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Women leaders suffer the highest burnout. Here's how to manage the stress.

Addressing work-related stress was a key component at a recent Women’s Health wellness event for C-suite level women.
Liz Plosser, editor-in-chief of Women's Health magazine, at a wellness retreat organized by her company for C-suite level women in San Diego earlier this month.Jade Sharp for Women's Health / Jade Sharp

Throughout much of her career, Brooke Brinkman believed that in order to climb to the top of the corporate ladder, she had to do whatever it takes, no matter the mental or physical cost.

For a while, it worked. Her hard work got noticed and resulted in promotion after promotion until she became the vice president of marketing and communications of Simon G. Jewelry.

From the outside “life looked fantastic,” Brinkman, 42, told Know Your Value. “I was killing it from a career standpoint.”

But as fast as she moved up the corporate ladder, she burned out even faster.

“I wasn't sleeping,” recounted Brinkman, who was also a new mom. “I was just up and feeling like I needed to make lists, and I would find myself looking at email when the emails were all answered. I was having GI issues, headaches, and I was very, very irritable. I felt like everybody else needed to be working faster too.”

It wasn’t until Brinkman had a candid conversation with a trusted friend and colleague did she realize the negative effects burnout was having on herself and her co-workers.

“I started to say, OK. I'm going to make sure that I put wellness back into my life.”

Women's Health: TheLongWeekend
Brooke Brinkman, vice president of marketing and communications of Simon G. Jewelry.Stacey Thomas for Women's Health / ShutterStace

Brinkman isn’t alone in feeling the physical and mental consequences of work-related stress. An estimated 43 percent of women leaders feel burned out, compared to only 31 percent of men who are at the same level.

Liz Plosser, editor-in-chief of Women’s Health magazine and Nancy Berger, senior vice president and publisher at Hearst Magazines, wanted to do something about the burnout executives like Brinkman face — by focusing on selfcare and wellness.

That’s why Women’s Health, which is known for its content on wellness, mental health, and fitness put together an in-person, wellness experience for 30 C-suite level women, including Brinkman. The three-day "Women’s Health Long Weekend" retreat took place in the hills of San Diego’s Cal-a-Vie resort, with the goal of offering support, activities and community for likeminded women executives who are facing similar pressures.

“For somebody in a role like mine, and for many of the women who are on this retreat, so much of our life is striving for perfection – the best results,” Plosser told Know Your Value. It’s that sort of pressure to hold everything together without showing weakness or asking for help, that Plosser and Berger wanted to address with attendees.

Thirty C-suite level women took part in a wellness treat organized by Women's Health in San Diego earlier this month.Jade Sharp for Women's Health / Jade Sharp

Jay Shetty, a former monk and author of the upcoming book “8 Rules of Love,” was one of the wellness experts on site. To avoid burnout, Shetty said executives need to reframe their concept of leadership.

“Leadership isn't about your resume,” Shetty told Know Your Value. “Leadership is about how you make people feel. If you focus on the things that make people feel safe, that make people feel empowered, that make people feel like they're seen and heard, then incredible things can happen. But if you're just trying to check off …everything on a leadership checklist, you run out of energy pretty quickly.”

Shetty also said executives shouldn’t be afraid to share the pressures they are facing. “What's stronger than being vulnerable? There's nothing braver.” In return, teams feel more at ease when they see their leaders being honest about their feelings.

A commitment to a healthy diet, workout routine and sound sleep also are important for optimal performance, Shetty said. “You shouldn't be going more than nine nights without eight hours of sleep.” He also urged executives to skip red eye flights if they can.

In order to prevent burnout, it’s also important to put your phone down. “Eighty percent of us look at our phones first thing in the morning and last thing at night. When you do that, you're feeding yourself news, negativity, notifications and noise,” he said, suggesting starting the first and last 15 minutes of your day without your phone.

Karena Dawn, founder of fitness company Tone It Up and mental health platform The Big Silence, also took part in the retreat. She said it can be valuable to do a “body scan meditation” at the beginning or end of the day.

Women's Health: TheLongWeekend
Karena Dawn, founder of fitness company Tone It Up.Stacey Thomas for Women's Health / ShutterStace

“Close your eyes and breath in,” said Dawn “As you exhale, go through each body part bringing attention to places that tend to carry a lot of stress, like your hips. It allows us to pay attention to where we're holding that stress and tension and letting us release it.”

Plosser, who also wrote a book about the power of morning routines, said creating a ritual can help prevent burnout.

“Pick three things that you love, that make you feel good, and find a way to build little micro nods into your morning,” she said. “It could be anything from enjoying a cup of coffee by yourself, having a special few minutes with one of your children, having a meditative moment, journaling, or working out for a few minutes.”

Brinkman is an example of how small, daily routines and selfcare can change the way you live and lead. Since addressing her own burnout, she has helped bring wellness activities to her employees, including yoga and meditation.

“I realized I am much more effective when I take that step back, when I don't get up in the morning and look at my phone to answer emails first thing,” said Brinkman. Instead, she ask herself, “OK, what do I want my day to be today? What do I want to accomplish? Who do I want to be at the end of this day? What do I want to feel good about? When I started to do that, I realized I was a lot more focused. I became a better mother, a better wife, a better leader.”