"You're Not Weak." | and other things you need to hear about the shadows of burnout
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.