Updated: May 8, 2022
Anger, irritability, relationship dysfunction.
Crippling fear, feelings of overwhelm, cynicism.
Sense of dread about daily tasks.
Feeling depleted at the end of the day.
^---- I don't know who needs to hear this, but THIS IS NOT NORMAL! Life is not meant to be lived feeling depression, desperation, and dread.
Being sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
You know this feeling. In your guts. At your core. Bone-deep. You know what I mean when I say feeling absolutely, entirely, completely done.
And if you experienced early life trauma, separation/abandonment, or carry strong ancestral trauma in your DNA, you've been battling burnout long before you realized you're burnt out.
I don't know who needs to hear this, but... you are not weak for being burnt out.
Read that again.
You are not weak for being burnt out. You are not 'easily bored' or 'quick to change your mind' or uncommitted. You are human, navigating real human consequences of unnatural human life.. and it's time we start having some serious conversations around this before any more of us succumb to its serious, life-altering effects.
We've all heard of burnout - that mysterious/elusive event that seems to precipitate major life pivots and mental health holidays. What I'm wondering is ... are we looking deep enough to really catalyze deeply-rooted, meaningful transformation? Spoiler alert: the answer does not lie in a spa day or weekend get-away.
We've all heard the stories:
"He had a midlife crisis."
"She had a mental break."
There's inherent danger in suggesting burnout is an isolated event that happens swiftly at a single moment in time; what we can observe in others who've 'had enough' is just the 'breaking point', their own personal cliff of no return... and it dangerously implies that perhaps unless you reach this life-threatening edge, burnout itself is okay. Neither our human physiology nor psychology are designed to live life under the circumstances of 2022 and beyond; the circumstances we've grown painfully, life-threateningly accustomed to. The human body is not designed to function under the socially-prescribed pressures of modern-day life.... and our minds, bodies, and souls are paying the ultimate price.
It's not okay to live like this.
Every one of my clients in this advanced trauma therapy practice is burnt out. Every. Single. One. I literally couldn't ignore the link between early life / ancestral trauma and burnout any longer. Putting back on my academic cap, I began to dive into the research - and while the findings are relatively recent they're all undeniable:
Burnout triggers your trauma, and it's so much more than just being 'stressed at work'.
Early life trauma IS the first burnout.
The Physiology of Stress
Okay, so we all know we need blood flow around our body to survive; that part's not rocket science by any stretch. But have you stopped to consider the impact of your day-to-day levels of mental stress on your physical health? We've all heard that "stress" is the culprit behind so many diseases and ailments... but have you stopped to reflect on why?
Once upon a time, humans were meant to feel the sudden, acute onset of panic (that body-drenching chemical cocktail of fight-or-flight hormones) at the sight of wooly mammoths or grizzly bears. In those days, it was good for us to feel that whole-body alarm go off to motivate an immediate thought-overriding response to just stay alive. But these days, despite markedly fewer mammoths in our lives, the perception of threat has remained at an all-time high: bosses, deadlines, promotions, getting engaged yet remaining autonomous, having babies and still leaning at the boardroom table. We've slowly, systematically, learned to perceive everything around us as a threat (despite them being inherently benign).
Perception. Interpretation. Response.
We've learned to perceive our boss, a deadline, or our children as stressors - we interpret these as threats to our sense of safety (the most deeply-rooted need we all carry as sentient humans), and our body responds with a cascade of stress hormones that increase our lung capacity, accelerate our heart rate, and send our blood pressure through the roof preparing us to fight or flee. It then takes time for the body to recognize the danger "isn't real" and work its way back to a balanced state.
This means we 'get stressed', causing oxygenated + nutrient-dense blood to flow to our limbs (the ones that'll 'fight or flee'), and in this moving away life-giving oxygen and nutrition from our brain and core (where they're needed most). Because we don't often end up physically fighting or fleeing a deadline or scathing text message, these bursts of danger chemicals need to get reabsorbed somewhere else in the body and with them the limbic imprints of the memories they caused become part of our story. While our body is coming down from the reeling high of mammoth-sized 'threats', our mind is learning that everything and everyone is unsafe. The truth is that a work deadline won't actually ever tear us limb from limb... but our brains don't know that... and we're allowing them to respond as if they do.
Animals are one step ahead of us and 'shake off' life threats to discharge the energy of the traumatic event. But not humans. We store that sh*t. And our voluntary exposure to our life's perceived threats goes far beyond what animals would ever choose for themselves.
Social media alone slathers us daily in graphic images of people, just like us, living their "best lives": doing more, being more, having more traveling more. Constantly more, more, more. Bigger houses. Fancier cars. Luxurious getaways. Older wines. We glorify busy like it's some badge of honour and openly allow comparison to steal away our joy - when beneath the surface we're all struggling to breathe. LIKES have replaced wellness, hashtags have replaced authentic truth.
And we're drowning. All of us. I mean - the stress of a global pandemic alone was enough to offset every single one of our internal stress monitors. Yet, we're all afraid to openly share the truth? Some of us still prefer to be running the rat race instead? So if we're not willing to consciously admit the high price of our stress, our body takes the brunt of it instead.
It's not okay to be driven so close to the edge of your sanity over an extended period of time that all it takes is a single moment of crisis, 'the straw that breaks the camel's back' to validate years of learned + permitted misalignment. Why aren't we sending up the warning flares sooner??
Burnout happens when the mind, body, and/or spirit, simply shut down. And a child who experiences trauma/disconnect (essentially a lack of safety from an early age) carries the weight of acute stress response to perceived threat (physical or emotional) its whole life. No wonder so many of my trauma-release clients cite being burnt out!
When the body shuts down, we get real physical symptoms: pain, illnesses, injury. When our mind follows suit, we get mental fog, irritability, cynicism, fear. Once the spirit shuts down, we've effectively imprisoned ourselves into the modern day slavery of a misaligned Self.
Saying it as loud as I can for those in the back: You can not recover from burnout in a weekend away, a week off, or even a year of balance. You can rest, sure... but recovery is so much deeper than that.
If you're feeling burnt out, ask yourself:
Do you carry early life trauma?
Did you experience strain/dysfunction in your relationships with one or both parents?
Do you recognize the cascade of events that led you to this point*?
Which slow, systematic declines to your life did you ignore on account of appeasing something/someone else that led you to a place of breaking?
How serious must the consequences of your burnout become before you realize this is REAL?
*and I mean on a large scale - not just too many years at a job you hate.
Do you see the personality + shadow factors of psyche that facilitated this?
Burnout is so much bigger than just being slightly-dissatisfied about how things are unfolding. It's not "I don't love this job." or "Man, these kids are demanding." Burnout is all-encompassing, full-body, "I-don't-even-know-where-to-start" exhaustion that permeates every facet of our Self... and it's not nearly as rare as it should be. Today, it's rare to find any one of us - anyone holding their device consuming these words - who can't relate to what I'm describing. That gut-wrenching sense of, "I did everything I thought I was supposed to do.... nothing was/is good enough... and I'm slowly giving up."
And contrary to what our 'We paid the ultimate price - uphill both ways' parents might say about burnout, it's not 'all in our heads'. If you're done, if you're done'r than done, you've already ignored a huge slew of warning signs.... and it's not going to be easy to turn back.
How Are You Standing Up? Fighting Back?
Resorting to the acceptance of life demands as we see them today is nothing more than voluntary enslavement into a system designed to destroy us. We were never meant to launch our adult careers tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars in debt. We were never meant to grind tirelessly away at an entry-level job just to scrape away slowly at the debts we owed. We were never meant to get shackled into the golden-handcuffs that promised us paid time-off and a pension plan (which would likely be abolished before we get there anyways). This day-in and day-out running the hamster maze of corporate ID badges and a graphite-grey cubicle in exchange for "Office Appreciation" catered lunches and "Team-building" treetop trekking retreats is not life. But the underpinnings of adult-onset burnout are so much deeper than just a few too many years at a job we less-than-love. Susceptibility to burnout begins at our first breaths - and even long before we leave the womb.
What is your very first memory of your parents having jobs?
How do you remember them coming home from work?
Did your mother's responsibilities differ greatly from your dad's?
Who earned more money?
Did you learn that life is hard, work is hard, money is difficult to earn?
Did they talk to you openly about how they trade their time and energy for resources?
Did their hectic schedules leave enough time for you to feel connected with, seen?
These are the shadows of burnout.... and many of which you're carrying are likely not even your own. Is it possible that you were inadvertently taught that burnout is the norm before you even lost your baby teeth?
An adult suffering from burnout is the unexpressed + people-pleasing child who
was not allowed to say 'no'
was not taught healthy boundaries around work and pleasure
didn't receive early lessons on the importance of rest and balance
had parents unable to listen to their internal cues
grew up in a home where 'hard work' was the trophy
wasn't ever asked, or supported in, pursuing professional paths aligned with their core
If you're burnt out, let me ask you -
- how do you feel about setting and keeping boundaries today?
- do you feel passionate about your life / love / family / self?
- what feelings are you seeking to avoid? (guilt? shame? fear? blame?)
- whose rules are you following?
- who are you trying to please?
- what's the reward at the end of it all?
Often times in shadow work it becomes much easier for us to recognize the need for, and make changes, when we see that who we are isn't flawed - but is the natural result of mega-flawed circumstances. You didn't burn our because you're weak, you burnt out because you weren't taught how to rest, reset, and regenerate. And that's okay. But, you can learn now.
Recovering From Burnout
Like I said, the road to recovery from burnout is long and winding. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are some universal supports you can put in place to tend to yourself, and these are easy to implement!
Hydrate. (I know, I know... everyone talks about drinking enough water, la la la).. but seriously... not coffee, not soda, not even that fancy organic kombucha you buy. WATER. Ideally with a spritz of citrus for better absorption... and even if you think you've drank enough water - drink more than that. A chronically-dehydrated body can require up to 3L of intentional drinking daily to regulate itself (all non-water drinks don't count!) and hydration is one of the key components of physical balance and re-alignment.
Set a timer on your phone or download a water-drinking reminder app (yup, they exist!)
Rest. There's literally no way of avoiding this. You cannot just get some quick-ending shut-eye, 'passing out' at the end of the day and waking up to your blaring alarm and think you've rested. Shutting down is not resetting, it's the bare minimum required to keep going. Conscious, intentional rest means minimizing external stimuli, turning off electronics, breathing and being quiet.
There are some amazing meditation apps out there that, just like your water-drinking app, will remind you to take time for yourself.
Reset. Reset means intentionally disconnect to reflect, analyze, and clear away what no longer serves you in the vein of pleasure. Some of us find pleasure in meditating, some of us in dancing, painting, writing. Which ever way you choose to reset - to deliver pleasure to yourself, it needs to be a regular part of your life (regardless of the other demands of your days). Pleasure chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins) are the antidote to stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline). Stress cannot exist in the presence of pleasure. How do you regularly carve out time to nourish your soul?
I ask of you to show yourself some compassion. Please understand that burnout won't be busted with a few extra glasses of water and sleeping through your alarm. Your path to recovery from burnout takes years.... not days, not weeks, not months. YEARS. It requires introspection, reflection, and shadow work to prevent it from happening again. Do your (shadow) work.
Set yourself free.
Your life literally depends on it.