned worse than ever.
“Around this time, I went on a coaching course where we examined our work/life balance. This made me realise that my life was completely out of kilter and I began questioning what I was doing. I was disenchanted with my role, which was not what I had expected, and I was in pain. I made the decision to leave.”
Out of the frying pan, into the fire
It was a courageous choice, as Jayne had worked long and hard to secure the BBC job. She decided to embark on a post-graduate training course in personal and business coaching, run by Barefoot Coaching and accredited by the University of Chester. Jayne wanted to learn more about coaching and how she could use it to help herself and people like her to find more sustainable strategies for success.
To support her studies financially she decided to resume her teaching career but unfortunately, her soaring ambition to be the best took her out of the frying pan into the fire. Unable to lower her sights, Jayne applied for the Teach First programme, which coaches aspiring teachers who want to teach in schools based in low income communities with multiple challenges. It is a demanding programme which targets exceptional graduates. Within a few weeks of being accepted onto the programme, Jayne had undergone an intensive training course and was teaching Business Studies in a deprived local school.
“I was teaching students at GCSE, BTEC and A level. No two classes were the same. I wanted to give the children the best possible chances, so I felt compelled to give the job everything I had. There was no-one senior in the department so all of the lesson planning fell to me. I was existing on four hour’s sleep a night.”
“I was already exhausted and went rapidly downhill. I started the job in June. By Christmas, my immune system was so weak that I caught a virus that totally floored me. This was the start of my total burnout. I spent the next six months in bed, unable to lift my head off the pillow.”
Jayne was emotionally and physically exhausted and all she wanted to do was sleep. However, even after months of sleeping, her body was not recovering. She tried taking things slowly, taking little steps, but even the smallest amount of activity left her totally exhausted and her confidence began ebbing away.
“I was stuck,” says Jayne, “I knew I needed to help my body to heal but I didn’t know how to do it.”
A promise to her body
Inspired by her personal development training with the BBC and Barefoot Coaching, Jayne began investigating coaching programmes that might help. She discovered a three-day programme called The Phil Parker Lightning Process, which combined coaching, osteopathy, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and hypnosis. “Despite my exhaustion, I managed to get myself along to the course. It helped me to get to the root of the problem. I discovered that my body had shut itself down to protect itself and it didn’t trust my mind to listen to it any more. So, I made a promise to my body to take care of it, to listen to its signals and not to override my intuition any more. As soon as I had done this, things began to turn around for me and the healing process began.”
Jayne had to take things very gradually. Listening to her intuition, she enrolled on a further post-graduate course in art psychotherapy, accredited by the London Metropolitan University, which complemented her training as a personal and business coach. She used Ki-Ai exercises from martial arts training to reconnect with her inner power. NLP taught her about the mind and how to change her thinking to regain full health. Meditation helped her to release her addiction to over-working. Creative arts allowed her to express and process feelings related to perfectionism and guilt. Slowly and carefully, she regained her strength and rebuilt her life… but it was a very different kind of life to the life she had known before.
Jayne now works as a coach, specialising in burnout. Her clients include Chief Executives, celebrities and leaders. She has appeared on TV and runs training sessions around the world. Her new book Burnout to Brilliance is due to be released in October 2013.
“I see what I went through as a blessing and a kind of spiritual reawakening. I am a completely different person from the person I was before the burnout. Now, it is fine for things to be good enough, rather than perfect. I have ditched my never-ending “to do” lists and just focus on getting three or four things done each day. I made a promise to my body and I keep it – I eat well and I take care of myself.”
Spotting the symptoms of burnout
Jayne says our bodies give us lots of warnings if we are heading towards burnout. Some of the symptoms to look out for include: headaches, salt cravings, disturbed sleep, slow cold and flu recovery, excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), cold hands and feet, insomnia, exhaustion, low libido, irregular heartbeat, panic attacks, labyrinthitis, depression, anxiety, ovarian cysts, abnormally high/low blood pressure, feeling overwhelmed, low stamina, craving sweet foods, difficulty concentrating, loss/partial loss of sight, carpal tunnel syndrome, RSI (repetitive strain injury), back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies and respiratory problems.
She believes the key to avoiding burnout is to listen to our inner wisdom, stop pushing ourselves too hard and give ourselves permission to get the rest we need. Jayne is a firm believer in power-naps as a great tool for helping people top up their energy reserves and believes they should be acceptable in all places of work, especially where employees are working longer hours than contracted.
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