Do you feel unhappy working on your business? Maybe you feel exhausted from all the tasks you need to accomplish and often forget that you are a human, not a robot. Take a pause and listen to this episode to learn how to cut the burnout work cycle, be productive and lie a happy and healthy life. Shona Hirons is a multiple book author, successful coach, an award-winning global corporate burnout expert, and the Company Director of Mindset in Motion, which helps thousands of people manage burnout and better understand remote working.
From someone who experienced burnout and was overwhelmed by work-related stress. Shona Hirons dedicated years to researching burnout and finding out how to help people create a work-life balance.
In this episode, Shona Hirons talks with Adam Stott about her work-life-changing journey. Shona shares her multiple near-death experiences, how she built resilience through the challenges, and how she shifted her perspective and action to create a happier work and life.
- Shona Hirons’ former life incidents
- The symptoms of burnout and overwork in Shona’s body
- Understand the phases of burnout to end the stigma of discrimination
- Creating movement snacks to break the work cycle; and
- Shona’s three tips for managing work overwhelm and burnout
Please note this is a verbatim transcription from the original audio and therefore may include some minor grammatical errors.
Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Business Growth Secrets. So I’ve got an amazing guest on with me today, Shona Hirons. Who’s gonna be sharing with us some amazing concepts and things that she’s been working on and I’m really, really keen to get to know more about your story, Shona. You’ve said that you’ve got three books out, or you’re working on the third one right now. Help thousands of people to understand remote working better. Also, being a real expert around this topic of burnouts and stress which I believe. So we’re really looking forward to hear about that, and you’ve got an amazing, inspiring story. So welcome on. You’re excited to be on today? You’ve got lots to share?
Really excited and yes, I can normally talk for hours so I know we don’t have that much time. So yeah, lots of stuff to share.
Lots of stuff to share, great stuff. Why don’t we start off with just hearing a little bit about you and your background. How you got to where you are right now? Tell us your story, the things that have been happening with yourself personally. How you’ve got to where you are now, being a really successful coach, mentor? Somebody that’s written multiple books and created lots of great success in other people’s lives. It’d be great to hear a little bit about where you’ve come from and how you’ve got there.
Okay, thanks Adam. You’re making me sound amazing and I’m a normal person but I don’t think the word normal actually comes into it. I call it my former life. In my former life, I was a lawyer for 20 years in the corporate world. I lots of keynote talks and I always start by saying, have you ever seen the movie Final Destination? Most people’ve seen Final Destination because I say I need to be in the next sequel of it.
But death is definitely not gonna catch up with me cause I’m definitely not ready for that yet. But on the day I was born, I was born six weeks early. My dad was told that they would do everything they could to save my mom but there was no way I would survive the night. I was so tiny, I weighed less than a bag of sugar and I had lots of medical problems. And this was like early ‘70s. So, anyway, 48 years on, I’m still here.
Death has tried to catch up with me ever since, I guess my childhood was pretty much unscathed. I fell in love with swimming, swam for my country, qualified for the Commonwealth Games in 1990. Literally three weeks before I was due to fly out to Auckland, I had a knee injury from swimming and I had to have surgery on my knee. So that was kind of the end of my swimming career.
So I threw myself into my studies, which I kind of neglected for the years that was swimming. And my dad was a lawyer and I always liked what he did. I used to hear him on his dictaphone at home doing the cases and thought, yeah, that sounds quite interesting. So it was kind of the path I decided to go down. But I guess also I was pushed into it, you know, my parents were of the view that you know, you needed to have status after your name.
You needed to be, you know, a doctor or a lawyer to get that kind of respect in your professional life. I don’t believe that is true anymore. Those aren’t my values. And you know, I think success means different things to different people. But my next brush with death was at the age of 18.
When I was on my final holiday with my parents in Turkey and got stung by a scorpion and then spent 10 days in a Turkish hospital, which was yeah, not much fun, but I guess, you know, you could say a scorpion sting won’t kill you. But there was a nurse who sucked the sting out of my arm and said that this particular type was one which could kill you, and it literally paralyzes you. And I was in the swimming pool at the time, so I just sank to the bottom like a stone.
But you know, that all ended well, you know, after that anyway. And then, when I stopped swimming, I started to get these really awful migraines. Literally, I’d get about three a week and they would stop me from pretty much doing anything. I managed to get through the whole of university managing that. And we didn’t know what was causing them, maybe it was stress, et cetera. Then when I was 22, I had a mini-stroke and you know, I was always very fit, obviously into my swimming. I had over the next 10 years, numerous brain scans to try and find out what had caused it. I was put on very strong medication, blood thinners, told that it was most unlikely I would ever have children.
And at that point, I didn’t really mind so much because I was in my 20s. I wasn’t even thinking of having a family. So I threw myself heavily into my career as a lawyer and got quite senior very quickly. I didn’t mind that I thrived on that. And then when I was 32, I decided to go and do my PADI diving course. During the theory part of it, I thought, actually a lot of people who dive have holes in their hearts and their symptoms sounded very similar to what I experienced with the migraines and then the mini-stroke.
So when I came back to the UK, I mentioned it to my GP and he said, look, there’s a new cardiologist in the local hospital. Why don’t we send you there just to see if it is anything? Because nothing has ever shown up as defective on your brain scans.
And won’t be tied, when I had the test, you could seal these bubbles coming through my heart, and it was a hole that I’d had in my heart since birth. But because I kept myself so fit and healthy during my teens and early twenties, it had never detected as a problem. So literally within about a week, I was having heart surgery, having the hole closed. And within about eight months I was able to come off all the medication and literally I fell pregnant straight away with my now 14-year-old daughter who is, you know, she is my little miracle.
A bit of a pain in the backside as well at the moment cause she’s 14. But I guess that’s when my priorities around work changed. You know, I decided that I didn’t wanna be that mum who was never at the school gates. I still wanted to have a professional career and I believed you could have both. But I think part of this was my fault. I think I was brought up to believe that, you know, it’s the woman’s job to do all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the childcare, you can have a job as well, and I struggle to let that go.
And I felt like I always had the world on my shoulders and I had this need to always be perfect and not get things right, you know. I had a typical type A personality and I guess I’ve only realized that over the last few years. And, you know, if things were going well, brilliant, the minute something went wrong, I would beat myself up so much. At the same time I worked for a large corporate company and there, you know, this was back in, you know, the early 2010s. Employee well-being still at that point wasn’t considered to be, you know, a high priority. And if you did say that you were struggling with any form of mental health, then you were stigma.
There was a lot of stigma and discrimination against that. So, I was finding I was working 80-hour weeks just to be able to keep up with all my targets. I had an hour to travel each day to get to work, and the only way that I was getting any fitness in was to cycle to work and cycle back, which was about 12 miles each way. Then I would literally just sit at my desk all day and not move. And I could have a document in front of me, read the same line 50 times, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it said. And I’d get home 11 o’clock at night some nights, and I’d go a whole week without washing my hair because I didn’t have time.
I pushed the people that I loved around me, pushed them away, you know. My relationship with my husband was not good. I hardly ever saw my daughter. I stopped going out with friends. And then I started to make mistakes as well at work. And you know, and I didn’t understand why I was making these mistakes, but you know, I now know it was because I was totally exhausted, you know. I was working 15, 16 hour days, coming home, still trying to do more when I got home. And you know, you are human at the end of the day.
But I remember my line manager saying to me when I made a mistake at work, I sent an email to the wrong person and I had a disciplinary for that and he said, you need to remember in this world, we’re not human, we’re robots and we can’t make mistakes. And I believed him. For a long time, I now feel incredibly sorry for him if he feels like that. But that was when I think my self-esteem and confidence was already in a bad way at that point.
And that’s when I had my first panic attack. And I honestly thought it was dying when I had my first panic attack. It was horrible. I didn’t know what was happening to me, I just thought I can’t tell anyone about this. I feel ridiculous. And then I’d start getting other physical symptoms as well. Like I’d get this burning feeling in my feet, and then my hands, they would feel like they were being crushed, and then they would claw in on me like a claw shape and I’d have no feeling at all in my hands for days sometimes.
And the worst episode I had was in May 2013. Literally, I just stopped for the weekend, had a weekend away at my sister-in-law’s, and actually had quite a nice, you know, a nice time where for the first time, gone out and turned off from work. And whether that was because I’d been in, I don’t know, fight or flight mode for so long, I don’t know. But the minute I stopped, again, my whole left side collapsed. I soiled myself which it took me a long time to ever admit that, but I had no control over my whole body. And then I was rushed to hospital.
Very brave of you as well to tell it in that detail, you know. I think…
It’s degrading in some respects, but the reason I think it’s important is because your body has a really good way of slowing you down and stopping you when things are getting too much. And I hadn’t really noticed the warning signs. I’d gone to my GP once when I was having these panic attacks because they were awful and they were getting so bad and I didn’t really understand what they were. And when you go to your GP and you’ve got a 10-minute appointment, and the GP is looking at his watch every couple of seconds, I don’t think I managed to explain properly what was happening. And then he said at the end, well, you just need to pull yourself together.
So, you know, I sat in the car and I sobbed on my way home thinking I’m just being pathetic and I’m just being stupid. Again, beating myself up because that was kind of the mindset that I had at that point. I did live in victim mode. I always used to think, oh, why me? Poor me, why are bad thing’s happening? I didn’t believe in myself either at that time. I just felt really trapped and stuck. It came to a halt in 2017 when I was cycling to work one day again, rushing in the morning, just jumping out of bed, getting on my bike.
Thinking I need to get to the office as soon as possible, and I have no idea how the accident happened. But according to witnesses, I hit a wet patch on the road as I was coming onto a psychopath and I went head over the handlebars. I was wearing a helmet, but my face took the brunt of the impact. And I ended up in hospital in an induced coma for two weeks.
When I came around, I was very disorientated and my husband explained that you know, I’d had this accident and I’d been left with a 20% chance of survival. I had a hole above my eyebrow on the left side of my face. Literally, you could see through it. My entire orbital area was completely smashed, my cheekbone was smashed into pieces. My jaw was broken, and I’d fractured the base of my skull through the impact. I’d also lost the hearing in my left ear and partially cited in my left eye. I spent the next year in and out of hospital having major facial reconstructive surgery. I’m actually 93, really.
You gotta look at it on the funny side sometimes. Yeah, and then I have my hearing restored after about 14 months. My eyes, thankfully, the damage was, you know, was better. But I guess that was my wake-up call. That was my epiphany moment to say, you know, if this really was my last day on earth, would I be happy with what I’ve achieved? And my answer was absolutely not, you know. I wanted more. I’d always loved working with people. I’d always been a people person.
That hole, they call it the invisible illness, don’t they? When you’re struggling with mental health, people would look at me and say, oh, you look really well. And, oh, you’re so, you know, you always look so smart and you’ve got a nice house and a nice car. I was dying inside, I hated my life. I needed to get out and I didn’t know how. And I’m not saying it should take a life-changing accident for you to make these big changes at all.
But I have dedicated the last five and a half years on researching burnout, working with other people, finding out, doing similar things like doing podcasts and interviewing people who’ve had some quite bad physical symptoms and then what’s happened when they’ve changed their life. Understanding the phases of burnout and in particular, working with organizations to end the stigma and discrimination around it. And to make employers realize that when you start to put your employees first and you look after your people, then you have less absenteeism, presenteeism, staff turnover, and you have happier staff. And then, happier profits as a result of that.
It’s the thing as an employer myself that you would ever let somebody get to that stage, you know. Which is crazy, isn’t it? So that is really an extreme extremism of you know, dedication, but that dedication is actually reducing your productivity. You said down a zero, right?
wasn’t productive at all. As I said, I would sit at my desk and I could, you know, I would be so overwhelmed with the amount of stuff I had on, you know, my to-do list. I don’t even call it a to-do list anymore. I call it an achievement list. And you know, even on those crazy days, I still can see what I’ve achieved. I guess just letting go a little bit myself as well, learning to say no, I had no boundaries at all, you know, in my life whether I was scared of my employer, I don’t know.
In your mind, for the people that are listening right now, there will be no doubts. And a lot of the time people don’t recognize it, right? So a lot of time people don’t recognize it, which is what obviously one of the big problems because some people can be, you know, think they’re a workaholic doing the right thing, but actually you’re going through it. How can people kinda set those boundaries and look after themselves a bit better? Being that you’ve, you know, spent a lot of time in this area researching it, what have you found in terms of how people can look after themselves better to protect ’em from this kind of thing happening to them?
The most important thing is take your breaks. You know, I mean, there’s so much research on this now and I’m always banging on about people taking their breaks. I call them movement snacks. Now, there are breaks, there are good breaks and there are bad breaks. So, you know, we are now living in this digitally intense world where lots of our meetings are all online. Even the most intelligent human being can’t focus more than an hour and a half at a time.
So, if you’re on an hour zoom call, just take five minutes and come away from your desk and, you know, don’t still stay at your desk and do online shopping or go and reach for the unhealthy snacks. Come away and move. I will often people say to me, what do you do in your five-minute breaks? We’re all different. But you know, my favorite thing to do is come away, go into another room, put one of my favorite songs on, and dance and sing around the room like an idiot for five minutes.
But I feel so much better. I was talking to someone last week actually, and you know, he was saying, well, he’s got so much to do now at work every day that he stopped doing his workouts and he used to go to the gym at 5:00 AM every day, but now can’t do that. I don’t like the word can’t, but I said to him, well, look, you can even do a total body workout in just three minutes.
So my side hustle, I work as a personal trainer and I’ve done that for quite a few years, for about nine years now. You don’t need equipment. You don’t have to have equipment. But if you have got some dumbbells or kettlebells, great. You can set your time of three minutes, come up from your desk, do 12 wall presses, 12 jump squats, followed by 12 burpees, and then keep repeating that process.
Believe me, you will finish that three minutes and your heart rate will be up, you’ll feel better, you’ll come back to whatever task you’ve been doing and you will focus a lot more as well. And there is scientific evidence to prove that. In fact, Microsoft did a great experiment about a year ago where they actually show what having breaks and not having breaks does to your brain, and I just found that so interesting.
Yeah. No, without a doubt, I think it’s really important to get up and move, isn’t it? A hundred percent and just get around of course. And you mentioned boundaries, right? So we were talking about boundaries. I think a lot of people, from what I’ve seen and obviously training thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs, you see it a lot. A lot of people really can’t break the chains of addiction to their work so they think that I need to be working.
It’s like guilt. There’s a lot of guilt attached to it, and they can’t… you know, I actually had a guy in the other day, one of my good clients, and he was talking about exactly that and he was just talking about how he doesn’t feel… real conversation we had. He said I do not feel happy at all. If I’m not working on my business in the moment, I just don’t feel happy. And I explained to him that, you know, you’ve gotta break the chains of that addiction and you need to find some other things that make you happy and make you small.
Otherwise, you’re not gonna be anywhere near as productive as you would be when you are in your business. So you need to find that happiness somewhere, right? However, it would be. So you talked about boundaries. How do you interpret boundaries for people like that?
Almost exactly what you’ve just said, you know, finding something else to interrupt that cycle, you know. It’s not all work, work, work, but it can, you know, it takes around 66 days to learn a new habit and break free of, you know, the one that you’ve been used to. So just being on all the time. And it’s a culture a lot of us are, you know, experiencing at the moment.
So, you know, if you struggle with that, just schedule in those breaks into your day. You know what, my typical day for me, I will put five must-do work tasks on my schedule and five must-do things for me on there. And those things for me, they might not be like, you know, an hour long each time, but they are things that help me to… that might even be just reading a chapter of a self-help book or listening to a podcast when I’m out for a dog walk. But I will always as well be true to the times where you’re gonna start work and finish work.
So, my diary is open between 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM. I don’t work 12-hour days, but I don’t work after eight or before eight. So I will always make sure I do what I call a fake commute before I start work. You know, I work from home and it’s getting into that mindset of leaving the house to come back to the office. And I’m quite lucky cause I’ve got a dog. So I will take the dog out usually for about 45 minutes to an hour in the morning. But being out in nature anyway just is brilliant for, you know, I know people say, always wait for your mental health. It is! It’s great.
We’ve had snow here this week and that’s been like so lovely, and watching the dog running around, she’s never seen snow before so like watching her rolling in it and jumping about and trying to eat it. You know, it was been lovely. And then I come back and I’m in that mindset of work mode and I do the same at the end of the day. At eight o’clock at night, I come out of my office, turn the laptop off, shut the door, and then I take the dog out again. Then, I’m leaving the office to come back to the house. And that is so important.
I find I sleep better, I’m happier, I’m much more present. Then throughout the day as well, I will take these movement snacks and sometimes I’ll book a gym session and go down and do a body pump class or something in the local gym. We’re all different, but it’s important to have those boundaries through the day. It actually helps to speed you up.
Yeah. A hundred more will make you more productive, right?
And I think it’s really good. You said obviously you’ve done a lot of work on burnout, and understand obviously having a life-changing accident, but also those other symptoms that you talked about as well which impacted you so much. But you said you’ve done a lot on remote working and in fact that you’ve got a new course and book, I believe coming called, do you wanna tell us?
Yeah, well, the course first of all is called Taking Remote Control, and I put that together earlier on this year. And that’s gonna be the title of my next book as well. And it’s kind of a two-part book. The first half is for individuals who work remotely and basically struggle with those boundaries. So literally just get out of bed, start work, sit at their desk all day, don’t move, you know. They get to the end of the day, they’ve done 400 steps and every one of them that I speak to says that you know, they struggle with their productivity.
They’re always tired in the afternoon. They’re working more hours now, but they’re working from home, you know. There’s all sorts of research out there to say things like remote working makes you more productive. It depends on the person. It depends if they have those boundaries. And you know, I don’t see that.
There was one, I was listening to a podcast recently and they said, oh, it’s good because absenteeism numbers have gone down since people have been working remotely. However, if you look between that, when you work from home, people aren’t phoning in sick as much as they would’ve done if they had to go to the office. They’re getting up and getting on with it. I spoke to a guy from India a few months back and he had covid and he had it quite badly. And he really struggled to breathe and talk and he was out of breath when he was talking and he carried on working throughout. And then he made a mistake and he was put onto a performance improvement plan.
I said, well, how present do you actually think you were when you were working? And he admitted, he hardly got anything done. He started to make mistakes. He was snappy and he isn’t normally snappy, and all he wanted to do was sleep. If he worked in an office, would he be going in? Probably not. So this is where the second part of my book comes in, is managers. It starts with the managers and the leadership. You know, you need managers to be able to say, don’t work if you’re not fit to. Someone else I spoke to last week is they’ve got an unlimited leave policy where they work, which, you know, on the tin sounds great.
Not if you’re not taking your leave, it’s not. So he actually said to me, he hasn’t taken a single day off for a year and he’s really starting to feel it. And I said, right, well, okay, part of that is down to you because you can get some time off and I’ve told him to go and find him and book something. But also his manager should be encouraging him to take that time off. And, you know, maybe saying, look, you know, during the first quarter of the year, I noticed you haven’t booked any time off yet, or you’ve got any booked off coming up. So really encourage people to do that.
So there’s a reason why, you know, in Europe, in the UK, we have a minimum amount of time that we have to have off every year and that’s because you need to have that rest.
Absolutely! You know, all absolutely valid points. So, what would you say in terms of, you know, growth secrets for employees? So you can look it in two ways, even an employer, but I’m almost looking at the business owner when I’m talking to you and saying, hey, you know, the business owner, what can they do to manage themselves better? If you were to give three tips to a business owner to manage themselves better, to handle this, to look after themselves better, what would your three tips be?
I think, first one is being aware of, you know, obvious behavior changes in yourself, or if you’ve got a partner or a friend who’s noticing it. And you know that is probably one of the first signs of burnout is noticing those behavior changes, becoming withdrawn, and losing interest in things. So, you know, mentioned earlier on about having five must-do work tasks on your calendar at once, and then five must-do things to do for yourself, that’s not selfish. It actually will make you more productive and a better person to be around. So that’s one tip I would say.
The second one is to have a number of coping mechanisms, coping strategies to go to. So when you’re starting to feel a bit overwhelmed, you know, recognize that. Step away. Have something that you can go to that will, you know, make you feel happy. You said that earlier on, and again, we’re all different, you know, I mean, I’m quite happy pounding the streets of Portishead, where I live. Like my husband for example, that would be his worst nightmare.
So he’ll go into the garage and take the car apart and put it back together again but that’s his way. We all need to have something to help us decompress. Really important. And the third one is talk to someone. Don’t feel like you know, it’s all on your shoulders. The best thing I did was finally talk to someone and when I mean, talk to someone, someone that you can trust, someone who’s not gonna judge you. You know, I’ve spoken to some very, very senior leaders over the past year in particular, and you know, you look at them and you look at what they do in their jobs.
They’re quite, you know, serious business owners or they’re the CEO of a really large thriving company. And you have them on this pedestal cause you think, oh wow, you know, you’ve got it all. But no, they have no boundaries at all. They’re burned out and they come to me and ask me to help them to, you know, figure out what these coping strategies are. I mean, everyone says, oh, I love the idea of a fake commute and movement snacks. I like these little phrases that I come out with, but they stick in people’s minds.
Yeah, absolutely. Look, I think it’s been absolutely amazing and really vital stuff for people listening, business owners, or anyone listening that wants to get that balance. I think it’s really important cause it’s only gonna help ’em to be more productive anyway. And I do think it is just breaking that chains of addiction and actually switching things up and, you know, putting habits in place that can help you to create better results for sure. You know, endorse everything that you’ve said. So how would people get in touch with you, Shona? If they wanted to have a chat with you or they know somebody that they, you know, might need some help with this, how could people get in touch with you? What’s the best place for ’em to go?
So, I’m present on LinkedIn every day. I add posts on there. I add value. So either direct message me on there, or through my website as well. I’ve got a contact me page, which my business is called Mindset in Motion. Or email as well. So my email address is Shona.Hirons@mindset-in-motion.co.uk.
Perfect. Well, look, thank you so much for coming on today. We’ve added some massive value and I think this conversation will have really hit home for a lot of people and hopefully made some people aware also for the future so they can manage themselves better. So thanks very much for coming on. And of course, if you’ve been listening today and you’ve been enjoying the podcast, make sure you haven’t already to go and share this with somebody, you know, take the copy link, go and share this with somebody that could get some value from this conversation.
There’s some great tips in there, and that’s the way this podcast grows by getting that shared out there. So go and help somebody out today, get some good, calmer back in your life by sharing this episode with somebody that this could help. Thanks again, Shona. You’ve been absolutely amazing. Loved having you on. Thanks, everybody and I look forward to seeing you next episode for Business Growth Secrets.