Last year I experienced firsthand what it means to be burnout. I had to close the psychical yoga studio, turn it into an online studio, lose my business partner, and do almost everything myself. I knew I was doing my best to keep my business running after two years of uncertainty.
The moment I have admitted that I was not feeling okay was when I realized I had stopped meditating in the morning. Now, this may not mean a lot to you. But this is something I’ve been doing every morning for the last five years. I wake up, I meditate. Period.
So I started making some adjustments because I wanted to move further but changing how I was doing things.
Now, in a very intuitive way, I knew what I needed, but I started being curious about why it worked for me. So, I started digging about burnout to understand what it is, and most importantly, I was curious about what I needed to take care of to not end up in the same position.
Burnout, in many ways, feels similar to depression. Six years ago, I was there too, but burnout can be more job-specific, and it happens to people who don’t know how to relax or don’t take breaks.
So, what is burnout?
In 1975, Herbert Freudenberger defined ‘burnout’ as having three components.
- emotional exhaustion – the fatigue that comes from caring too much, too long;
- depersonalization – the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion; and
- decreased sense of accomplishment – feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.
What I was feeling was emotional exhaustion and a decreased sense of accomplishment. But I also felt that what I do doesn’t make any difference.
In other words, even though I love what I do and I care too much, I was beating myself up. Not at all surprising why I ended up burnt out.
In the book, Burnout: The secret to solving the stress cycle, Emily and Amelia Nagosky talk about how exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion. The problem begins when you can’t separate your body from your emotions and can’t move through the tunnel.
Yes, read that again.
The thing is that you’re never going to get rid of the causes of the stress, but you can get rid of the stress if you know how to complete the stress response cycle. This is how you avoid burnout.
First of all let’s look at what stressors, stress, and completing the cycle means.
- stressors are what activate the stress response in your body. It can vary from what you hear and see, work, money, family, self-criticism, body image, etc. Your body identifies them as potential threats.
- stress is the neurological and physiological shift that happens in your body when you encounter these threats.
- complete the stress response cycle means that you need to do something that signals your body that you’re safe.
Your body doesn’t know that your boss stresses you or that your business has a tough year. It knows, though, what yoga is. When you’re doing any physical activity, you speak its language, which is body language.
There are seven ways to complete the stress cycle.
Get connected to your body through physical activity.
Physical activity is what tells your brain you have successfully survived the threat, and now your body is a safe place to live. Physical activity is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle. – Emily & Amelia Nagosky
You may think that I’m doing a lot of yoga as a teacher, but teaching is not practicing. Teaching yoga is about other people. Practicing is about taking care of myself. So, I made sure I was practicing yoga, and I also added a third walk for my dog at noon. Together we went out, making sure I was walking at least 30-min. Whatever kind of physical activity works for you, you have to go for it.
The power of breath.
Breathing is most effective when your level of stress is not that high. An effortless way of doing it is to breathe in counting up to five, holding it at the top for five, exhaling, counting up to five or even ten, and holding it at the bottom for five. Before going into savasana, this is the exercise I’m using in many of my yoga classes. You can try it right now.
Positive social interaction.
I don’t complain a lot. I mostly keep things for myself – especially if things are not going well. Now, this is a big mistake and I know that we are built to interact with other people and help each other out. Easier said than done, but I reached out for help. I hired a coach. I needed someone prepared to listen and understand what I’m experiencing and, at the same time, can help me work on accomplishing my goals.
In my case, I needed help with my business. But going out with your friends, spending quality time with your better half, saying ‘hi’ to your barista, or complimenting people is going to reassure your brain that you’re safe.
As an introvert, I don’t have problems spending time alone. I quite enjoy it. But when you’re going through something, it starts working against you. It was me and my horrible quality thoughts at that moment. So I made sure I was getting out of the house, and I surrendered myself to people that I genuinely enjoyed their presence and knew I could have fun.
Let’s hug more. Just google ‘benefits of hugging,’ and you’ll understand why it is so important. If you’re not a hugger, how about spending more time petting your cat or going out with your dog for a long walk?
A big old cry.
I will always do my best not to cry. I’m fighting it so hard until my body can’t hold it anymore. I caught myself having a big old cry with 15-min right before one of the yoga classes I was teaching. I pulled it over and showed up to teach. For sure, crying doesn’t solve problems, but I completed the stress response cycle.
Just remember the feeling you have after a big cry. How is your body feeling?
Sharing what you’re going through is just another way of relaxing your body. My way of expressing my creative side after the storm has passed is by writing and sharing my experience. I also feel creative when I’m stepping on my mat. I’m not talking about the way I’m creating my yoga flow. I’m talking about showing up on my yoga mat and expressing my feelings through the practice. I’ve cried and laughed on my yoga mat. I show up to feel. No matter what creative expression looks like to you, go for it: paint, dance, flow, write. Imagine yourself being the hero.
How do you know you’ve completed the cycle?
For me, closing the cycle feels very much like the way I’m feeling at the end of a yoga class. When I start the yoga class, I might feel agitated, with the mind trapped in a different place or not in the mood. After practicing, I feel like something shifted in me. I know what stresses me is still out there, but I feel relaxed; I’m not very chatty, and at the same time, the way I see what worries me is not that big anymore.
And, I want to end this article with one of the things I keep saying in my yoga classes – drop into your body and listen.