As a psychotherapist who primarily works with women, I receive a plethora of emails and phone calls asking for help with “burnout.” 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. So what is burn out and how do you avoid it?
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What I hear is “I am worn out. Things have been hard. I am craving a mental break and a supportive hand to help me collect the scattered, messy parts of myself and put them back into an integrated whole.”
In the 20th century, we went from CEO of the home, to CEO of the company and the home. As a result we abdicated being CEO of our gorgeous bodies and inimitable spirits. In the 21st century, some believe we should have beautiful, well-appointed homes with manicured lawns, be super fit with zero laugh lines and have dinner ready for the family each night, while endlessly proving ourselves at work. We are expected to bat our perfectly applied long faux eyelashes and tirelessly juggle everything without chipping a nail. Damn those reality TV shows; that’s not real life.
We base orient our days on tasks and pressures. 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.
The difference between stress and burnout
Stress has an energizing effect. We may feel anxious and on high alert. Our emotions are heightened and our sleep may be impaired forcing us to crave surgary, processed foods to give us an energy boost. Sleep may be impaired and we often crave that inatnat boost that sugary, processed food gives us. 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. Burnout has a deflated, drained feeling. Emotions tend to be flat. We are more detached and apathetic. Our energy is very low. It is very easy to compromise our immune systems. 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.
Here are 6 ways to address stress and avoid burnout:
Control your senses
If you are close to burnout, or sitting in its ashes, be vigilant of what is taken in through the five senses. For instance, if your eyes are constantly on a screen or downtime is spent watching jarring, jolting, fearful or mind numbing TV that doesn’t add value to your life and leaves you feeling empty, then 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.
Feed your body
Your body and spirit simply cannot thrive on pre-packaged, non-nutrient dense foods. Excessive stress combined with lackluster nutrition exhausts the adrenals. Be aware of bookending your life 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
Clean your personal environment
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. Once food is heated in plastic containers, there may be added substances called bisphenol-A (BPA) and plastic phthalates. Plastic containers are soft and flexible, however, the 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.
Eliminate Your Unhealthy Relationships
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.
Move Your Stuck Energy
Our emotions (energy in motion) are messengers that pass through our bodies on a regular basis and give intel on what needs to be addressed. Not allowing ourselves to feel our emotions or letting them get stuck due to trauma or negative thought patterns, affects our entire circuitry. There are many ways to move energy (at no cost). One is to feel our emotions and observe them, so they flow through us. We tend to resist what feels painful. When we allow a difficult emotion to be fully felt without judgment, 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.
Reconnect with Nature
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 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.
Heather Michelle Tydings
Heather Michelle Tydings is the owner Own Your Evolution, a psychotherapy and life coaching practice that works with women and teen girls for a greater sense of well-being, wholeness, vibrancy and pleasurable living.