I remember looking in the mirror and not recognising my reflection. Bloated, pallid and vacant. Particularly my eyes.
There was no sign of that once-famous sparkle that could charm any journalist. That’s when I knew the game was up. It was time for me to quit PR.
I was sorry to be turning my back on exceptional colleagues, the buzz of creating campaigns – not to mention my fat monthly pay cheque.
But I was more than ready to walk away from the endless workloads, impossible deadlines, client demands and office politics.
I was well and truly burnt out.
My time in PR wrecked my health. Two decades of having to be ‘always on’, even when my battery was drained, left me with exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and a figure-destroying addiction to sugar. Add to this my reliance on a nightly wine habit that I thought was helping me decompress, but actually exacerbated everything.
I wish I’d known then what I know now: that taking care of my health was more important than generating headlines; that long hours are proven to decrease productivity; that sugar might give you a short-term boost but it ultimately saps your energy; that asking for help is a strength not a weakness; that it’s OK to say no; that being asked to work regular weekends is not acceptable.
I walked away from a brilliant career because I instinctively knew my life depended on it.
That’s not me being a drama queen. The statistics relating to heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and depression among middle-aged professional women continue to soar. And we’ve become the nation’s newest demographic of problem drinkers.
The issue of burnout is not exclusive to women but we are more susceptible than men. It’s only relatively recently (in historical terms) that women have had full-time professional careers and our bodies are not yet evolved to cope.
Of course, there is always an exception – the PR superwoman who seems to have it all – the amazing career, killer wardrobe, happy family and exotic holidays. Only time will tell if she survives.
While men in PR must protect themselves from excessive stress and poor lifestyle choices, women need to be extra careful. A good maintenance practice involves eating plenty of nourishing foods (not constantly being on a diet), sleeping well and taking time out to connect with yourself at every available opportunity.
A healthy body is a good starting point. But a healthy mind and spirit are what will make you thrive. Monitor your levels of energy, passion and positivity as a yardstick to your holistic health. If any of them dip below normal it’s time to take corrective action.
As for me? My story has a happy ending – these days I’m a wellbeing coach.
Turns out I quit PR so you don’t have to.
Jacqui Macdonald is the founder of Goddess School