Earlier this year, burnout was officially recognised as a medical condition by the World Health Organisation, finally bringing it in line with things like anxiety and depression. Because let’s face it, burnout can be just as horrible as any other mental health condition.
In this week’s episode of H R U? – our shiny new podcast in partnership with Kids Helpline and yourtown – host Marty Smiley speaks with the founder and director of the National Live Music Awards, Larry Heath, on how he manages to run so many different ventures without burning himself to the ground.
On top of his duties with the NLMAS, Heath also does A&R work for a music publisher, was the founding editor of The AU Review, and more. One of the reasons he says he’s been able to do so much is because he was never afraid to let the work fall on his shoulders.
“You’re often doing things with very little budget and with limited resources, so you’re doing a lot of that yourself,” Heath said.
“And a lot of the reasons I’ve had so many projects over the years has been because ‘well if we don’t get the budget right, if we don’t get the team right, I can always rely on myself.’ I’ve always been that sort of person that goes, ‘well, worst-case scenario, I’ll let things rest on my shoulders.'”
As you can probably imagine, juggling so many things at once – although enjoyable – can get the better of you one way or another, and Heath certainly felt the bite of that beast more than once.
“I do think that once I started getting more heavily involved in events, specifically Sydney Fringe Festival in its first two years, that was when I really felt the urgency of this work for the first time,” he said.
“So that was the first time I really experienced something that was totally all-encompassing and to the detriment of everything else I was doing because all I was focussing on was the event.”
While he says finding the right balance between work and self-care has always been a struggle, he’s now much better at identifying the signs of burnout before it happens.
“For me, it’s a lot of anxiety, sweating, not being able to wake up in the morning, but also not being able to get to sleep [at night] because you’re so anxious.”
According to Kids Helpline specialist Josie, these physical symptoms are common for a lot of people.
“Often we’ll hear that people are feeling physically run down, not eating, eating too much, not sleeping, sleeping too much, maybe using drugs or alcohol as sort of a distraction or maybe that’s sort of contributing to that run-down feeling,” she said.
For Heath, managing acute stress with so much going on is as simple as taking himself out of the picture, something he calls “isolation and distractions”.
“So when I feel like I’m getting really anxious or a panic attack might be coming on or something like that, I just remove myself from the situation for ten minutes, turn my phone off,” he said.
Of course, everyone’s different, and what you do to prevent and manage burnout could be totally different in your world. One thing that should be the same, Josie says, is establishing boundaries. “No one can identify those for you but you,” she said.
“Only you can feel that your body or your brain are under stress, so being really mindful of if there’s gonna be that one thing that’s about to tip you over the edge, see that edge coming and ask what can shift, what can move to allow for you not to reach that point?”
If you’re keen on more of this very important convo, you can suss out the entire thing in the video below.
The next episode of H R U? tackles another incredibly important topic: sexual abuse.Image: iStock / Toa55