How to Prevent and Heal from Burnout

How to Prevent and Heal from Burnout

Are there women in your life who are constantly giving to others and putting themselves at the bottom of the list? Women who are so busy serving others in their families, communities, workplaces … seemingly with boundless energy?

Women who seem to be strong and have it all together, and rarely if ever reach out for support from others; until they can’t.

Perhaps you are one of these women.

COVID has placed increased stress on women worldwide. They are burning out faster than before the pandemic. With the increased demands of working at home, home-schooling children, supporting others in their families, communities and workplaces, they are losing their passion, feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, and experiencing feelings of cynicism and detachment.[1]

International cross-cultural studies[2]show that those in the helping professions (e.g. social workers, nurses, physicians, development professionals), and high achievers, are at higher risk for burnout than the general population. The curious thing about high or over-achievers is that we tend to work harder when we get closer and closer to burnout. It’s almost like we believe we are invincible!

I recall when I burnt out in late 2012; how I kept pushing through fatigue and NOT listening to my body. I had pushed through fatigue to finish that one last thing for many years, and was healthy (or so I thought), with no noticeable side effects. Until all that changed.

I’d been working on contract for an NGO that promotes women’s and children’s rights around the world for almost a year. Initially I was passionate about the opportunity and felt so aligned with their mission, vision and values. It was exciting to head off to a number of African countries for project start up and to meet the teams in the 7 countries I was working with! In the coming months, the project scope increased, and I was being asked to do more and more. Then, about 6 months in, I started to lose my passion. I felt like there was so much to do and so little time. Yet I kept pushing through.

Near the end of the year, I was invited to renew my contract in a reduced role. I was this close to signing and asked to sleep on the decision. When I awoke, I felt like a lemon that had been squeezed dry; and realized in that moment, that I had to finally listen to my body, I had to take a break. I got in touch with the Director and VP I’d been working with, thanked them, and turned down the opportunity. They said “Why?” and I said I wanted to create more balance in my life. At that time, I had no idea what that meant or how much time I would take off, but I started the new year with no work on my plate. A scary place for someone who has their own business! I took the time to reconnect with family and friends as I’d been travelling so much the past couple of years. I studied mindfulness with Jack Kornfield; and spent a lot of time in nature.

After sleeping 10, 12, 13 hours a night for about 4 months and still awakening feeling fatigued, I went to see a naturopath who put me on some homeopathic meds; and within about a month I started to feel more like myself; my energy started to come back.

What I learned from that experience, and from doing in-depth interviews with high-achieving women from three continents is captured in the book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”. In this book, I introduce the concept of “Creative Living, “the conscious cultivation of increased health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life.” There are 7 keys to what I call Creative Living, and powerful strategies and practices to prevent and heal from burnout. I’ve distilled some of these in the strategies below.

Strategies You can Use to Prevent and Heal from Burnout

  • Integrate mindfulness practices into your life daily (e.g. body scanning[3] & mindfulness walking meditation[4]); these help you focus on the present moment, and get you out of the chatter in your head
  • Start listening to your body. When you feel tired take a short nap (e.g. 15 to 30 minutes if you can) or go for a short walk (15 to 30 minutes)
  • When you’re feeling stressed take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth exhaling on each out breath. Notice how that makes you feel. This releases the hormone oxytocin which makes you feel more relaxed, grounded and at peace
  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Sleep at least 8 hours a night and go to sleep before 11 pm
  • Set firm boundaries; learn to say “no”; being clear on your top 5 core values helps with this
  •  Spend regular time in nature – The Japanese have done longitudinal studies to show that when we walk in nature, particularly among trees, it reduces our heartrate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces (i.e. strengthens our immune system)
  • Nurture yourself daily (e.g. have a bubble bath, listen to relaxing music, do something you love)
  • Try yoga. Experiment with different styles. Find one that works for you and do it 3 times a week or more for 30 to 60 minutes each time
  • Celebrate your achievements – both big and small
  • Unplug from technology 60 to 90 minutes before going to bed; and Unplug one day a week (if possible) e.g. on the weekend.
  • Schedule blocks of time in your calendar for you (e.g. work out at the gym, yoga, lunch with a friend, date night with your partner) and commit to doing them
  • If symptoms persist and if you are continually fatigued even though you sleep 8 or more hours a night, and have lost your zest for life, go to a recommended naturopath or a physician who is open to complementary therapies.

What strategies have you found helpful to reduce stress in your life and to prevent and/or heal from burnout? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.

Gift yourself and those high-achieving women in your life; those who “do” more than “be” and “give” more than “receive” “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” .


[1] Sherrie Berg Carter, High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2010.

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2016/jan/21/spot-the-signs-of-burnout-before-it-hits-you?CMP=ema-1694&CMP=

[3] Scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes noticing where there is any tension or discomfort. Breathe into those places and set the intention to release the pain and discomfort. This is helpful to do first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. It helps you become more aware of your body and the messages it sends you.

[4] When doing mindfulness walking meditation, it is most beneficial to do it outside. When you begin to walk, instead of thinking about the argument you had with your partner that morning or worrying about the performance review you’re going to give to a team member who is underperforming;  instead focus on all of your senses. Feel the breeze on your cheeks, smell the salt sea air, hear the birds chirping, see the beautiful vistas that surround you … . When thoughts come to mind as they will, imagine putting them in a cloud and watching them float away and then return to focusing on your senses. Do this 3 times a week to start for 20 to 30 minutes a time and notice how you feel during, immediately after and after a week or so of doing this.

“Power With” or “Power Over”: Which is the Way Forward?

“Power With” or “Power Over”: Which is the Way Forward?

Recently, I was in an interactive workshop of female leaders, and a number of women voiced that they had negative feelings around the word “power”. I must confess, that was my belief for a number of years, based on my experience with leaders and leadership. However, recently I have changed my perspective around power after being energized and impressed at the way so many of the female leaders around the world responded to the pandemic. They were confident, decisive, and worked collaboratively with their teams and even consulted female leaders in other countries regarding their policies, practices and lessons learned.

The time has come for us to change our mindsets from “power over” to “power with”. Examples of “power with” include how Jacinda Ardern during the pandemic broadcast nationally to her fellow New Zealanders in her sweatshirt coming from a place of empathy and understanding, rather than command and control. How scientists from around the world banded together to find a vaccine for COVID-19 in record time, also demonstrated “power with”.

When you think of “power with”, what images does it conjure up? What does it mean to you? I see men and women standing together in a circle holding hands. I see community. To me it means admitting I don’t have all the answers and working together with others to solve complex issues and generate creative solutions. When I think of “power over” I think of a man on his own at the top of a hierarchy, making the decisions on his own from a place of ego, without seeing the need to consult with and understand various perspectives.

“Power over” is when one person or group unilaterally, usually through their political and/or financial influence, imposes their views and ways of working on others for their own gain, rather than trying to understand others and see the world through a different lens. They are threatened by new ideas and perspectives and often want to maintain the status quo that keeps them in power. They also encourage and support competition over collaboration.

The days of the Lone Wolf are over. Complex issues such climate change and systemic racism require leaders from a variety of backgrounds, disciplines, sectors and countries to solve them.

I believe that “power with”, which involves collaboration, is the way forward.

In order to collaborate it is important to:

  • Believe that more than one “head” is better than one; that multiple perspectives around an issue lead to more creative and sustainable solutions
  • Trust those you are collaborating with
  • Be clear on your role and that of others in the process
  • Have values aligned with those you are collaborating with
  • Be open to new ways of understanding and looking at a problem
  • Come from a place of service; of making a positive difference in the world.

What does power look and feel like for you? I welcome your thoughts and comments below on “power over” and “power with”.

How to Prevent Leadership Burnout during Uncertain Times

How to Prevent Leadership Burnout during Uncertain Times

COVID-19 has created much upheaval in our personal and professional lives. Those of us who love routine and tend to resist change, were totally knocked off balance. If you are an empath, someone who feels deeply, you may have felt almost incapacitated at times; as if you were carrying all the worries of the world on your shoulders and like you were on an emotional roller coaster, one day up and the other day way down. Others pivoted quickly, their creative juices flowed, and they were able to quickly adapt and adjust to an ever-changing new reality. Why and how is this so?

I believe it is partly due to personality, partly due to previous life experience and partly due to environment and mindset. If you believe that embracing change (and uncertainty – which is change that comes “out of the blue” that you didn’t invite into your life) is a creative process that opens you up to new possibility, the way you feel and act during times of uncertainty is quite different than if you fear and resist change and uncertainty.

If you live in a beautiful natural environment and can easily get out in nature on a regular basis (and at the same time maintain social distance), these past months have not been near as difficult for you as for those who live in densely-populated areas or concrete jungles with little or no access to nature.

If you have had previous life experiences such as living and working in conflict zones and areas with restricted movement, you may have learned some valuable lessons you can apply to your current reality (see previous blog for more details – https://pamela-thompson.com/dealing-with-uncertainty-insights-and-lessons-learned/).

A number of women leaders and colleagues I have spoken with have shared their experiences of what it has been like to live and work during these uncertain times. Many have found it challenging to deal with a number of their direct reports who are stressed and having difficulty dealing with working at home. Previous emotional tensions have been aggravated. Working at home with a spouse in close quarters, while at the same time trying to manage young children, is not easy. Many report having to work more hours than normal and having difficulty separating work from life. A number of women leaders are feeling “burnt out” and are also seeing burnout in their colleagues and employees.  

So how can we prevent leadership burnout? Based on my own experiences of almost burning out several times in my career here are a few practical tips.

  • Set clear boundaries between home and work. If you used to leave work at 5 pm, turn off your computer at 5 pm and, if possible, go for a walk outdoors.
  • Establish clear expectations of your direct reports or colleagues. Let them know your hours of work and model work-life balance for them.
  • Take a 5-minute stretch and walk around every hour, if possible, to release the tension in your body and give your eyes a break.
  • When fears and worries about the future come up, take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth and notice how your body responds. When you take such breaths the hormone oxytocin is released which calms your body and your mind. Share this strategy with your colleagues and direct reports.
  • Begin meditating daily. There are a number of meditation apps available including:, https://www.headspace.com/, https://www.calm.com/ ,
  • and one of my favorites Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey’s 21-day meditation experiences – https://chopracentermeditation.com/
  • Spend some time getting clear on what is really important for you in life and in work and then create an action plan to move forward daily in those priority areas. Let go of people and activities that do not nourish you.
  • Communicate with others who are close to you. They will then understand how you are feeling and often “cut you some slack”.
  • Get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling really tired experiment with going to bed earlier.
  • Pamper yourself; have a bubble bath, massage, pedicure, make time to read a favourite author
  • Begin integrating mindfulness practices[1] into your life. For additional strategies on how to prevent burnout and thrive in uncertain times, I invite you to check out my #1 best-selling book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” (which is also helpful for men) and emerged from my experience of almost burning out.

Over to you, what strategies have you found helpful to prevent burnout during uncertain times? I invite your comments below.


[1] Mindfulness practices help you “get of your head” and “into your body”. An example is mindfulness walking meditation which can be done indoors but is more powerful when done outdoors in nature. Rather than thinking of our upcoming meeting or the recent argument we had with our partner, we focus on all of our senses. We feel the wind on our cheeks, smell the salt sea air, hear the crunch of leaves underfoot and see the beautiful vistas that surround us.

The Importance of Play and Laughter for Leaders & Changemakers: How to Connect with Your Inner Child

The Importance of Play and Laughter for Leaders & Changemakers: How to Connect with Your Inner Child

Due to the uncertain and stressful times we are currently living in, and also because of research I’ve recently read on the importance of a “playful frame of mind” as we evolve as authentic leaders[1], I decided to resurrect and share an article I wrote three years ago[2]. …

Many of us learn that after a certain age, it is not appropriate to play. We get messages that we need to become serious and act like an adult. More and more research has shown how important play and laughter are for health and wellness throughout our lives.

You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine. When we laugh, we release endorphins and encourage energy to move throughout our body. In the words of Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who has spent much of her scientific life studying the mind-body link:

Play and laughter are vital to feeling good. Recreation isn’t merely a frivolous addition to life or a hard-earned reward for work…I believe that in a society driven by a strong work ethic, with so many individuals burdened with workaholism, people aren’t getting enough endorphinergic surges through the bodymind on a regular basis. For you to not be laughing and playing during some part of every day is unnatural and goes against your fundamental biochemistry.

Everything You Need to Feel Go(o)d), 2006

Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has conducted research that shows play is not only energizing and fun, but also important for human physical, emotional and cognitive development, and intelligence. Addictions, depression, stress-related illnesses and interpersonal violence have been linked to the prolonged deprivation of play –http://www.nifplay.org . Brown’s TED talk outlines different types of play and provides evidence of the importance of play throughout our lives –http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html

Based on research by Brown, Pert and others, it is recommended for the health of our minds and bodies that we engage in play and laughter every day.

Types of Play

Research on animals and humans has identified a number of different types of play including:

  • Body Play – when we move our bodies in different ways; for example, jumping, running, skipping or moving our bodies to real or imagined music.
  • Object Play – when we make an object (e.g. a snowball) and play with it, or play with an object such as a soccer ball.
  • Imaginative Play – creating an imaginary friend you interact with (you may have had an imaginary friend when you were a child); creating and sharing a fantasy story with a child; playing “dress up”.
  • Social Play  – playing tag or playing house with others
  • Transformative Play – through digital and other types of “structured” play we learn creative problem-solving.

 Strategies for Incorporating more play and laughter

  1. Travel back in time and identify and write down types of play activities you enjoyed and engaged in as a child.
  2. Reflect on how many of these activities you currently engage in as an adult and how often you engage in them.
  3. Rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how energized each of the above activities makes you feel – 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “full of energy”.
  4. Identify several play activities you would like to begin integrating into your life. Experiment and notice how they make you feel.
  5. Commit to engaging in some form of play and/or laughter on a daily basis. Ask friends and family for support (perhaps make it a family project to laugh and play at least once a day), and encourage play and laughter in their lives as well.

Your Inner Child

Another way to incorporate more play and laughter into your life is to connect with your inner child. According to Wikipedia “our inner child is our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty.” Others say that your inner child is your “true self” … the small child within you that never grew up. Your inner child is naturally fun, playful, and creative. It is also fragile and vulnerable.

Many of us have buried or rejected our inner child, and it takes some time to reconnect with and nurture it. The process may be challenging and scary for some, especially if you’ve experienced trauma. Connecting with our inner child helps us love, accept and nurture ourselves.

Strategies for Connecting with Your Inner Child[3] [4]

  1. Write a letter to your inner child saying that you want to reconnect. It can be a letter of apology or one expressing that you want to strengthen the relationship with her.
  1. Notice and acknowledge the feelings that come up when you connect with your inner child. Rather than “pushing them down” or rejecting them, allow any fears, sadness or insecurities to surface. Notice what you notice.
  1. Express those feelings by writing them down in a personal journal or through painting, finger painting or drawing.
  1. Picture yourself as a 3, 4 or 5 year old and reassure your younger self that they are safe, secure and loved.
  1. Reorganize your living space. Make it more fun. Bring out joyful childhood pictures, stuffed animals and trinkets and put them on your mantle. Paint one or several of your rooms with guidance from your inner child.
  1. Buy a coloring book and color several times a week.
  1. Spend time with children playing children’s games. These could be “hide and seek”, or imaginary games, and creating and telling your own stories.
  1. On awakening everyday ask your inner child what fun activity they would like to engage in today.

Parting Thoughts

Research shows that bringing our inner child out to play and incorporating laughter and play into our days is essential to be healthy and happy throughout our lives. I encourage you to try some of the strategies and to notice what you notice.

I’d love to hear how you connect with your inner child and what you’ve noticed from that experience. Please share your experiences below so we can all learn and grow from each other.


[1] https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-authenticity-paradox

[2] Originally published in the February 2017 issue of Eydis Authentic Living Magazine

[3] http://www.wikihow.com/Embrace-Your-Inner-Child

[4] http://www.creativecounseling101.com/find-your-inner-child.html

How to Find Your Focus during Challenging Times

How to Find Your Focus during Challenging Times

During this time of immense change and uncertainty have you felt distracted, anxious, had difficulty sleeping? If so you are not alone. It’s happened to me and a number of my friends, colleagues and clients I’ve recently spoken with.

Many people are noticing that old patterns or beliefs they thought they had dealt with and/or cleared years ago, are surfacing. Others feel like they’re on an emotional teeter-totter; one day feeling upbeat and positive and the next feeling sad, anxious and overwhelmed.

What has helped me to get focused and stay positive is a decision I made several weeks ago to accept a new position and project in my life. Since that day (March 20), I have felt energized, creative, and focused.

I’m excited to share that I recently was named Ambassador for Canada of Female Wave of Change, a global movement that unites women who are changing the world into a better place. Female Wave of Change offers women from all walks of life a safe space where they can be their authentic selves, be economically empowered and grow into leaders and changemakers who shape the world for their own futures and for future generations. “I join(ed) FWoC because I feel so aligned with their Purpose, Vision, Mission and Core Values and I want to be part of this amazing group of women (and some men) and contribute to expanding and strengthening this incredible wave of change.”

To learn more about the Purpose, Vision, Mission and Values of the group visit: https://femalewaveofchange.com.

Ingun Bol, the founder, from the Netherlands, started the movement only 3 years ago and currently has Ambassadors in more than 40 countries. Achievements to date include: 1) designing and rolling out Women Leading in Change; a 12 module group online leadership program for women who want to make impactful changes. The program prepares women to be authentic leaders drawing on their feminine qualities and values; 2) designing Reshape the Future a modular online program aimed at empowering and teaching participants to become agents of change by building on their inner strengths, talents and capabilities. This leadership program was initially to roll out in April 2020 and has been postponed till September 2020; 3) Hosting their first global conference in Johannesburg in September 2019 where a Call to Action on Human Rights was developed.

In addition, Ambassadors with the support of their “Wavemakers” from different parts of the world, have been designing and implementing impactful projects such as one that taught poor African women financial literacy and supports them to secure mortgages they eventually pay off so they can own their own homes.

Areas of focus for various months in 2020 were identified last year and due to COVID-19, the leadership team recently revisited their priorities and decided to offer free virtual webinars, workshops, coaching and dialogue sessions related to the Corona Virus and situations we are all currently facing, and open these up to everyone.  I was honored to have the opportunity to moderate a recent Panel of Older Wise Women where they shared their Purpose, their Visions of the World after COVID-19 and their views on Feminine Leaders of the Future.

You may access recordings of recent virtual webinars/workshops, etc. on the Female Wave of Change YouTube Channel and learn about upcoming workshops and events on Facebook at Female Wave of Change Global . We’d love to have you join us!

What new “thing(s)” are you creating or focusing on during this time when we’ve all been forced to slow down and reflect? Perhaps it’s your garden. Perhaps you’re cooking more and trying new recipes. Perhaps you’re drawing and painting. What is energizing you and keeping you focused? I’d love to hear from you below.