Burnout is more than just a lack of self-care. It is the cumulative effects of all the times that we say “Yes”, when we mean “No”; and the collection of unprocessed stressors that live within our being. It is the neurophysiological expression of exhaustion. It is the physical manifestation of compromised beliefs and choices big or small made from outside of our centre.
Instead of reacting to situations, what if we prophylactically practiced discernment, and, as such, made decisions that align with our purpose and felt right within our own body.
What does a “Yes” feel like in your body? What does a “No” feel like in your body?
Start by tuning into what your body feels like during the day and when you have to make decisions.
How do we cut through the noise of obligation; the guilt of letting people down; and the fear of missed opportunities?
To find these answers, we need to come back to the “Why”. Why we do what we do? What is the “Why” behind the doing?
We dilute our impact. We water down our effectiveness (visions, dreams, & purpose) every time we make a decision far from our center. Decisions made from the periphery out of fear, obligation, or wanting to be liked, do not result in fulfillment, growth, or success. They result in burnout and every little compromise adds up. We need to remember that we do not need to be for everybody; we need to be for somebody. In knowing this, we can then reach those we are designed to reach. The more specific and clear we are on what is true for us, the easier the decision making processes becomes. It’s no longer energy sucking and draining, but affirming and purpose fulfilling. It feeds us, rather than feeding on us.
Overtime the creative well stays full and making decisions big and small become easier. When we practice living from our center, we become clear on who we ARE and what matters to us. Choosing what aligns with us in our work or personal lives becomes a natural process rather than a collection of difficult choices.
Of course burnout occurs, we all are or have been in a state of burnout in one form or another this past year. The demands on women specifically have been extremely intense.
In the book Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski, the twin sisters write about what we can do when burnout happens and how we can navigate the stress cycle. The contents of this book are very affirming, especially in the context of what I do as a Physiotherapist and Yoga therapist (Physio-Yoga Therapist) where the focus is on treating the whole person, not just a part of the person. It is critical to work with the complex interplay of physical, psychological, emotional and social factors inherent to the human experience. I’ll summarize some of the concepts discussed in the book; what I have witnessed working with clients; and some of the things we can do to navigate the stress cycle as we work through burnout.
First we cannot separate our body parts or systems from each other. What do I mean by that?
When someone experiences stress or pain, the body systems coordinate and communicate with each other. Our nerve endings send messages to our hormonal system (endocrine system), which result in stress hormones moving through the body. Our stress response is designed to be effective short term. Some examples include helping our blood to clot so we don’t keep bleeding; blocking pain through shock; elevating our immune system response so we don’t get an infection immediately from an injury. You can thank your stress response for delaying that cold or flu until you’re on holidays. Our stress response was meant to be short term: fight, flight, or freeze. However, as we have experienced, we are often in a constant state of stress and in many cases pain: mental, emotional, and physical. The physical manifestations of emotional pain and stress are real. Chronic stress amplifies our pain response. In chronic states of stress, we start to see the physical manifestation of burnout including: immune system suppression, fatigue, physical pain, and even multi-system effects (these may include elevated blood pressure, altered insulin responses in the form of acquired diabetes, heart disease, digestive issues, reproductive issues, and more).
So why do we get stuck in the stress response? We may have moved beyond the stressor; but our body may still be stuck in the hormonal and neurophysiological experience of the stressor. In this case, the physical body and the emotional body need to process the experience of the stressor to be free of it. How do we do that?
This can be done with any injury or stressor big or small, acute or chronic.
Move your body: The release of endorphins with activity help to interrupt the messages of the nervous system, hormonal system (endocrine system), and immune system. When responses are stuck in a state of chronic stress, switch the channel through movement that is safe and healthy for you. Take the controls and turn off the auto pilot.
Breath deeply from your pelvic floor: The pelvic floor is the first muscle to tighten in the stress response. Deep belly and pelvic floor breathing stimulate the relaxation response or your parasympathetic response (a.k.a rest, digest and nurture response). I like to use the cues: breath easy, deep, and soft to nourish your nervous system. It is no wonder that many people can experience physical responses to chronic stress in the form of pelvic floor dysfunction, lowered sex drive, and digestive issues. However it just as amazing to see these symptoms improve through something as simple as breath work. The breath is the window into the nervous system and hormonal systems, but sometimes we need support to access the breath in this way.
Connect: Yes with self, but also with safe and nourishing social interactions with loved ones, friends, and those you can talk to without needing them to solve your problems. Those people you can be vulnerable with and have the deeper heart/soul conversations. This person may even be your counselor.
Create and Collaborate: I love to create through collaboration, but you don’t have to be creative to find an outlet of expression. You may express yourself through daydreaming, journaling, or writing. This is why so many have taken to baking and cooking during the pandemic! A very delicious form of creative expression :).
Fresh air: We’ve all been doing more of this and as it gets colder, let’s keep connecting outside and taking those mindful moments in nature to simply witness the beauty around us.
The goal is to interrupt the pain and stress pathway and allow the space for our mind and body to process through the experience of the stressor; whatever that stressor may be.
Activities or therapies that combine breath, movement, connection, and creative expression can help us move through the neurophysiological expressions of stress and pain.
If we can stay ahead of the stressors we can hopefully avoid burnout. If we cannot, then the reservoir runs dry. This is where the hard work of discernment comes in. We may need to quit somethings that aren’t serving us to create space for more of the things that do. We may need to let go of some relationships and add in others. We may need to do the brave work of looking inside, so we can do the things that feel right, but may not be easy. The results will be worth it. Having the energy to live a life on purpose and with purpose.
Moving through the stress cycle can be done independently, but sometimes we need help to move through stuck and ingrained patterns. At Vangool Wellness we offer a variety of wellness services to support you on this journey of healing and nourishing your nervous system through TCM Acupuncture, Physiotherapy, Physio-Yoga, Pelvic Health Physiotherapy, Yoga classes & Videos, Massage Therapy, & Reiki. Accessibility is important to us. Visit Vangool Wellness YouTube Channel with Free tools to help you cope with COVID. See below for ways to connect with us and how to access our resources to help you navigate burnout and cope with the daily stressors of COVID. Let’s move away from burnout and into purpose and healing.