As a psychotherapist who primarily works with women, I receive a plethora of emails and phone calls asking for help with “burn out.” Often, what women are referring to is the feeling of physical and/or emotional fatigue after a particularly difficult time in their lives. Some are coping with a special needs child, going through a major life transition or working a high demand, low satisfaction job. Others chronically swim in a pool of anxiety, fear, guilt, low self-esteem, or pain/illness and have very little reserves left.
Our days are task oriented and pressured. Walk the dog! Clean the house! Sign the permission slip! Get that report in to the boss! Get laser treatment prior to swim practice! We live life in exclamation points and it all feels capital “I” Imperative and capital “C” Crucial. While doing the Imperative and Crucial, we are also staring at our iPhones ordering on Amazon Prime to get everything STAT.
So, what is plain old stress and what is true blue burnout?
Stress has an energizing effect. We may feel anxious and on high alert. Emotions tend to be heightened. Sleep may be impaired and we often crave sugary, processed food to give us an instant boost. We are typically overactive and overly committed. One feels pressured but with a sense that once it passes, we’ll have things under control again.
Burnout can be a result of unrelenting stress, habitual negative thoughts about oneself, or the result of a life trauma. You may experience a deflated, drained feeling. Emotions tend to be flat. We are more detached and apathetic. Our energy is very low. Our immune system gets compromised easily. Headaches happen. Being around other humans, even those we love, feels exhausting. Self doubt or an overall sense of failure may be in the driver’s seat. More often Type A, perfectionist personalities who have a need to feel in control arrive to burnout station quicker.
Chronic stress can affect our adrenal glands. Our adrenals sit atop our kidneys and are the source of our stress hormones. One purpose of these hormones is to put us into fight or flight to give us the energy to cope with an immediate need or crisis. However, when high stress living is relentless and we are moving at the speed of light, we end up living in a continual state of fight or flight. Cortisol is released and our adrenals become fatigued.
Addressing stress and burnout
Assess what you ingest
Be vigilant of what is taken in through the five senses. If your downtime is spent watching jarring, jolting, fearful or mind numbing TV that doesn’t add value to your life and leaves you feeling empty — stop! It’s time to set clear technology boundaries. If the majority of your reading comes from lifestyle or fashion magazines that highlight your imperfections and induce feelings of unworthiness, eliminate them from your coffee table. Taking control of these things will positively impact your state of being.
Your body and spirit simply cannot thrive on pre-packaged, non-nutrient dense foods. Excessive stress combined with lack luster nutrition exhausts the adrenals. Be aware of book-ending your days with stimulants; caffeine all morning + sugar by afternoon + ending with alcohol in the evening. These all give us a quick boost of energy, but eventually weaken the adrenal system. If you are not sure how to begin, seek out a naturopath, integrative or functional medicine doctor who will often look deeper into the human body and spirit to find ways to bathe your body in supplements, remedies, and foods that heal at a core level.
Replace toxic chemicals in your home and in your beauty products with non-toxic varieties. We are all exposed to chemicals in our water, food and air, but we have the last word regarding what we bring into our sacred spaces, and put in/on our bodies. Eating food that has been heated in plastic containers may have added substances called bisphenol-A (BPA) and plastic phthalates. They make plastic soft and flexible, however, these substances are believed to be endocrine disruptors. They mimic human hormones, and not for the good. A reputable site to use if you want to check on the health of your products is https://www.ewg.org.
If you regularly hang out with Chronic Complaining Caroline or Negative Nelly, you may need to do some people purging. There are physical and emotional ramifications if you are in a toxic relationship and are not setting boundaries or using your virtuous voice. Crucial, open conversations are uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as constant tension in your body.
Tend to your emotional body!
Move stuck energy
Emotions (energy in motion) are messengers that pass through our bodies on a regular basis to give us intel on what needs to be addressed. When we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions or they get stuck due to trauma or negative thought patterns, it affects our entire circuitry. It literally causes dis-ease. There are many ways to move energy (at no cost). One is to feel emotions and observe them, so they flow through you. We tend to resist what feels painful. When we allow a difficult emotion to be fully felt without judgement, it can then move along its merry way and be released from the body. Try it next time you are in the grips of guilt, worry or fear. If you want to read more about befriending emotions, check out David Hawkins book Letting Go or Karla McLaren’s book The Language of Emotions.
Tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
This technique is the cat’s meow, the bee’s knees, and the glitter bomb of glory. All you need is your fingertips and an open mind. Google it. YouTube it. Practice it regularly, at first in the privacy of your own home because you will definitely feel ridiculous in the beginning. Reiki, craniosacral therapy or somatic experiencing techniques also target stuck energy and get it moving.
Take your worn out body and sit on the earth. Swim in natural waters. Read under trees. Go out where there are living things; flowers, waterfalls and birds singing. Grounding, or earthing, allegedly heals or reduces the inflammation and stress hormones in our bodies caused by the electromagnetic frequencies (EMF’s) that blast from modern technology.
In essence, your body always keeps score and it speaks fluent YOU. That heart has been in your sweet body (nearly) since conception. It’ll always try to get your attention, whether it is through your waning spirit or a chronic pain in your left breast. It makes noise so we hear it. If we listen to it and befriend our bodies, it will guide us to adjust ourselves to wholeness again.
In this beautiful, wild, life, choose to make the needed changes to thrive.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Sass Magazine.