This woman worked 80-hour weeks for 6 months and has an important message for anyone who spends too long in the office

Narjas Zatat@Narjas_Zatat
Tuesday 15 May 2018 15:00
Picture:(Paula Bellostas Muguerza)

Work-related stress accounts for 12.5 million work days lost.

In fact, three out of five people have admitted to suffering from mental health issues due to work.

In time for Mental Health Awareness Week, the charity Samaritans launched a campaign called 'Wellbeing in the City' in an effort to combat this.

For Paula Bellostas Muguerza, who worked as a manager at a consultancy firm, 80-hour weeks were the norm.

However, after six months of the same, travelling from city-to-city and country-to-country, her mental health took a nosedive and she became extremely ill.

Muguerzqa talked to indy100 about her experience with deteriorating health, her road back to recovery and how she copes with stress.

What was your day-to-day like before the incident?

"No two days are the same in my profession but if I was to describe life in one word on the run-up to the incident it would be intense.

I was travelling a lot; across Europe and to the US, often doing 2-3 cities in a week and then working from London at the weekend. If in London, my day would start around 6am often already on conference calls while in a taxi on my way to the office at 7am.

The day would then be rammed with meetings and I would then drag myself to an adrenaline inducing HIIT workout at the gym which I thought was doing me good but on reflection was probably overloading me with stress hormones even further.

"I would then get back home and work until late in the evening (anything between 11 and two) to do the actual work that I couldn't do during the meeting packed day".

Can you run me through what happened after you were rushed to hospital that first time?

"I was triaged for a stroke but no bleeding was found. After this happened several times I saw three neurologists until they settled on a diagnosis. He diagnosed me with a very rare and severe form of migraine called Hemiplegic Migraine which had become persistent.

"I was experiencing more than 15 attacks per month."

It turns out it's an epigenetic disorder - you have a gene fault that makes you a carrier of the disease but you have to ‘wake it up’ through certain triggers which in my case was the hormonal imbalance created by the excess cortisol and adrenaline I had running through my body because of all the stress.

What sort of stress were you under at work?

I had taken a lot on through my total utter inability to say no.

"And as I took more on, I didn't want to let anyone down or show weakness so I just carried on despite knowing this was completely unsustainable.

"I think it is a pretty common behaviour on some of the professional services jobs such as consulting, law or investment banking and it can lead to a lot of anxiety and the pressure to constantly prove oneself and over deliver".

What strategies can people use to cope with the stress in the work place?

"I had played with the burnout fire a number of times before but had never gone all the way into the dark side and I honestly don't think I would have learnt, grown and changed as much if I hadn’t burnt out.

"I'm not advocating that everyone should take themselves so far that they end up where I did".

"I've done the learning so that others don't have to put themselves and their loved ones through the ordeal. I had to do a lot of work both with the neurologists and other medical professionals. I also got psychological help to unpack some of those unhelpful beliefs and thought patterns that got me to burn out in the first place.

Now that I'm ‘back in business’ I think about always keeping an eye on four things:

Exercise, nutrition, recovery and mindset. Especially mindset.

Learn to set boundaries and say ‘no’ without feeling guilt, FOMO or thinking that people will think less of you has been a massive win for me.

"Speak up: To your family, to you friends, to your employer - I did myself a lot of damage by brushing the ‘are you ok?’ question with a cutting ‘I'm fine’ before I burnt out and if I had had the courage to speak up perhaps I would have ended in a very different place".

Now, she wants people to know that no matter how difficult their situation might seem, "there is always a path forward".

I am encouraged by the fact that people are getting more comfortable about speaking up and sharing stories and tips not only during initiatives like mental health week but also on an on-going basis through resources like the Samaritans and increasingly on social media.

"It is incredible to see the power of the community helping each other".

You can follow Paula on Instagram.

If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support:

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