Siobhán Murray seemed to have it all but it came at a price. Now a psychotherapist, she has written a definitive guide on how to beat burnout, writes
THERE was a time when Siobhán Murray went to bed at 5.30am, now the Dublin-based psychotherapist and author gets up at that time.
“I love the quiet of the morning. I relish the peace,” she tells Feelgood, explaining that her life has gone full circle since her halcyon days in the music industry and later the buzz of being the head of communications (Ireland) at the fast food giant McDonald’s.
Those were the days when she was always switched on, always performing, and always ready to take on a new challenge. “I just kept saying yes to everything,” she says.
For a while, that can-do attitude brought her a lot of success; a first job with concert promoter Denis Desmond at MCD led to another in the same industry in London where she counted Elton John among her clients. At 24, she bought her first house and later moved back to Ireland to become the first sponsorship manager for the Ronald McDonald house. She raised €3.5m in just three years.
From the outside, she looked like the poster girl for the ‘yes, we can’ generation.
In 2005, she had her first son, Sean, and found herself with a demanding job, a mortgage, gym membership, a car — and a new baby. Two years later, her second son, Charlie, arrived yet she continued to push herself beyond her limits.
Looking back on it now, Murray says she was spurred on by a secret that she spent her adult life trying to hide: She left school without doing her Leaving Cert.
She says she managed to succeed with a “bit of white lying on her CV” and by always — always — saying yes. The pressure of coping with a severe case of imposter syndrome led to another significant contributor to her burnout: She began to use alcohol to get by.
“I would drink a bottle of wine to settle myself, to push down feelings and to be able to walk into a place with a smile. A drink allowed me to go out after work and be able for the next thing, a work function, a launch whatever…”
But something had to give. “I was like a swan, gliding on the top of the water but paddling furiously underneath.” The end — or rather, the beginning — came after one particularly boozy Halloween when she decided to give up alcohol for one month.
That was 11 years ago and she hasn’t had a drink since. Giving up alcohol was the biggest turning point in Murray’s life as it allowed her to understand who she really was and why she was putting herself under so much pressure. “I have never said I was an alcoholic but I was definitely alcohol-dependent. I couldn’t have cut down, I had to stop completely which I was able to do without any difficulty,” she says.
She began to reassess her life around her two non-negotiables — her sons, now aged 13 and nearly 12 — and enrolled in a six-week introductory course to psychotherapy.
There was no stopping this woman, Leaving Cert or no Leaving Cert. She went on to get a diploma, then a first-class honours BA in counselling and psychotherapy. Other qualifications followed, mindfulness and coaching among them. In 2010, she established a psychotherapy clinic and now runs behavioural change and mindfulness workshops and helps people to deal with, among other things, burnout.
She has first-hand knowledge of the chronic stress that leads to complete physical and emotional exhaustion and draws on that experience in her new book, The Burnout Solution, an easy-to-follow, frank and humorous guide to finding a calmer you in 12 weeks.
Lesson one: Get selfish. “I want people to start being selfish. We are a nation of obligers; we don’t want to put other people out, but it’s OK to say no,” she says.
The book covers different topics over 12 weeks, helping readers to recognise burnout, examine its causes, and then develop strategies to cope.
What’s arresting about the narrative is the author’s complete honesty. On page 9, Murray comes right out with it and admits that her life was deeply stressful around the time she wrote the book. She even lists the stressors and says the experience brought her close to burnout again.
This time, though, there was an upside. Feeling deeply stressed helped her write more vividly about burnout, but, crucially, she knew what to do and she sets it all down in black and white in a book that translates the lived experience into practical, doable tips.
“I would love to have had a book like this myself in my 30s. [Siobhán is now 48] If it clicks with just one person it will have been worth it. Ideally, I want people to read it before they reach burnout. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, you need to start looking after yourself.”
FIVE WAYS TO A CALMER YOU
Don’t underestimate the power of sleep. It gives you clarity and energy and lifts your mood.
Back it up by detaching from technology. Do not bring your laptop, your phone, Netflix to bed. Read a book (“Read my book”, Siobhán Murray says with a selfdeprecating laugh).
Become a bit more mindful of your alcohol consumption. If you are becoming more dependent on alcohol as a perceived destressor then it may be time to look at how you view your relationship with it.
Exercise. That does not necessarily mean joining a gym. Great if you have the time and the money, but exercise is as simple as going for a walk. Everyone can go for a 15 to 20-minute walk, or take two 10-minute walks.
Know your boundaries. Learn to say ‘no’.