Moodzone

'I burned out from work stress'

Today, Liz Tucker is a health and wellbeing counsellor specialising in stress management. Fourteen years ago, at the age of 30, she burned out from work-related stress.

"I had a building company at the time and was working incredibly hard. It wasn't unusual for me to drive from Taunton, up to York and down to Norfolk in the space of 24 hours.

"I'd start work at 7am and often wouldn't finish until 8pm the following day, 36 hours later. The year I burned out, I drove over 100,000 miles. 

"I loved the buzz of it. There was a lot of stress involved, but I really enjoyed the adrenaline kick of having something turn out right in the end. It was very satisfying."

Working all week

"At first, the work was manageable. Then, during the year before I became ill, I started working at weekends. I had no social life at all, which didn't bother me at the time. 

"Then I met my partner and, because of the pressures of trying to see him and keep on top of the work, it all began to fall apart. I started feeling really tired and very lethargic. One Sunday night, I went to bed early because I felt like I was getting a bit of a cold. 

"When I woke on Monday, I simply couldn't get out of bed. I could move my fingers, head and feet, but I had no energy in my arms and legs."

Burn out

"When the doctor told me I'd burned myself out from too much stress, I found it difficult to believe. To me, stress meant being unhappy, whereas I was really enjoying my life. But it was true: there was no work-life balance and I was living a high-stress life.

"In addition, my diet was appalling. I lived on food that I bought in petrol stations, and I hadn't been getting nearly enough sleep. My body had shut itself down in protest.

"For the next 3 months, I couldn't get out of bed. All I did was sleep. Very slowly, I began to improve, but then, after a few months, the doctor diagnosed me with ME (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome). I was housebound.

"The physical symptoms were bad, but the mental 'fog' was awful. It was like someone had drilled a hole in my head and filled it with concrete.

"I was like this for 4 years, and I was declining. My partner was beginning to wonder whether I was going to die, and when he asked the doctor, the answer was, 'I simply don't know. She has the body of an 80-year-old'. It was very shocking to hear."

Thinking about the future

"I think, up until that point, I'd believed the doctors knew what was right for me. So hearing that they didn't know what to do made me start thinking about my own future. With my partner, I began thinking about what was right for me to do. 

"I decided I needed some pleasure in life. I had been so worried for so long. I began having a weekly massage and hypnotherapy to help me relax. I also decided not to watch anything on TV that was violent or miserable.

"The biggest turning point was when I began to pace myself. Up until then, I'd compare myself to how I was before. If I was feeling a bit better, I would try to do lots of things and then feel ill with exhaustion again. I began to realise I was setting myself unrealistic goals, so I decided to take things gradually."

Learning to relax

"After I'd started this regime of proper relaxing, it was remarkable how quickly I began to feel better. I was eating a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, and I'd stopped having caffeine and alcohol. I began to notice the changes within a few weeks.

"After 3 months, I was feeling so much better, but because I'd spent so much time in bed, I was very weak physically. After 6 months, I was back to normal. I had lots of energy, my skin was better, and I didn't have to stay in bed the whole time. It was amazing.

"I've now been working as a health and wellbeing counsellor for 10 years. I went back to university and studied human health and biology, really just to find out what had happened to me. I found it so interesting that it has turned into my career.

"I'm working really hard again and get a lot of satisfaction out of it, but the difference is that now I have a work-life balance and know what to do when things get too stressful."

Media last reviewed: 12 May 2016

Media review due: 12 Oct 2018

Page last reviewed: 18/04/2018
Next review due: 18/04/2021