More and more women are burning out every day. And it did not just happen suddenly, it happens after months, sometimes years, of going too hard for too long.
Most often, women who burnout are high achievers, high functioning, the go-to women who get things done. Until they don’t. Until they can’t due to their physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional maladies. They are often people-pleasers or perfectionists, both traits having stemmed from needed coping mechanisms in childhood.
Burnout shows up holistically.
Yes, you have low energy, irritability, crying, mood swings, exhaustion, but also headaches, autoimmune disease, thyroid problems, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (which is actually autoimmune), anxiety, depression, chest pain, loss of appetite, rashes, etc. Unreleased and unhealed emotion over time manifests into a diseased state, this was the premise of Louise Hay’s amazing work. Emotions have to come out somewhere. If you internalize them and don’t take care of them directly – which I guarantee anyone who is burning out is doing at some level – they will come out in your body.
So how do we heal burnout?
I have always thought it was interesting with all the talk about self-care, if you ask people what self-care is, the majority speak about yoga, or baths, and scented candles. Yes, those things can be aspects of self care, but let me share some true antidotes.
Here are 5 lasting and/or preventative burnout answers
So many of us isolate when burnt out. Reach out.
- Reach out to friends, one good friend, take 7 minutes out of your day and call on the phone, actually hear their voice and let them hear yours
- Reach out and get help. A therapist, but specifically a therapist trained, skilled, or even knowledgeable in somatic work is best. Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can only go so far because burnout has such a physical component – your nerves and adrenals are shot. Heal the body, heal the mind.
- Wherever you can have or find moments of connection with people, it doesn’t have to be huge, start with a hug with your spouse every morning, or when seeing a friend, if you don’t have a spouse. Make this a real hug. 1 minute long, not an A-frame, 2 second hug.
Anything which allows you to feel connection is key.
Heal Your Trauma
The word trauma is used very loosely these days, and many people wonder exactly what it means. Trauma is the way we experience the unfortunate things which happen to us. It gets held and imprinted in our bodies, particularly in our nervous system.
My favorite trauma expert, Gabor Mate has tons of youtube videos and interviews you can watch about it, and he talks about how it’s not necessarily what happened that is the trauma, it’s what didn’t happen. For example, you grew up with a narcissistic parent and you were never “enough” and you don’t have high self-worth, you are a complete people pleaser, you’re working all hours of the night, you don’t set boundaries around your time, or around anything, you end up sick and burnt out. Do the work to heal your trauma through whatever methods you do, and you learn to set boundaries (people with strong boundaries do not get burnt out as easily).
To even be able to do that, you have to first take an honest assessment of your history. Not everyone has “trauma” with a capital T, but every person who gets burnt out has something, some kind of experience in their life that is causing them to react, subconsciously, in ways which are not serving them, perfectionism, people pleasing, all of that, stems from your initial childhood attachments and trauma, big T or small.
This probably should have been listed as number 1. You need sleep to heal. Your body rejuvenates and restores itself during sleep. Your muscles, tissues, and immune system are repaired.
Sleep is essential for cognitive function and emotional regulation. When you’re burnt out, you are living in a heightened state of stress, sometimes for years. Your cortisol levels are high, your adrenal glands are shot. You need sleep to repair.
Adequate sleep lowers cortisol levels and helps maintain the hormonal balance of your body. You can do all of the yoga, supplements, meditation, and exercise in the world, if you are not getting adequate sleep, you are not going to heal.
Nervous system regulation
Nervous system regulation exercises: box breathing or Wim Hof breathing techniques are two examples of ways to begin learning to regulate your parasympathetic nervous system. You can look up Suki Baxter on Youtube for Vagus nerve healing exercises, or do anything that’s meditative for you.
“Meditative” does not have to be sitting meditation, by the way. For some people it’s walking, or dancing or bike riding – anything that clears your mind for a few minutes. You don’t need to do anything well or perfectly, just consistently.
Lack of boundaries around your time and interpersonal boundaries are very common in women who burn out. Learning how to set boundaries is key. “No.” is a full sentence. You have to practice. It will not come easily, even though it is simple. It will be uncomfortable at first.
A good interpersonal boundary can be structured as follows: “if you do x, I will be doing y.” The boundary is about you and what you are doing, not about the other person.
- E.g.of a solid interpersonal boundary: instead of “you cannot speak to me that way,” it is better to say, “anytime you speak to me this way, I will be hanging up the phone.”
- E.g. of a solid time boundary: you do not check or answer your work emails over the weekend. If you feel you are not able to commit to that, start with not answering them on Saturdays. Put an automated out-of-office message on your email, stating your boundary and when people can expect to hear back from you.”I am out of the office and do not check emails over the weekend, I will reply to all emails as soon as I can on Monday afternoon.”
3 ways we, as women, can support one another to prevent or heal from burnout:
- Check in with your colleagues and your friends – be honest when they check in with or someone asks you. When you are honest about where you are at emotionally, even if its ugly, even if you are burnt out, it allows others to be honest as well and that authenticity creates the deeper connection – which works to combat burnout.
- Take your lunches at work, ladies! Leave your desk and have lunch where you aren’t scarfing while eating in front of your phone or computer – take a walk, even for 10 minutes. Support your employees or colleagues in doing so too. This idea encompasses a whole culture of boundaries around your time. Take your vacation time… and don’t apologize for it… if you are in a corporate setting, nothing is going to collapse without you, no matter what ‘they’ say… and be present with your family or friends on the vacation.
- Delegate things to your partner if you have one, for housekeeping or childcare if you have kids or to your employees at work – and then let them do it how they do it! So many women feel like they have to do everything, but they also feel like they are the only ones who can do it “right”. Stop having to be “right” all the time. Would you rather be ‘right’ or would you rather be happy? Would you rather be “right” or would you rather heal from being burnt out?
If you would like to hear more on this topic, and you have an hour during your commute (possibly contributing to your burnout) or during a walk, have a listen to an in-depth conversation I had with the host of the Purse Coach podcast about burnout, my own story with burnout, and how to heal.
Your friendly, compassionate, no bullsh*t therapist & pregnancy/postpartum life coach