Have you ever had a complete spiral? I used to have a reputation for always smiling, and people told me that I never seemed phased by anything, nothing could keep me down. And for the most part, it was true. Sure life happened, and I would be heart-on-my-sleeve about it. Sometimes to the concern of my more stiff-upper-lip loved ones. But I would bounce back. And smile again.
But then a storm hit my life. This wasn't the raindrops on the roof kind I'd had before. It was a disorienting twister - everything I thought was up was down, and I found it hard to grab hold of anything. People stopped saying "You're always smiling, Kath!" and after a while I thought I'd forgotten how.
While it may have seemed at the time to come out of left field, the wisdom of hindsight has taught me that a lifetime of factors led to me hiding under my doona, overwhelmed by the challenges of the day and the reality that slapped me awake each morning. Sure, events happened at that time that anyone would struggle with. And they accumulated before I had a chance to bounce back. But the very part of me that seemed so resilient before was my undoing, and I had to learn again what resilience truly is.
First I need to say - the following are my observations and experiences and what I learnt for myself. Take what is useful and leave behind what is not. I absolutely can't tell you what is right for you.
The behaviours and coping strategies that lead to burnout.
Our coping strategies develop early in life. Without realising, certain of our behaviours are rewarded, others are not. So many, like myself, who end up in caring professions have a clear lifelong pattern of being rewarded by how much they care for and support others. If I ask my health professional friends if they were a caregiver or peacemaker in the home environment, most of them look at me with astonishment, as if they're wondering if I'm a bit psychic. Nope - I just know a pattern when I see one.
And while it's a beautiful thing to be so caring, underneath it all it becomes a prime way we receive validation from others, and this is when we care for others to the expense of ourselves. The risk is, for some of us, there's no amount of giving that can be enough. And eventually the well runs dry. You can spot whether you have this characteristic by considering whether you are very comfortable giving help, but very reluctant to ask for it. Red alert!
What happens in our body to cause burnout?
Without turning this post into a health lesson (and driving me back to my text books that I've been avoiding), burnout basically comes down to stress that is too much and for too long. Short term stress is part of our design and helps us deal with a big issue in front of us. But the way it does that is by activating three stress glands in our bodies: the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenals. The chemicals they secrete give us the energy and alertness we need, but also increase our sensitivity, which means the next stressful event hits us harder than it would if we weren't so overstimulated. So if we keep getting new stresses before recovering from the last one, progressive dysfunction can occur from anxiety, to over-reactions, to under-reacting and depression and chronic physical conditions such as chronic fatigue and fibromylagia (stress is not the only cause but this is one possible path). This progression is burnout.
So I'm feeling burnt out, now what do I do?
When I was burnt out a few years ago, I realised that my way of functioning in the world of looking after others with no room for myself could no longer serve me (and perhaps never really had). When things were at their worst, I had to decide to step up... because no one could do it for me.
The 3 keys that together finally unlocked the puzzle were:
- self kindness and love, which allowed me to prioritise myself in order to restore my spark
- using natural remedies to gradually bring my body and mind back to balance
- applying the wisdom of simplicity to all areas of my life to reduce ongoing stress
All of these areas are a work in progress, but they're everything to me and I've learnt so much from them. So watch this space... there will be loads more on these 3 principles to follow, because they are so pivotal to bringing our spark back.
Now I'd love to hear from you - what has been your experience of feeling burnt out? And which of these 3 tips will you be using? Let me know in the comments below! And if you'd like to start with self kindness (the foundational step) then get your free gift - 7 Steps to Self Love here.