I thought I had it all together. As a busy working single mom, I was doing OK—working all the hours, jumping on and off planes to various countries, juggling the board meetings with school pickups, and doing a Master’s degree on the side (as you do). I was doing fine.
But the truth was, behind the glossy exterior, I wasn’t doing fine at all.
And it ended with me walking into my CEO’s office after getting off the seemingly millionth overnight flight from New York, and uttering the words, “I’m done.” I think I was as shocked as my boss was. But I was sick, tired, burnt out and over it. And even though I had the mortgage and school fees to pay, I also knew that if I didn’t get a handle on my mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, that it was going to end very, very badly.
This marked the beginning of an entirely new chapter: a decade of searching and discovery into how we as women and working mothers pursue what we’re most passionate about in our professional lives, without sacrificing our personal lives, motherhood, wellbeing and sanity in the process.
This chapter included a second master’s degree in wellness and positive psychology, as well as my first book, Getting Real About Having It All. And whilst doing those things, I stayed at IBM in a four-day-a-week new role as head of strategy, with remits for gender diversity and women’s leadership—trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together not just for myself, but for women everywhere.
I left IBM to pursue deeper work in the women’s leadership and empowerment space. I founded the award-winning Lead Like A Woman company, writing a book of the same name. I coached hundreds of women. And later I researched and wrote my latest book, the newly released Simple Soulful Sacred: A Woman’s Guide to Clarity, Comfort and Coming Home to Herself.
As I’ve listened to the stories of tens of thousands of women from all around the world, and researched and tested strategies from positive psychology, neurobiology, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, wellness sciences and wisdom teachings, I’ve found that simple strategies which are easily implementable work best for busy working mothers who are often just trying to keep it all together, like I was.
One of mine is this four-minute strategy, detailed below, that helps ease burnout and reset your life in the time that you have between office meetings and school pickups.
Minute One: Stop
Stop what you are doing, and bring yourself into the present moment. Feel your feet on the ground. Get anchored and grounded, bringing yourself back into your body.
Minute Two: Breathe
Bring your attention to your breath. Breathe in through your nose and feel that breath going down into your belly. Feel your belly expand and fall as you inhale and exhale through your nose. After a few deep breath cycles, move to inhaling for a count of four, pausing for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of four. This is the four-part yogic breath, and it could just change your life.
Minute Three: Feel
Scan your body from your toe tips to the top of your head, tuning in to how you feel as you move up your body. Where is there tension? Where do you feel unease? Contract and release your muscles as you scan, finally finishing with your facial muscles. Once complete, stay anchored and grounded, and do deep-belly breathing in this more present and relaxed state.
Minute Four: Connect
Go deep within yourself. Connect to your intuition—that deep sense of inner knowing we can hear when we slow down and get quiet. What is she telling you right now? Listen. What do you need right now? Is it rest, meditation, a yoga class, time with your girlfriends, date night? Are you longing to quit your job, start a business, go on a retreat or change careers? Connect. Breathe. Tune in. Listen. Then, you get to choose what comes next.
I started using this approach as I was coming out the other side of my burnout period. During my yoga-teacher training, which I did that following year, I learned the importance of the breath and the radical difference a few minutes of breathing and reflection could make. It was literally life changing for me and led me to make dramatic alterations: (changing roles, moving to part time work, going deeper into self-care and enforcing boundaries to protect my time and energy). It not only overhauled my health and all aspects of my wellbeing, but also gave me the space and calmness to be a better mother, and to cope better with being a working parent.
Often we feel burnt out and strung out because we’ve been moving through our lives completely disconnected from our bodies and our spirit. We’re running so fast on the treadmill that our physical wellbeing is getting run into the ground while our emotional and mental wellbeing is withering on the vine.
This deceptively simple four-minute strategy gives you the opportunity to check in with yourself and to get real about how you’re truly feeling. Of course if you’re on the burnout spectrum then I invite you to go deeper than this, but it’s a start. Ignoring how we feel rarely works for very long. Neither does distraction or denial. I learned this the hard way, working for more than a decade on autopilot and then throwing single working mother into the mix to combust the fire.
We need to learn to slow down. To breathe properly in a way that restore and energizes us. To tune in and ask ourselves, “Is this working for me?” and “How do I really feel right now?” It takes courage. It takes practice. But it will change your life for the better. And both yourself, and your family, will thank you for it.
Megan Dalla-Camina is the former head of strategy for a $5 billion division of IBM. She is now an award-winning entrepreneur, women’s mentor, business and leadership coach, speaker and bestselling author. Her work has been featured in hundreds of media outlets around the world from Forbes and Fortune, to Elle and Marie Claire. Her latest book is Simple Soulful Sacred: A Woman’s Guide to Clarity, Comfort and Coming Home to Herself (Hay House). She lives in Sydney with her son, and travels the world with her work. Follow Megan on Instagram and Facebook @megandallacamina.
Get your free confidence guide and get clear on what you really want for your work and life—download at megandallacamina.com/confidenceguide.