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Lessons from Ladylawns Brush With Burnout

25/06/2021 - Case Studies and Inspiration

With pressure on the UK’s landscape  industry professionals at an all time high, Angela Lambert, aka Ladylawn, shares her experiences of burnout.  She’s hoping that the lessons she learned all of those years ago will help friends and colleagues cope with these challenging times.

It’s wonderful that the UK landscape industry is so busy at the moment. But of course that brings plenty of challenges.  I’m hearing from clients, friends and industry stalwarts that stress levels are at an all time high.  With so many challenges with the supply chain, materials price rises, shortage of skilled workers and ever increasing demands from homeowners who want their gardens landscaped right now, its little wonder that even the most experienced landscapers and garden designers are struggling to keep smiling.

Several years ago now, when my children were teenagers, I went through a really bad spell. Anxiety, deep depression, exhaustion and low self esteem nearly finished me off. I was trying (and failing) to do more than was humanly possible.  Raising a family, working full time, keeping horses, studying and volunteering with the Girlguides was just not sustainable in the long term.  In other words, I burnt out. Mentally and physically. 

I’ve learned a lot since then, and, with the support of some incredibly patient people, I’m still here. Only now, I’m a new and improved version. That’s not to say I don’t ever have relapses. I do need to pace myself and I do need to avoid stress. I’ve learned a few things on the way - and if I’d known them back then, maybe my story would be very different. But heyho - hindsight is a wonderful thing.

frayed rope representing burnout

Tips for managing stress

I don’t ever want to burn out again and so here are my life hacks to try and avoid it, even when I’m busy.

  • Eat like an athlete - your body powers your brain.  Filling up with substandard fuel results in substandard performance.
  • Stay hydrated
  • Take a proper lunch break. Leave the workplace behind for an hour. 
  • Booking a week off work could be the best thing you ever did
  • Walking is the best stress busting exercise ever
  • Switch off phone and email notifications so you can concentrate on the job in hand
  • Delegate as much as possible
  • Talk - sharing your worries really does help to keep them in perspective
  • Put time aside each week to focus on family
  • Don’t neglect the things you love doing


Let’s talk nutrition

I don’t know about you, but when I’m tired, stressed or rushed, I tend to grab salt or carb-laden snacks to keep my energy levels up.  For me, that’s like falling into a vicious circle.  Eating rubbish makes me feel like rubbish and then I crave more rubbish to give me a temporary reprieve.  Which of course, is exactly what food processors want to happen. It sells their products.

Anyone who is working on the tools needs to eat like an athlete. You must be burning as many, if not more calories, as an elite sportsperson, but they don’t eat cr*p and neither should you.  Trust me, too much highly processed food can really affect your mood and your energy levels.

When you’re tired, it feels like a faff to prepare a proper meal - but how about batch cooking a sticking the extras in the freezer so that when you are pushed for time you’ve got something healthy to put in the microwave?

Watch out for caffeine too. It’s great for an emergency energy boost but can really disrupt your sleep patterns. Proper sleep allows your brain to process what’s been happening during the day and file the information away so that you can draw on it when you need it.  No sleep = scrambled brain and no amount of caffeine will fix that!

Taking a break

I’m going to get all biological for a moment - bear with me.

Not all of my clients are landscapers or garden designers.  Some are dog trainers. The art of rehabilitating or training reactive dogs (the ones that bark and fight) lies in understanding how stress hormones affect mammals.

You will have heard of adrenaline and probably cortisol too. Your body will release them whenever your brain thinks you’re under some kind of threat.  Adrenaline gets your muscles ready to run or fight. Cortisol gets your brain ready for planning and strategising. So when your mixer breaks down half way through a job - you’ll first get an adrenaline rush to make you swear, then cortisol will kick in as you buzz around trying to find a replacement.

Adrenaline has a half life of 10 - 20 minutes in humans.  Which means that 10 minutes after the mixer broke, your body will have broken down half of the adrenalin you released into harmless substances in. In another 10 minutes, half of what was left has gone, etc etc etc.  So we can say that probably, within an hour of a stressful event, most of the adrenaline will have dissipated.

Cortisol has a half life of 1-2 hours. It takes a long time to work its way out of your system and if you’re really stressed, it could take days.  

We’ve evolved in such a way that stress hormones do a brilliant job in the short term, but we’re not designed to have them floating around in our bodies for any length of time.  Long term exposure to adrenaline and cortisol can really damage your body. Which is why it took me YEARS to recover from burnout.

Back to the dog training - the first thing behaviourists recommend is giving a stressed out dog a cortisol holiday.  No stress at all for a fortnight to let the cortisol clear.  And we human’s need that too.

Getting away from the source of stress (even for a short while) - allows those stress hormones disperse.  I’m told that walking is also a good way to shift them, but I can’t remember where I read that. 

Anyway, getting off-site or out of the office for your lunchbreak is a blimming good idea.  Even a walk around the block will help.

Walking boots with a background of Breckland countryside scenes

I'm lucky to have some amazing countryside on the doorstep. It takes less than 10 minutes drivetime to reach places like this.  This is just outside Santon Downham in Norfolk

Time management

Isn’t it hard when you’re running a business, you need to be in touch with clients, potential clients, suppliers, colleagues etc but you find you can’t get anything done because of the constant disturbances.

If you’re getting stressed, find a way to filter your calls and emails.  Turn off notifications for starters - that way you are in control and you can choose when to read or reply texts and emails.

As for phone calls, Mr Bickler has a good system.  He has an in-house team, primed to  knows answer frequently asked questions and filter calls. They email Richard a summary of the conversation so that he can decide what (if any) action he needs to take.

There are some great services out there to help you manage your time without having to employ anyone.  Think about a freelance bookkeeper, a virtual assistant, digital marketing services to manage your social media, you can even outsource garden design.  Take a look at Paul Baker’s “My Garden Design” website which offers design services under your own company branding.

The tools on the Arbour Landscape Solutions website area all designed to help save you time with  specifying ,quoting for and ordering materials. Email the team if you’d like one of us to talk you through them.

Finding pleasure in life

My own breakdown was partly due to not having enough time to do the things I loved with the people that made me happy.  Yes, I had my dogs and horses, my garden and my kids, but I didn’t have time to do anything with them other than the essentials.  My priorities were all wrong. If I had my time again, I’d do it very differently.

So if you like watching the footie, swimming, cooking - or whatever, block out time in your diary to do those things - at least once a week.  For me, it’s Wednesday afternoon.  I check my bees and then spend the rest of the day doing whatever I want….as long as that doesn’t involve anything to do with work.  I won’t lie - my income has taken a hit since I started doing it - but my mental health has improved no end.  

Talk Talk Talk

No matter how stressed you are, never bottle it up.  That was another of my mistakes.  You HAVE to get all of those worries out of your system and just taking them out of your head and putting them into words is the best therapy ever.  No - moaning to a mate won’t mend the mixer, neither will it change the weather or make your client pay up on time.  It will help you feel less isolated though. It will put things in perspective. It will lift your spirits and give you the oomph you need to get through these challenging times.  Do it.

Everyone on the team here at Arbour Landscape Solutions is good at listening. I for one, would rather listen to someones woes than listen to their eulogy. I know that Richard feels the same way.

Please, please, please, if you feel you are burning out and need a listening ear call me 07733 26928 or call Richard on 07702 011145 - we’re both here to help in whatever way we can.

Perennial also offers confidential help and support. Click here to visit their website. 

For even more help and support, this blog by Richard Bickler is full of practical suggestions for taking charge of your health and wellbeing. Click here to read "The Landscapers Guide to Good Health"

Watch this video for some excellent mental health tips from Gareth Wilson - along with plenty of practical landscaping advice too.