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Ka mate kāinga tahi, ka ora kāinga rua - On recovery from burnout…



Recovery from my own burnout from teaching began the day I quit my job. It’s true that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but that first step felt like an incredibly scary milestone.


Any sensible person wouldn’t have quit. I mean, I had the permanent contract at a great kura. Colleagues I loved. Money coming in. And the ability to teach my passions. Plus, I had no obvious next steps.


I literally had no idea what the next year would hold for me. That was a little scary, to say the least.


But the idea of quitting filled me with such a sense of liberation and lightness, that as soon as I did it I knew there was no turning back, and what followed was a path that I couldn’t have even dreamed up.


I realised that what had been keeping me in a permanent state of anxiety around my job was shame and fear.


Fear: “What would I do if I didn’t teach? "


Shame: “I speak te reo and there aren’t enough kaiako reo Māori so ..”


Fear: "But I have to teach cause I have a Teach NZ scholarship to repay. "


Shame: "You can’t burnout in such a short time!"


Fear: "Who am I if I’m not a kaiako?"


In quitting, I automatically gave up these (mostly) lies to myself, and opened myself up to the possibility of something new. What followed was the most fun and free school term of my career, knowing that I now had a choice in the matter.


On paper, nothing had changed. I was still teaching day in day out in the same classroom. But my anxiety, fatigue and depression had completely shifted since quitting. The change happened within, and it onwards and upwards from here. I felt empowered.


“Ka mate kainga tahi, ka ora kainga rua.” One door closes, another door opens - Always have two strings to your bow.


Closing that chapter of my career development allowed for a whole new path to open up.


I chose to go back to study for 6 months and learn something hands-on (massage) as a way to heal myself from long-term stress. Even better, my studies didn’t start till March, so I had a good 2 months of holiday from life’s stresses, and a chance to catch up with long-lost whānau and friends (whom I’d neglected during the teaching year).


Every now and then I’d run into old parents or colleagues from kura, and that nagging fear and shame would be there. But the more I learned about stress and burnout, the more confident I felt in my decision to completely change tack for a bit to rediscover myself and my passions.


Here are some of my top 5 tips for recovering from burnout.


1. Take a clean break and rediscover your joy


I personally believe that having a clean break from the role you have just burnt out from is really important. You don’t actually know whether you will go back to the same job or not, so at this stage, it can open up other possibilities, or provide a well-needed change of scenery.


A clean break allowed me to see the world beyond the classroom and the staffroom. To take lunch breaks again. To bask in the glory of a sunny morning. And enjoy Sunday afternoons without the nagging fear of Monday. I may not have gotten rich that year, but I gained something else much more valuable.


I found my joy in living again.

The chances are, your hobbies started to suffer a long time before you well and truly burnt out. That’s normal. If you read in Part 1 of my burnout series about the 12 stages of burnout, Stage 5 involved having no time for non-work related needs.


What did you used to do regularly that filled your cup? Do that. What have you always wanted to do that you never had time for? Do that.


For me, I love studying. I’m a natural geek. Being back studying and learning massage and yoga filled my cup. Travel fills my cup. I got a chance to do that. By the time I returned to the classroom, I did not recognise burnt out Laura, because she was now teaching from a space of love, joy and abundance, rather than thin air.


Also, as I will discuss more in Part 3 of this series, burnout is not always a one-off event, like chicken pox. Have it once and you are done. Nope. Many of us will go in and out of burnout several times over our lives, as I have experienced.


Therefore, incorporating more of your hobbies and passions into your day to day life can help future proof you against experiencing another serious burnout.


2. Choose your workplace wisely:


I’ve come to see that we all have choices about the environment we work in, although sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. And that every single school, factory or office creates their own workplace culture, some of which more focussed on staff wellbeing than others.


When I returned to teaching, I decided that it was better the devil I knew, so I went back to my old kura. Now, this is not something I would necessarily recommend to others, but I chose this route because of the supportive kura community that I knew and loved.


Ngā piki/pros:

  • My kura allowed for job-shares, which gave me an opportunity to get my massage business off the ground 2 days a week.

  • Being at the same kura meant I had less resources to make, and had a great network of skilled kaiako to tap into.

  • I got to introduce the kōrero around teacher wellbeing, and have an impact on the school culture.

Ngā heke/cons:

  • Others didn’t necessarily see my own transformation or healing, and still saw me as pre-burnout Laura, so I had to work twice as hard to maintain my boundaries and protect my gains in wellbeing.

  • Triggers for my anxiety were abundant, and sometimes I would still have panic attacks in familiar situations, ie: around report/comment writing time.

  • The kura itself was still the same kura, with incredibly high expectations of students and kaiako, and resulting high stress levels that sometimes accompany these.

I’ve since taught at 3 other, very different schools. Relieving and fixed-term, part-time positions have been ideal for me to get a feel for the school, and to see if it’s somewhere I’d actually like to work long-term.


I would be asking around as much as possible to gauge the standard of leadership and focus on wellbeing at each school/workplace, as workplace culture all flows down from the leader at the top.


3.Go part time. Seriously.


One of the symptoms or consequences of burnout is increased fatigue, and a reduced capacity to complete the required tasks of your role. If and when you decide you are ready to return to the role, look hard at your finances and see whether you could afford to drop a day or two.


Having an extra day or two to add to your weekend can make all the difference in terms of feeling like you are on top of life admin, participating in activities that bring you joy, taking care of your wellbeing needs (which may require more of your time now that you are post-burnout) and if you have tamariki, spending enough time with your whānau.


Ngā piki/ pros of job-shares:

  • My voice and throat recovered as I wasn’t talking 5 days a week.

  • I got less colds, due to less stress and less exposure to sick kids.

  • My digestion improved due to actual lunch breaks 4 days a week.

  • I was also more present with the kids, and they got the best of me each day, rather than the dregs of me.

Ngā heke/cons of job-shares:

  • As all teachers know, completing the demands of the job in the allocated hours is almost impossible, so the unfortunate reality is that you may be working harder than you’d thought when you signed the contract.

  • Increased time spent communicating with your job-share buddy

  • The onus is really on you to keep your own time boundaries, especially on non-contact days.


4. Be vigilant with your own boundaries


Only you will understand how you work, and your own unique relationship to your job, so it may be time to do some hard reflection on your own habits now. Deep down, you are probably aware of some of your own work behaviours that aren’t the healthiest.


Is it having your work emails connected to your phone?


Is it answering said work emails after work hours?


Or constantly talking about work topics on your lunch break?


Or not taking a lunch break, or eating at your computer?


I could go on and on, but only you will know what’s possibly going to hinder your own recovery from burnout.


Cause at the end of the day, we can take a clean break, change our workplace, cut down our hours, even flash up our wardrobe, but if we keep sabotaging our efforts to find balance and wellbeing, we are going to keep burning out.


For me, I had to get real about how much time I spent planning on my days off, and so I capped my planning time at 1.5 hours a week, and if I went over that, I just had to stop.


I also had to stop making extravagant wall displays out of kid’s art, as they ate into my planning time after school, so my classroom looked a bit more boring. But you know what? No one cared! The world went on.


5. Bring your friends and whānau on the ride:


Burnout, and mental health in general, has less of a stigma than it used to have.


As a kid I remember hearing in hushed tones about a family friend who was ‘Burned out’ and couldn’t work anymore. It seemed embarrassing, like some sort of big failure that was somehow his fault. Not true!


Burnout is not a sign of weakness and you are not a failure!

The World Health Organisation now deems burnout an ‘occupational phenomenon’ , with three clear dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, negative feelings or cynicism towards one’s job, and reduced ability to do one’s job properly. It’s an actual thing.


When I went through my own crash and burn, I was living in a flat with wonderful humans who would sit down and listen to my journey over cuppa teas and one-pot wonder meals. I can’t imagine surviving that experience without their support, and I am eternally grateful for their compassion, listening ears, and lack of judgement.


Seek out people who you know will not judge you. Your friends and whānau need to know what you are going through, so they can help support you in your recovery.


Ultimately, and I know this will sound weird, but I am grateful for my burnout, becuase I have my relationships back. I have my passions back. I have discovered new passions I didn't even know that I had. I have created a business that fulfills me. And I have a new sense of balance and wellbeing that I never had before.


"Ka mate kāinga tahi, ka ora kāinga rua." There is life beyond burnout, and it is wonderful!



 

If you think you may be experiencing burnout or are in recovery, restorative yoga is an incredibly healing modality that can support you in acheiving a real rest for your body, mind and spirit. I teach 2 classes per week, one in person in Ōrākei, Tāmaki Makaurau on Sundays 7pm and one online on Mondays 7pm. You are welcome to join.


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