Battling Burnout

A release in pressure to subside the seemingly inevitable, yet utterly dramatic, fall of self is what is needed from time to time. To push or not to push is the million dollar question that I believe most people choose incorrectly a majority of the time, including myself.

If you choose to push through, you will go down either one of two routes:

  1. Endure discomfort to ultimately reach a more durable version of yourself, one that is more physically and emotionally fit to experience life
  2. Continue to work on an empty tank, thus damaging your physical and mental parts and pieces, and move your way towards utter exhaustion.

The human body is a funny thing. You would think that exhaustion is purely physical and the worst that could happen is your body shuts down. I wish that were the case. There’s an inverse relationship between your physical state and mental state when dealing with exhaustion. Your body slowly loses power as your mind runs itself into the ground.

The aspect of burnout that drives your body to Do No Disturb mode doesn’t sound like a bad deal, but the real fun begins when you throw in the emotional fatigue. While your body slumbers, your mind continues to race. Since your mind doesn’t have your physical body to carry out its plans, ideas, and worries, all of that energy gets channeled into your emotions. Anger becomes more intense, feelings become more sensitive, and your threshold for managing stress and frustration dramatically decreases. While your mind is blank and numb from being overworked, your emotions are on full rampage. This is when excessive crying, feelings of overwhelm and hopelessness, and complete apathy sets in.

The inverse relationship between the physical and emotional systems during burnout is contradicting and counteractive.

That is why we must take intentional steps to consistently completing the cycle of stress, thus avoiding this destructive state of being. It is vital in keeping us at or near a healthy baseline of wellbeing.

It’s not the load that breaks us down, it is the way we carry it.

Lou Holtz

In other words, it is not the actual stressor (ie. work, relationships, kids) that is taking a toll on our health and wellbeing, it is the way we are engaging with the stress that the stressor has caused. We can choose to intentionally receive and work through stress in a healthy and productive way, even when the stressor is still present in our life.

The stressor itself has no power over you and you have no power over it. What you do have power over is your own reactions/self narratives and how you engage/alter your environment.

No matter how proactive we are, the dreadful feelings of stress (both physical and emotional) will always come. That is when we must accept it and work through it by “completing the cycle”. In an awesome book I’m reading, “Come as You Are”, by Emily Nagoski, she explains that most of us live in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze. This is because our bodies are evolutionized to respond to perceived threats in these ways, but rather than fearing being attacked by wild animals, we are now fearing deadlines, other people’s opinions, and other day to day stressors. While this biological mechanism is useful at times, it can be destructive when our bodies remain in this tense state long after the threat is gone. When you come home from work, the grip of the workload, relationships with colleges, and fear of failure can keep you tied in stress and tension. This can have negative short and long-term effects on health and well being.

The good news is Emily Nagoski has uncovered 7 ways we can unlock ourselves from this state of defense.

  1. Physical Activity: The movement is similar to that of an animal shaking after being in shock from experiencing a near death situation. The motion brings us back to a sense of security and normalcy.
  2. Breathing: The regulation of the nervous system that brings us back to ourselves. Meditation is my favorite thing ever.
  3. Positive social interaction: That refreshing sense that all is well in the world when we can connect with other human beings.
  4. Laughter: The deep, body-shaking type of laughter that fills your body with content
  5. Creative self expression: The reminder that we can unlock different parts of our brain to engage with alternate dimensions of reality
  6. Affection: The reassuringly warm sense of security that only physical touch can offer
  7. Crying: A release of pressure, like water being set free from a mistakenly indestructible dam.

If we engage in these practices religiously, our subconscious mind will fall into a state of ease and calm, knowing that even when faced with stress, we can and will quickly release the tension and flow back into a state of homeostasis. A restful and pleasant baseline of self is what I am striving for, even with my changing life and environment. It may be a lofty goal, but I believe it is one worth working towards.

Thanks for reading


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