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Recovering from Burnout: Clara’s Story & Strategies for Pressing Pause

A beloved lifestyle blogger, photographer, author, TV and radio host, cookbook writer, podcaster and mother of three, Clara Lidstrom has always had many irons in the fire. Better known as @underbaraclaras, she’s captured the imagination of her readers as a voice of modern feminism and alternative, sustainable living. In a candid interview, she shares with us her story of burnout and recovery. Keep reading to get her tips for pressing pause in our fast-paced society.

#Mindfulness #Inspiration

Clara Lidstrom, Sweden’s leading lifestyle blogger and better known as @underbaraclaras, knew that something was very wrong when the following happened:

- I was going to say to my husband “I took the garbage out this morning”, but instead what came out was “spaghetti and meatballs”, says Clara.

For someone who’d worked with words her whole adult life, suddenly not being able to find the right words was a terrifying experience.

Since starting her blog back in 2006, Clara has established herself firmly in Sweden’s mediatic hall of fame as a modern voice of feminism and sustainable living. She’s written more than ten books, among others a few kids’ cookbooks and fact books, as well as a couple of upcycling style guides; has co-hosted a radio show; has been a regular guest in an array of TV shows; and, most recently, is the co-creator and co-host of a popular podcast.

So how did a person who’d for many years championed a slow lifestyle, far from the hustle and bustle of the city, get to the point where she was completely burnt-out?

- I’d had a really rough few years following my mom’s death, so when I started my company it felt wonderful to be able to work properly again, to be someone people could trust to follow through. So I just gave it my all, thinking I had boundless capacity.

The same year that Clara started her company, she also became a mother for the first time. She had her son Bertil, and just three years later, a little brother followed, Folke. Clara kept working as before, not taking any time off, with her two little boys in tow. After all, she was doing what she loved, writing and photographing, all from the comfort of her own home, she reasoned.

- I’d always been good at pausing and taking some time to lie down and have a rest when I needed to. But when I had my boys, my job started to get busier as well, and I suddenly realized that I had no strategies for resting and replenishing my energies.

- The combination of working hard at my company, not taking time off work to take care of the kids, and not having any clear structure in place in life finally led to me burning out completely, Clara explains.

Severe anxiety, panic attacks and an overwhelming sense of exhaustion that never lifted, regardless of how many hours of sleep she was getting, were some of the symptoms that Clara experienced during this time. It took her a few years and many hours of therapy to get back to a normal life, or rather, a healthier and more balanced life. Today, Clara tries to structure her work to fit a more normal 9-5 schedule, despite the fact that the nature of her job is quite flexible.

- Today, I try to draw clear boundaries between working hours and free time. I exercise and prioritize sleep, and make sure I’m getting enough time to replenish my energy. I’ve come to realize that our bodies can’t “store” recovery - it has a short shelf life! In the past, I’ve reasoned that as long as I make sure to take some time off in the summer, I can carry on with my fast-paced life. But just as we have to eat every day, we also have to make time for recovery every day.

No doubt, Clara is a very ambitious person; still, her story, shared by so many other women and mothers today, is deeply rooted in a greater structural problem in our modern society. Clara explains:

- The workplace and society as a whole rewards you if you’re someone who never says no. And being liked and appreciated is a great feeling, of course, but this builds impossibly high expectations that nobody can live up to and that are very, very hard to break. This is definitely a wider structural problem than just a “good girl” problem, Clara says and continues:

- We have no boundaries today. We can potentially work all hours of the day and always be connected with the rest of the world. It’s true that we used to work much harder physically in previous generations but there were natural limitations too - without electricity, it was impossible to work through the night, for instance. Today, we’ve managed to erase the short, natural pauses throughout the working day, the opportunities to recharge. We’re always on and our brains just don’t get a break.

We asked Clara whether she had any tricks to get some of those little breaks back into her day.

- I do have a few tips you’ll probably find a bit boring, but I promise - they work!

Clara’s 3 tips for pressing pause
- Use an analogue alarm clock in the bedroom, not your phone.
- Don’t multitask in the bathroom - don’t take the phone with you!
- Recovery can look very differently depending on what you work with. If you sit in front of a computer all day, perhaps you can recharge by taking a walk in nature. If you have a physically demanding job, perhaps a hot bath is more suitable. Try to identify what makes you tired, so that you recover from the right things.

There are still hectic work periods for Clara, but she now knows her body and her reactions better. She now knows not to ignore the warning signs, and has established strategies for regular recovery, among others, a mindfulness practice.

- Today I feel great, and I’m so glad I can say that! Mindfulness is an enjoyable part of my day now, not just another task to check off the list.

Reading tip: How to Bring Mindfulness into Your Everyday - 5 Practical Ways

If you’re worried that you might be on your way to burn out, Clara has a clear message:

- Just the fact that you’re thinking about these things is a warning sign. If you’re worried about it, you need to take it seriously. Find a way of addressing this in time. Slow down, remove stress factors in your day-to-day, and make time for recovery every day. You can win so much time long term, many years actually - the way back is long and hard once you’ve reached the point of burning out. Please take the warning signs seriously and talk to someone today!

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