Simple rituals that will help heal the symptoms of burnout and restore a sense of wholeness. If you've been feeling tired, disconnected from self-and others and emotionally numb, I hope this helps.
What is Burnout?
According to Psychology Today, burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to exhaustion, cynicism, detachment and lack of accomplishment. It's often characterized as a feeling of numbness... as though you're going through the motions of life but not feeling engaged in it. Burnout is often described in the context of work - when we push ourselves to the point where we're no longer productive or happy - but I would argue that it's much broader than that. Chronic stress can often manifest from not living in alignment with your authentic self, which can touch every part of our lives from career to relationships with self and others. It's evasive and sometimes the source of burnout can be hard to pinpoint.
A Personal Story of Burnout
If you've been on my email list list for a while, you may recall that I've shared a recent experience where I've felt stressed, disconnected and chronically sad and tired. I work very hard to maintain a healthy diet, regular exercise and I'm vigilant about my sleep, so I found it strange that my emotional health was suffering even though I was ticking off all the "self-care" boxes.
What I didn't realize was that over the course of 6 months of pushing myself to work more, produce more and "be" more, I completely burned myself out. My experience with burnout was brought on by an intrinsic need to constant push myself. It was so subtle that I didn't even know it was happening, but slowly it robbed me of life's simple pleasures, my connection to self and others and ultimately my health and emotional wellness.
What I learned from this experience was that my need to constantly push myself to do and be more was driven by an underlying thought of not being "enough" as I am. Fitness and nutrition alone were not enough to keep me well and whole. I needed to incorporate self-healing practices to resolve negative beliefs that were causing ongoing low grade stress.
Burnout Compromises Health and Wellness
I'd like to say that my awareness of burnout came when I felt constantly tired, sad and mentally checked out, but sadly, it didn't stop there. It wasn't until I got sick with a strange cold/throat infection that I was able to see what was happening because I was finally forced to slow down. My recovery was slow (in fact, I'm still healing), but the silver lining was that I had some downtime to just listen to what was happening inside. In reality, all my pushing to be #perfectateverything wasn't helping me - it was hurting me.
The a-ha moment for me happened on a walk one afternoon. I was listening to a podcast about the effects of feeling burned out, how we get there and what it feels like. As the podcaster went through all the symptoms, it was as though she was talking about me and directly to me all at once.
From there, I started zeroing in on what was causing this chronic stress and how I could not only move past it, but also heal from it. Fortunately, I have a solid wellness practice that includes daily movement, healthy eating and rest, but these were also part of the problem - because I was using them as part of my "be perfect at everything" mission. So I needed to reframe those wellness practices in the context of nourishment and healing and not just staying lean and physically fit.
True Wellness is More Than Food & Fitness
I also had to look at what my life wasn't giving me. I was very focused on food and fitness and I love a good self-help book to keep me feeling motivated, but that wasn't helping my feeling of detachment and being emotionally checked out. I needed to reconnect with a feeling of emotional wellness - something I was clearly ignoring.
And so, the journey to healing started there. What I've learned since then has been super powerful in helping me reconnect with myself, find a new appreciation for holistic wellness (something that previously felt very hippy-dippy to me) and ultimately heal myself from burnout.
The rest of this post will cover what I've learned, what I've applied to my own journey to help me heal, and how I'm thinking about my health and emotional wellness going forward. I hope you find some helpful nuggets in here that you can use in your own healing journey.
From Burnout to Emotional Wellness With The Power of Thought
The biggest game-changer in healing my own sense of burnout was looking at my underlying thoughts and beliefs that were causing me to push myself too hard. Neuroscience tells us that the thoughts we think set off a neuro-chemical reaction in our brains that sends signals to all the cells in our body. In turn, those cells influence our behaviors which reinforce thoughts. For example, if you think “I'm too busy or stressed to lose weight and get healthy" then this is the thought your cells consume. In turn, your cells drive behaviors, cravings and choices about the food you eat and the exersize you do (or don't do), based on those neural-programs.
Change starts with our beliefs
If we truly want to make change, in any realm of life, we need to create new beliefs. Beliefs that we can trust at our core. This will create a new thought patterns that will send new chemical messages to our cells and therefore reinforce better choices and better results.
That is the process where change begins and it requires that we create self-awareness. Through self-awareness we can stop old patterns of thought, create new empowering beliefs and a much better quality of life.
The Practice - The Daily Rituals that Healed My Burnout
The Practice is the name I've coined for the rituals I cultivated to heal myself from burnout, not just through physical self-care, but also emotional self-awareness.
There are five behaviors that were instrumental in helping me connect with a deeper sense of wholeness in body, mind and heart. Each practice was equally important and they and deeply supported each other.
I love this practice because it's simple + inclusive. It's not intended to be rigid and there's no exception to be perfect. It's simply a barometer to check yourself against. If you're feeling off - it could be that you're not paying enough attention to one of these critical behaviors that support wholeness.
My 5 practices of health and wholeness
- Rest - I slept 8 hours a night. Sleep is a powerful healer.
- Move - I challenged myself to take at least ten thousand steps per day (including workouts or yoga but sometimes just walking)
- Nourish - I ate 5 to 7 servings of fresh vegetables every day and drank half my bodyweight in ounces of water.
- Connect - I made a point of connecting with someone I loved every day, even if it was just a text message.
- Heal - I committed to a daily practice that helped me process emotion and work a lifetime of limiting beliefs. For me, the most effective tools were future-self journaling, yoga, meditation, EFT and therapy. I've heard others say that 5 rhythms, prayer, yoga Nidra, qigong, breathing or walking in nature, has worked wonders.
Ugh, More Boxes to Check Off?
I know this may sound like just another to-do list to add to an already busy schedule, but it was actually the reverse. By committing to this every day, I had to find space for it which meant letting other things go. I also didn't make it another bar for perfection.
I did the best I could to practice these behaviors daily because they were so good for me, but I didn't sweat it if I wasn't perfect. That wasn't the point. Focusing on them just made me more intentional about taking care of myself.
I believe with every fiber of my being, based on personal experience and plenty of scientific evidence, that if we can commit to this as a daily ritual, we will not only open ourselves to healthier eating and movement habits, but we’ll also come to know the parts of ourselves that need love and healing. With healing comes a lot of beautiful results - not just looking and feeling our best.
Healing Burnout for Good
At this point, I've shared actionable steps that have helped me heal myself, but there's one key point that I would be remiss if I didn't mention. Finding the source of your stress and doing what you can to change it is critical to healing. In my case, I didn't have a specific "one thing" that caused the burnout.
It was a number of little things, so I couldn't just eliminate one major stressor to make everything better. I had to dig through layers of limiting beliefs and fears to find where my source of unhappiness was. I credit my experience with the Hoffman Process with helping me do this.
If you know what's causing your stress, chances are you would have eliminated it by now if it were that simple or easy. However, life is rarely that straightforward. So instead, I hope these practices act as guideposts to support you along your way to living a more authentic and aligned way of life.
To your health.
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and ADHD Coach. As the founder of The Fit Habit, she shares ADHD-friendly self-care, food & fitness inspiration, along with practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.