It was January 2018, I was running my own business, a “cloud based” members club which I was re-launching in the Spring of that year, and very much a woman on a mission to single handedly create a global community, stretching across multiple cities. I was moving house and organising my wedding. I remember acknowledging that I was taking on quite a lot, and I was apprehensive…
Agora had come into being as an informal network called Start Ups & Vino in 2015 — it had gathered pace since I made the decision to more formally launch it as a members club in 2017. I had always believed that one of the keys to long term success in business lay in collaboration and community — people working together, sharing resources and driving forward — two energies being ultimately more powerful than one. I still believe in that today, and it still sits at the heart of Agora, but what I learnt most keenly in my experience of building a business was and is, that without your health, you simply have nothing.
By October 2018, I was feeling the full effects of a body that had burnt out.
“The body’s compensatory mechanism to stress has been overwhelmed. To ensure survival, the body initiates a series of actions designed to conserve energy. An adrenal crash represents such an effort by the body as it down regulates and returns to the most basic form of survival — a vegetative state.”
In the months leading up to the peak of my burnout, I had felt an intense exhaustion, that felt simultaneously akin to being a live wire. The shift from that to almost listless nothingness, the “vegetative state” the body retreats to, was dramatic and sudden.
Feeling the full force of what it means to not listen to the body was a life lesson for me. Mastery of self was already an area that I was exploring, I had undergone several intense yoga trainings, and was deeply interested in the body and mind connection, and aware of the dangers of chronic stress but ultimately for me, I had to go to the edge and beyond, to learn, then heal and subsequently share that experience with others, both in the workplace and beyond.
It was in my healing journey that I created my “Wobble Toolkit” — a personalised support system to help me through challenging times. Everyone in life has a wobble now and then, it may only be slight, or it might be a major wobble brought on by an existing condition or an external life event. Wobbles are there to stay, but toolkits can ease the transition back to balance.
What’s in my Toolkit?
First off, I cover the five dimensions of health:
1. Emotional Support
I’m a big believer in therapy. Frustratingly I think the word still has a slight stigma attached to it, but ultimately you’re being the bigger person if you can front up to your own demons (be they small or large) and work with someone you trust implicitly, who understands and SEES you. Give time to the search and don’t give up if you don’t find “the one” straight away.
Have around you one, or a small group of people that you look up to, importantly have your back, believe in you but will also be honest with you.
Practice Acceptance, Compassion and Kindness
When I was at my lowest ebb, I would continuously question why I was unable to manage a level of stress that others would be fine with or may even thrive with. Each one of us has a different constitution, which is no better, stronger or weaker than the other. We are each one of us individuals with our own physiological make up. Accepting that has been a journey all of its own, but an important one, along with practicing compassion to myself and others, as well as kindness.
2. Spiritual Support
I spent years trying and then giving up with meditation, as I know so many have. I have elements of perfectionism in my personality and most definitely am a type A, so I found the pressure of “clearing my mind” etc just too much. However, I persisted acknowledging the staggering amount of scientific evidence about its holistic health benefits, and discovered vedic meditation, a very ancient form of meditation, that relies on a simple one word mantra. For me, it was a game changer as it did not require me to quieten my mind. Rather it celebrated thoughts as a way of cleansing. I would highly recommend The London Meditation Centre who I did my course with.
You can find meditation in other forms though . For some, that can be mindfulness in nature, for others it may be knitting, kite surfing, practising a martial art or yoga. You will likely find that as you start to pursue a place of calm, you will be drawn closer towards the practice.
3. Physical Support
There are countless articles and books on how animals in the wild are better able to recover from stress. Thanks to our evolved intelligence, our frontal cortex, we live and exist in the fast paced technological world that we do. However, our often sedentary lifestyles and chronic stresses conflict with our emotional brain, our limbic system and it’s ability to process negative or stressful experiences. Physical exercise helps our bodies process this energy and bring the systems of our bodies and our minds back into balance. For me, that physical exercise is yoga. Whatever it is for you, make it part of your routine and stick to it.
4. Mental Support
These are more a collective of personalised pieces of self advice.
I questioned and investigated my own experience of burnout. Why me, why are our generation burning out? Are we mentally weaker than our forefathers? I gave myself a hard time in the process but after conversations and research, I came to two conclusions. 1) We live in an instant world, where we are all expected to be on-line and active, 24/7. 2) We often find ourselves at odds with our purpose which in the end, leaves us drained and drifting from our compass, rather than energised. In the words of Mufasa from the Lion King, “know who you are” and when it comes to the constant noise surrounding us, make time to step back and learn to say no.
In my bid to build business and serve my members (of Agora), I wasn’t actually helping anyone. Create boundaries in your personal life and your business right from the start. Be bold, believe in them and stick to them. Spreading yourself too thin does no favours to you or those around you. I am much more realistic now than I was before about what I am able to do.
Ego does not serve us. I always thought I operated without it, but in times of challenge, it was gripping on. Leave it at the door.
I was once told that in surrendering control, you are actually taking control. A piece of advice I rather liked… yet it’s not easy to do. Life teaches you that having a concrete defined plan can often lead to disappointment. Have realistic goals, yes — absolutely, but within that have flexibility, and don’t beat yourself up if it goes wrong — take the positive from the negative and adapt and evolve.
Trust your gut
When it comes to business decisions and almost more importantly, business relationships… listen to that gut. It speaks. Do not make rash decisions in a bid to find a solution — as a Founder or an employee, manager, partner, you are responsible for your actions and those consequences, which affect you but also your team and your business success.
5. Social Support
The simplest of ways to take yourself out of yourself and your work, your challenges. We are innately sociable creatures and biologically we are wired to engage and build community. I had become so single minded and focused on building this global ecosystem which was going to change the way people engaged, I had neglected the simplicity of taking time to engage with my own friends. The perfect antidote to stress.
Desert Island Luxuries
For me, chocolate, a glass of wine, a hot bath, a good book, laughter. “Laughter can alter dopamine and serotonin activity. Furthermore, endorphins secreted by laughter can help when people are uncomfortable or in a depressed mood.”
Holistic Support — five dimensions in one
For me, the essence of life, I found and find it powerfully grounding, and incredibly healing. It gives perspective and draws me back into the present. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
There is a wide led belief that our bodies, when in system balance, should be able to heal themselves. Acupuncturists hold that belief and I have been to a highly trusted one now every two months, without fail, for the last five years. Pseudoscience, placebo, emotional/spiritual/physical support, call it what you will, but find an alternative therapy that works for you and helps to balance and boost the energy systems of the body.
I am fortunate to have a good relationship with food. I was brought up in a family where food was front and centre. However, I shed weight during two periods of my life where my body has been under increased stress: heartbreak and burnout. The significance of the gut-brain axis is well documented. A large proportion of serotonin is produced in the gut. Your gut microbes also produce a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps control feelings of fear and anxiety. Eating anti inflammatory foods, a balanced diet and boosting that with a well researched trusted supplement will give you the best chance of supporting positive gut health, and consequently good mental and physical health.
Your wobble toolkit is completely individual, that’s the magic of it. Give time to creating it, and most importantly, USE IT.
Agora – London
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