A year ago, Aimee Browne was laid up in bed suffering from depression that was so bad, she had suicidal thoughts. Today, the EA for The Works is a picture of vitality and is running three businesses alongside her ‘day’ job. She tells us her story…
Aimee Browne epitomises joy and wellbeing. Bouncing through the door of Marriott’s Le Meridien Piccadilly for the photo shoot, she’s instantly likeable and her laughter and energy are catching.
But just a year ago, she was in bed, laid up with depression that was so bad, she had suicidal thoughts… a recurring nightmare as two years prior to that she had pushed herself to the point of burnout. At the time she was working as an PA at Next, where even her exec was concerned about her.
“On the surface, I was a bubbly, outgoing and very organised person and totally in control,” she says. “But I was pushing myself to the limit, working long hours and even emailing myself from bed to remind myself of things I needed to do. It was all my own doing – I was creating the urgency, I was creating this workload. I wore my ‘busy-ness’ as a badge of honour. But it led to burn out.”
As Aimee points out, “you think it’s never going to happen to you”, but her exec noticed that she was on the edge, that she’d lost her sparkle – and told her to visit the doctor.
“I was told to take two weeks off work,” she reveals. “But I said I couldn’t do that. In my mind, I was thinking about all the preparation I’d normally have to do to take a week’s holiday! How could I just take two weeks off?! It felt selfish. But in the end, I was off for three months – and I got worse before I got better.”
Aimee is now fully recovered and is working as an Executive Assistant for retailer The Works. In addition, she runs three businesses, including the group The Mindful Assistant which offers advice and support to PAs and EAs. She also talks about her own experience – and was one of the speakers at the recent PA Life Workplace Wellness & Wellbeing Summit. And one of the key things she advises on is how to spot the signs of burnout.
“Listen out for the whispers,” she cautions. “They are your warning signs – but they are also very common amongst PAs and EAs. I couldn’t relax, I was tired but wired, I was rushing around and felt emotional and irritable. Nothing was good enough, I felt overwhelmed, I was forgetful, I couldn’t relax and had no energy. These are the whispers and if you recognise any of them in yourself, now is the time to take stock – because no one thinks burnout will happen to them, but it creeps up and takes you down when you least expect it. We are not invincible.”
The problem, says Aimee, is that the traits of a great Assistant are the very things that can lead to burnout, if you’re not careful. A brilliant Assistant is forward-thinking, a perfectionist, has high expectations, has everything under control, is organised, a multi-tasker and works at a fast pace.
So what is the answer? How can you avoid pushing yourself too far? Aimee’s key advice?
“Check your speed limit. Slow down and look at how you are working, stop being busy for the sake of it, and take a reality check every now and then. When I burned out, I was working for Next Retail. It was a great company to work for, and my execs were incredibly supportive. But, ultimately, we sold clothes! We weren’t saving lives!
“Manage expectations – if you answer emails in the evenings or at night, people will expect it. You are driving behaviours. Set boundaries. Learn to say no, occasionally. Or explain that some things will need to wait.
“Remember that you take care of everyone else – your execs, your team, your family and partners. Who is taking care of you? This needs to start with yourself – look after your physical and mental health – but also find your ‘safe’ people; those who can support you. And avoid ‘mood hoovers’.
“I have learnt that I have to ‘fill myself up’ first before giving to others. I have learnt to say no when required. ‘No’ doesn’t have to be forever; it just means it’s a ‘no’ right now, or it means an alternative solution.
“Checking in with yourself, with your workload, with your energy and wellbeing are so important – know when to pull back before the scales tip in the wrong direction.”
Having pulled herself back from the brink, Aimee Browne is genuinely inspirational and wants to share her journey and messages to help others.
Take heed of her advice – and discover more wise words at www.facebook.com/themindfulassistant.
AIMEE’S TOP TIPS FOR SELF LOVE
Be kind to yourself
Speak to yourself as you would a friend
Protect your energy, your happiness and your time
Remember to set boundaries!
Photography: Dave Willis
With thanks to Le Meridien Piccadilly for providing the backdrop to the photo shoot.