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Let 2022 Be The Year We Give Ourselves A Break. A Real One

You’re reading If This Is The Year, a series of guides to tackling those big life goals the pandemic has put on hold – with the help of experts, we’re breaking things down into more manageable steps to take in 2022.

It took catching Covid-19 to make me slow down in 2021. I realise how bonkers that sounds as I read it back. But when a positive PCR result in the run up to Christmas forced me, like so many, into self-isolation, what could have been a miserable 10 days on my own actually came as some kind of relief.

The year had started intensely at work and didn’t let up, especially when big changes turned my job on its head in spring. I ploughed through summer in coping mode and thought I was managing until, mid-autumn, I crashed into a wave of work anxiety so big it convinced me that I was failing at everything.

It’s not an uncommon tale, says Bex Spiller, founder of The Anti-Burnout Club (ABC), a wellbeing collective that has worked with hundreds of NHS and key workers.

“Burnout is on the rise simply because the amount we feel we have to do is on the rise,” she tells me. “Look back 50 or 60 years ago and you’ll find there was a lot less on people’s ‘to do’ lists than there is now.”

In a digital age, “switching off” is not just a metaphor. As Spiller explains, the combination of pressures from work and society (“social media has a big part to play in this”) as well as our fears around health and job security all add up.

“You can see this even more during the pandemic when people are literally bringing their work home,” she says. “It feels even harder to switch off (‘Oh, I best just check my emails’ in the middle of downtime). We feel as though we need to prove that we can be productive working from home, too.”

For me, it was a benign manager who helped me recognise and name my anxiety and convince me to swap my perceived work “to do” list for a wellbeing one: of sleeping and eating properly, and giving myself a break.

When I checked my holiday allowance, I realised I’d not taken more than a day off between April and September – and burnout was the result. Even then, I delayed on booking my remaining days. Then Covid forced the issue. But, never mind asking our bosses for a break. How do we give ourselves permission?

“This is normally the biggest part of the battle for most people,” says Spiller. “It’s quite common to be stuck in the mindset of ‘it’s lazy’ or ‘unproductive’ to relax, but actually it’s quite the opposite. Research has shown that our brains aren’t designed for constant productivity (or 8-hour work days), so it’s more productive to design your days around some work and some rest.”

So, breaking your own aversion to breaks is the first step. “I’d question what your preconceptions are about relaxing to dig into what might be holding you back,” Spiller says. “Do you think it’s lazy or unproductive? We know that’s not true. Do you think improving your wellbeing is just what you see on Instagram? Yoga on sandy beaches or silent retreats in the woods? If so, don’t forget that the social media world is not always the real world.”

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