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Top tips on knowing when to stop

In a series of wellbeing columns Karen Beaven offers advice to others in HR

When was the last time you stopped working and took a breather? Maybe you know you need to but you’re waiting for things to calm down a bit first.

You’ll probably find yourself saying things like ‘it’s OK, I like a challenge’. Or maybe you’ve started beginning every conversation with ‘sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you’. You start skipping lunch or eating it on the go. Maybe you start drinking more coffee. Your sleep pattern is all over the place. No-one knows how much overtime you’re doing.

You probably keep saying yes to new projects and taking on more work. You’re not going to let it beat you and keep telling yourself and anyone that asks that everything is OK.

If this sounds like you STOP NOW. It is definitely time to take a breather. Even though it might feel counter-intuitive when you’re in the thick of it it’s the absolute best thing for your wellbeing, the wellbeing of your team and for the business you’re supporting.

You can’t do your best work if you’re on the edge of burnout. And you don’t always realise how close you are to the edge until you go over it. Whether you realise it or not, you’re probably not making the best decisions and sooner or later this pace and way of working will catch up with you.

So what can you do? Actually quite a lot. There are many techniques you can apply, but the first thing you need to do is decide to own this. Decide that you’re going to be the one to put this right, and in doing that lead the way and help other people see that it’s OK to take a breather too.

This could be something as simple as taking time out to get a healthy lunch every day. Or blocking some ‘consolidation’ time out in your calendar. Call it what you want, but start with two hours a week where you have some quiet time to think, consolidate and reflect. Get out of the office if you can and go for a walk. Try to clear your mind and create space for new ideas and solutions.

Also, if you’re really serious about getting out of this state you can begin a daily meditation practice. My advice would be to start this in a super easy accessible way and do it consistently for 10 days. Here’s how:

1. Set your alarm in the morning so you get up 15 minutes earlier than normal.

2. Before you do anything find somewhere comfortable where you can sit for 10 minutes – ideally with your back straight – without being disturbed. You can sit on the floor or on a chair.

3. Gently close your eyes and turn your attention to your breath. Become aware of the rhythm.

4. Take three longer breaths where you breathe in for a count of four then out for a count of four, then return to your normal rhythm.

5. Just sit in stillness and aim to clear your mind. This can feel quite hard when you’re just getting started and you might find that thoughts keep popping into your head. If that happens notice them and then let them pass. It can sometimes help to think of them as boats passing on a river; you’re aware of them but you don’t stay with them. Gently bring your focus back to your breath each time you feel distracted.

6. When you’re just getting started limit these first meditation sessions to 10 minutes. You can always extend this later as you develop your practice.

This is a simple way to get started and well worth trying if you don’t currently meditate. Try it consistently for 10 days and see what impact it has for you. If you get stuck or need some help just let me know.

Deep breath… you can do this.

Karen Beaven is an HR director, strategist and author