For many, being ‘busy’ and working long hours are the arbitrary markers of success. It’s a difficult habit to break, especially if your work is tied to your self worth, writes Alix Lee.
Laura Piccardi’s turning point on work came nine months after the fire that burnt her gym down, along with everything she’d worked so hard to achieve.
One afternoon in March 2015, Piccardi received a call from her head trainer reporting that there had been “a big bang and then some smoke”.
“I got to the studio and there was smoke billowing out the back, and then over the course of the next couple of hours, we watched the entire roof fall down into the street… basically, everything was just totalled,” she recalls.
Up until that point, Piccardi was a workaholic. The gym was her livelihood, and it was all-consuming.
“I kind of supersized my work hours in the gym – as any business owner does – even to the point where I would sleep on a swag in my office some nights, so I didn’t have to waste time going home,” she says.
The stress of constantly working and neglecting her own health was taking a heavy toll.
“I started to experience things with my body and my health that I couldn’t really explain. The bloating was one of the worst things – I remember one time [when I was wearing] my personal training clothes, one of the clients asked if I was pregnant.”
Rather than shut the business down, Piccardi relocated her clients and trainers to another gym the very next day, which meant even less time to prioritise her wellbeing.
“My health had really started to decline by that point – I was in adrenal fatigue, I hadn’t had a period in two years, I was gaining weight inexplicably…basically I was experiencing all the [physical] effects of stress,” she explains.
Nine months after the fire, Piccardi reached a turning point: she decided to close the franchise (a complicated, protracted process that caused more stress) to get her life and health back on track.
“That was when I was kind of at my lowest point – with my health, with my mental state as well… I had to go on a bit of a journey to figure out what the hell was going on with my body. It really wasn’t until I started to really learn and appreciate that it was my mind driving my body that I started to get on top of it.
“My perfectionism, ridiculously high standards and desire to be liked by everyone was causing it all. That journey took me a really long time and cost me a lot of money to get to that point.”
Busyness and stress are more common than ever, and it’s causing people to experience physical and mental symptoms that seriously impact their everyday life. Stress can even be an underlying cause of illness and disease, including heart disease and type two diabetes.
A 2017 Medibank survey found that many Australians are dealing with an increasing amount of stressors in their lives, from work pressures, to a lack of work/life balance, housing affordability, social media and even the global political climate.
Being ‘busy’ and working long hours are the arbitrary markers of what we perceive as success.
In some industries, being overworked is a rite of passage and a means to ‘prove’ ourselves to higher ranked staff members.
We now know that working long hours correlates to decreased productivity, and potentially leads to burnout or other long-term health issues, like depression.
The issue is, however, that for many of us, our work is closely linked to our self-worth, so it’s hard to let go or reprioritise if we worry that people will question our work ethic.
“This whole ‘busyness’ thing comes from us having to prove our worth, but if we’re comfortable within ourselves, then we don’t have prove ourselves to anyone so we can actually just focus on what we are doing and what we want to do,” Piccardi says.
To get to this point, it might be necessary to make a few changes to your lifestyle.
Piccardi recommends working on changing your mindset. Start by thinking about what’s really important to you and identify what’s standing in your way from having that. But don’t do it alone – she thinks everyone should seek help:
“As I say to people, you would never expect an athlete to rock up to the Olympics without having different support in different areas. Different experts get them there, so why do we think we have to do it all on our own in life? It’s just trying to break down that stigma. Stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all… You’re not wrong, you’re not broken, you don’t need to be fixed but you do need help to make some changes, because everyone does.”
“I know I make it sound very simple, and it actually is very simple, but it all comes [down to] doing this kind of stuff consistently, because we basically just have to train our brains to operate in a different way.”
Piccardi’s own experience led her to start a coaching business, Uppy, which helps people rebalance and redefine their priorities by working out what is fundamentally important to them, so they can work smarter and find fulfilment.
“I was sick of seeing people struggle really. Back in the days when I was in the gym, people would get to a point and then they’d plateau, or they couldn’t go any further or they’d start going backwards, and I realised now, knowing what I know, that a lot of it was down to stress. The body was just working against them, and so they were actually just making the situation worse by changing their diet and exercise,” she says.
Pictured above: Laura Piccardi