How To Deal With Emotional Burnout
When people talk about burnout what exactly do they mean? I’ve found the average definition of burnout lands somewhere between “what used to be enjoyable simply isn’t enjoyable anymore” and “I’m entirely exhausted and my exhaustion seems to have taken over my life.”
Burnout is more aptly defined as “unresolved stress.” Before we unpack this definition, let’s differentiate between stressors and stress. Stressors are an inevitable part of life; financial pressures, difficult relationships, work deadlines, child-rearing and the inevitable gap between what we imagined life would look like and what it actually does. Despite what images may portray, nearly all of us are juggling our stressors and expectations.
Stress is our bodily or physical response to those stressors. In Dr. Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, they define stress as “the neurological and psychological shift that happens when our body encounters a perceived threat”.
I’ve found my clients often spin their wheels looking to eliminate the stressors in their life, wondering how they might make more money, find a better relationship, or control their loved one’s difficult personality when their resources might be better spent dealing with the stress their body houses.
Here are a few ways to deal with stress in such a way that it’s released from the body and stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol return to their resting state.
Notice How Your Body Responds to Stress
Many people live life in a “stressed out” state without noticing the physical implications.
- Does your heart pound when you are stressed?
- Does your face tense?
- Do you perspire more than usual?
- Do you crave coffee or sugar?
- Does your mouth become dry?
- Your voice shaky?
We can’t deal with stress if we don’t know it’s happening. So, figure out how stress happens for you.
Engage Your Social Support
Once you are clued into your stress response, in other words, your body has sounded the alarm, it’s time to start taking care of yourself. Note, this does not mean blaming your circumstances, booking the next flight to Tahiti and maxing out your credit card.
Instead, start by finding your people. Repeated studies show that positive social relationships are as important if not more important than eating your veggies and engaging in heart pumping cardio.
Make sure these people are trustworthy, supportive and honest. Ideally, they are people who know you well and will let you vent before reminding you of your values and then encouraging you to carry on with courage.
Exercise does wonders for stress hormones. Find an exercise that you enjoy rather than one you think you should enjoy.
- Is it yoga? Great.
- Is it a brisk walk outside? Carve out time every day to do it.
Just make sure that exercise is something easily incorporated into your routine.
Simply put, positive reappraisal is recognizing that difficulty is meaningful. Its foundations are in optimism, but positive reappraisal is a step beyond the proverbial silver lining. Instead, it’s acknowledging how very difficult things are, but how much meaning and reward emerges from difficulty.
Note: It’s not burying one’s head in the sand or pretending problems aren’t there. Instead, it’s digging deep, leaning in and telling yourself: “I can do this.”
Have you ever watched a child have a tantrum—complete with screams, kicks, wails and finally the deep, shuddering sigh before sleep? That entire process, the escalated screams and defiance followed by the calm, quiet is an excellent metaphor for the stress cycle.
When our bodies are stressed hormones rise and “a good cry”, as they say, can be a cathartic release that then cues the hormones to fall. Have you ever felt like you want to cry or even should cry but can’t? Your body may be locked into a stressed-out state that needs release.
It sounds strange, but if you’d like to get the tears flowing and can’t, see if a tear-jerking novel, movie or even You Tube clip can get things moving. After you wipe your eyes, you might find it easier to begin again.
You’ve heard it before I know, but sleep is important. The chronically sleep deprived will also be the chronically stressed. Our capacity to maintain healthy sleep patterns has much to do with healthy and regular cortisol levels and regular cortisol levels have to do with, (no surprise) healthy stress levels.
If your schedule allows, don’t fight your body’s natural rhythms. Night owls shouldn’t aim for a nine o’clock bed time and five o’clock rise time. Light sleepers need black out shades or sleep masks. Figure out what works for you and prioritize sleep as much as your time and obligations will allow.
Prioritize the above interventions and notice how your body responds with an easier, lighter way of being despite your day to day pressures and strain.