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How Can I Prevent Burnout?

Abby Hauer, MC, LAC

Everyone on the face of earth deals with stress. Stress is a normal part of life and almost each day we may be faced with a different stressor. But how do we recognize when this daily stress has turned into something we can no longer manage? Burnout is a different feeling than stress because we are physically and emotionally exhausted, we may dread each day, and we are no longer able to give our best effort (Nagoski, 2019). Burnout is caused by stress that never ends! We cannot get rid of the stressors (which cause our stress) but we can manage the stress itself to prevent Burnout. Sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski wrote a whole book on this called, Burnout: the secret to unlocking the stress cycle. I will be explaining some of their main points here. 

Stressors vs. stress

Stressors activate your stress response by using your 5 senses: anything we touch, hear, see, taste, feel and even imagine!

  •       They can be external and range from your work environment, culture norms, discrimination, family, friends, global issues, and money
  •       They can also be internal and range from your own internal criticism, body image, and intrusive memories  

Stress is physiological changes due to these certain stressors. Your entire body and mind can change.

  •       Flight, fight, and freeze response is triggered and floods the body with cortisol
  •       Decrease in digestion, immune functioning, hormones, and cardiovascular functioning can be affected
  •       Attention becomes narrowed and focuses on short term strategies
  •       Muscles can start to tighten

Evolution

In order to explain how this can be resolved, we have to understand our evolution and how we used to solve stressful situations. Centuries ago, humans would be faced with life threatening stressors like lions or other large predators. The natural response was to run away until they were safe, and they knew they were safe. This is still true today; our bodies need to feel safe. To do this there needs to be a shift. We have to activate this shift by DOING SOMETHING.

What should you do?

Here are 8 ways you can complete the stress cycle

  •       Physical Activity is the number one most effective way to do this. 20-60 mins a day where your heart rate is elevated, and you are moving your body
  •       Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tightening each muscle group separately for 20 seconds then release the tension and continue down the muscle groups. There are various versions of this and even recordings to guide you, find the one that feels right for you.
  •       Breathing! Making sure your exhale is always longer than your inhale to activate the bodies natural relaxation response system so natural regulation can occur. Easy way to start this is breathe in for 5. Hold for 5. Then exhale for 10, repeat 3 times. Doing this once a day is only about a minute of your time.
  •       Positive Social Interaction: Small friendly banter with colleagues, baristas, friends, or whoever that may be for you. Allowing yourself positive experiences with others.
  •       Laughter: Deep belly laughter helps release tension. Tears in your eyes, stomach hurting laughter. We can get this by watching a comedy, laughing with friends or family, or maybe even going to a comedy show.
  •       Affection. It doesn’t have to be a person; it can be petting an animal or even a spiritual connection. When it is with a person, it is important that it’s someone you like, respect, and trust. Research has shown a 20 second hug where both parties are holding their own weight can do the trick. For couples, John Gottman’s research suggests a 6 second kiss each day. This can help with feelings of connection and security. During these interactions oxytocin is being released, which can lower your blood pressure, slow your heart rate, and improve your mood.
  •       A Good Cry: Sometimes, nothing feels as good as letting emotions move through us by crying.
  •       Creative Expression: Can help handle big emotions and increase our tolerance for them. Music, storytelling, art, writing, singing, poetry, you name it!

Relieving stress doesn’t have to be hard but it does have to be made a priority in life if we want to avoid the feeling of burnout. These 8 items are only touching the surface of things you can start implementing to relive your stress. Figure out what works best for you and your lifestyle! 

References:

Nagoski, D. A., & Nagoski, P. E. (2019). Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Ballantine Books.

Terry Gaspard, M. (2021, February 03). 5 ways to make small GESTURES count in your marriage. Retrieved April 06, 2021, from https://www.gottman.com/blog/5-ways-make-small-gestures-count-marriage/

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