Kindness through Burnout
Updated: Jul 16
If you've ever felt like you wake up with a racing heart and mind, but crash few hours later, craving for coffee to keep you going, you may have burnout. Taking care of little people day and night is a superhighway to burnout unless you learn to show yourself a little bit self-compassion. Read on and learn how to heal from burnout and how to prevent it from happening again.
Without judgement, burnout often happens to A-type personalities who are high achievers, and tend to push through. This can be your strength, but it is also your weakness, as you may not recognize where you should put clear boundaries. Or you may just be in a situation where you have high levels of stress, and no help. You just need to push through. I certainly can relate to both of these points, but my full on burnout developed because I had no other choice. I wish I had been more kind to myself and realized what I was going through.
Let's face it. I am sure many of us are feeling burned out right now.
Let's recap some of the early signs of burnout with Kelleigh Kincaid. Do you have anxiety, insomnia, are you"tired and wired" at night? And then do you wake up with racing thoughts or heart? GO GO Go- All the time. Do you have GastroIntestinal Stress, headaches, lack of focus, irritability, disregular energy patterns. Are you gaining weight around your belly? Our stress hormone, cortisol, causes weight to really stick around midsection of our body, especially for women. When we are constantly on fight-or-flight mode, cortisol levels jump up and it causes to reserve all the energy possible, because our body is not feeling safe. Are you relient of coffee and other stimulants? Feeling like you are never getting enough done? Full adrenal fatigue, or full blown burnout signs are, you are feeling very very exhausted. Everything is overwhelming. You are chronically fatigued, you are craving salt, sugar, coffee. Feeling drained and overwhelmed. Feeling anxious or depressed. You have extreme mood swings, and feeling detached, like nothing really matters. Getting sick a lot. Getting dizzy when you stand up, feeling weak in your limbs, waking up 1-3am, dysregulated blood sugar. Life feels like a chore.
Wow, that's a long list. If you can identify some of these in your life, please read on.
First thing to do is to dig deeper into your emotional and spiritual needs that are not being met. As much as we love our families, it is ok to admit that sometimes you just need time to yourself. It takes its toll to always put everyone else's needs and wants ahead of you. It's fine to occasionally feel these things, but if you also in addition can identify physical signs, it's time to take action!
If you read my previous post, I talked about how to separate burn out from depression. These can be easily mixed up, as I did, so read the previous post here if you haven't already. On this post, I will help you find ways to heal burn out.
I wish I had been able to identify burn out earlier in my life, as I tend to go all in 100% into things. During my Master's degree, I worked day and night, and the last week before submission deadline, I never went home from school. I would work until 1am, then sleep on a exercise physiology test lab floor until 5am, wake up, and keep going. I barely ate. I would take an hour rest to get some fresh air, but that was it. Two days before the deadline, I had headache so severe I could not look up. The more experienced researchers would smile understandably and tell me I had the "researcher's headache". It was funny then, but when I started vomiting one morning, it stopped me on my tracks. I went to the school doc, who told me to stop working on the thesis and ask for extension. But the school told me if I didn't submit now, I would have to wait another 6 months to graduate. That was not an option, so somehow I managed to get through another 2 days. After submission with an hour margin, I stumbled home, starved, exhausted, completely wiped out. I hadn't showered in days and I reaked stress sweat. Yikes.
I submitted an A+ masters' thesis. And an A+ mild burnout.
Was it worth it? The only one who remembers the struggle I went through is me.
When I perceive something very important to me, I go all in. But is it really necessary? My life definitely did not turn out like I planned back then when I pushed my way through the Master's. Yet, I really think it was worth it. I am ok to occasionally push through hardship. However, understanding the risks of prolonged "push-through" situations is the key to be able to prevent a full-blown burnout. I am able now to recognize that I've taken this "just push through it"mentality with me in parenting. And it led to a complete burnout and depression.
It is one thing to bust through a week or two of insane work, as I did for my thesis, but to bring this to parenting for years and years. I realize now, that during the baby years (back to back three babies) with lack of sleep, lack of support at home, lack of breathing breaks for myself, lack of knowledge of self-compassion lead to a much more comprehensive burn out. More than a depression I was struggling with, I simply was feeling burned out by life.
Mom-haustion, a new definition of burnout experienced by mothers. Yes, you, you know what I mean. Please don't get me started.
I do want to address something that I find it unjust. Mom's who never whine or complain, who look like a million dollars (always), always happy and helpful, are set on a pedestal so high it feels unreachable. At least that's how it feels to me. I knew I could never reach that level of motherhood royalty, so I succumbed to my "comfy" clothes, starbucks, my muffin tops and was content to think that I shouldn't been complaining about my life, because 1. nobody likes a negative nelly, and 2. there is always someone else who's got it worse than me. It may sound quite pessimistic, but sure as hell lit up my day.
Seriously though, we all have our struggles, and I would think if we were more honest with ourselves and others openly, we would all benefit. Say you are feeling burned out but never dare to admit it. You will suffer in silence and never get help. That is a no-win situation for you, and others who may feel the same way.
It is ok to feel burn out. Really.
HOW TO HEAL BURNOUT 101
My rant aside, I would like to raise more awareness on burnout and how to handle it. Let's learn how to heal from burnout. Kelleigh Kincaid, Wellness coach, categorizes healing in three areas: Nourishing Nutrition, Lifestyle and Mindset Shifts.
Let's start with nutrition because it is such an integral part of everyone's life.
Let Food Be Your Medicine. Hippocrates
I used to wonder why is it so easy to eat well when I am feeling great, but when I am tired, cranky and exhausted I would reach for foods that were low in nutrients, like those blueberry muffins from Starbucks? When we are busy, convenient food that come with wrappers, are so easy and convenient, right? Especially when we have little ones, it is easy to grab a bar and keep going. This more so in North-American cultures, it is grab-and-go coffees, foods, you eat on the go, rarely sit down and actually enjoy your meal slowly. Heck, the only sit down meal you get is through drive-through and you sit and while driving. You know what I mean. There are crumbs at the back seat in your van as a proof. In the North European countries like Finland and Norway, the diet has deep roots to post-war situation where everything was home grown, bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner! In Brazil, it is a lot of rice and beans and red meat. I've learned so much about health, culture and wellness through cultural diet habits.
While we lived in Canada, it was easy to just toss a multipack of Clif bars at the back of the van for a quick energy boost. When we moved to Dubai, bars are still available, but damn expensive, and I found with a little extra planning, a healthier snack is pretty easy to take to go. Sometimes I find myself still eating a snack while driving. Some habits are hard to break.
Kelleigh recommends to make a conscious shift to real, whole, nutrient-dense HOME-COOKED meals. To heal her own burn out, she trusted adaptogens and nutraceuticals. Here are 5 tips from her on how to heal from burnout.
Start the day with fat & protein. Eating a breakfast with high content of healthy fats and protein (eggs and avocado) helps you to nourish your body, and regulate your blood sugar throughout the day. Whatever you do, skip intermittent fasting (DO eat breakfast). When you wake up, our natural hormonal rhythm jacks up cortisol to help us wake up. When you don't eat breakfast, it elevated cortisol additionally, making our body to think it's fight-or-flight time! And guess what that leads to? Yupp. Let's deposit everything we can on to the belly section. This heightened cortisol response also leads to a rollercoaster blood sugar ride. Also, getting enough protein is super hard, so pay attention how much protein you get. If you workout and your workout is either high intensity or very long (over 60 mins) in the morning, then good carbs like oatmeal in coconut milk with peanut butter and berries is a good alternative.
Eat Nutrient-dense food. Skip packaged foods! Kelleigh recommends 4 key nutrients for you. Magnesium from swiss chard, avocado, pumpkin seeds, spinach. Vitamin B from liver, nuts, seeds, animal proteins. Vitamin C, from bell peppers, fruits, cauliflower, strawberries. Zinc, (excellent against stress) from beef, lamb, seafood, eggs pumpkin seeds. Brain food: omega 3s from salmon, sardines, walnuts, hemp hearts.
Practice breathwork to get your body into a relaxed state. Meditate!! 4/7/8 breaths inhale count of four, holdfor count of 7 and then exhale count of 8 before your meals, or before work, or high stress situations.
Move your body! We are designed to move. Prioritize movement the first thing in the morning. In burnout, walk, yoga and taichi, dance. Be intuitive with natural movement. Really find out what brings you joy and do that everyday.
Set healthy boundaries with work. You can get addicted to busy. Forget your To-Do lists. Tasks are going to be there tomorrow. Create parameters that you want to live by. Why are you doing what you are doing? How does your work fit in the big picture? Schedule in self-care, if you cannot get it done intuitively. A simple way is to set timer for 20 mins to laser focus, then take a 5 min break.
I would also add to this to be hell bent on prioritizing the quality of your sleep. LEAVE YOUR PHONE AWAY from your BEDROOM!
But what an earth are these adapto-whats?
Adaptogens are herbal substances that help balance out a stress response in your body. Clinical studies have shown that adaptogens have anti-fatigue effect that increases mental work capacity against a background of stress and fatigue, particularly in tolerance to mental exhaustion and enhanced attention. By taking adaptogens, you can ease symptoms from mild to severe depression, stress-induced depression (hello there!), fatigue and improve mental alertness and focus (forget about Starbucks!). Using adaptogen Rhodiola rosea extract specifically brings an anti-fatigue effect for people who has burnout symptoms. Adaptogens increases your mental performance and ability to concentrate. I won't go into pathways how these work, but I will link sources below for you to read. I have not tried adaptogens myself, and I am not giving any medical advice. If you think you have burnout, please seek professional help.
Nutraceuticals are based on the philosophy linked to "Let food be your medicine" by Hippocrates, meaning let's prevent illnesses with healthy food. Nutraceuticals is an umbrella definition of foods that may reduce risk of chronic disease and may provide health-benefits beyond the nutrients it already contains. You've also heard about functional foods, right? Functional foods include whole food, and enriched/fortified foods. For example many everyday foods are fortified with vitamins, like breads, milk, cereal. There are also dietary supplements, medical foods administered with a physician and pharmaceuticals which are produced from agricultural crops and animals. Below you can find a picture of examples of nutraceuticals which you can find in whole foods.
Back to the question I had.
Why do we eat shitty when feeling shitty and healthy when feeling great?
I think the answer is multifaceted. Part of this about gut health, part of it is emotional. For me this has probably something to do with "comfort food" culture. I saw my mom snack on chocolate bars when feeling anxious. We are constantly bombarded with messages about when feeling sad or upset, get a tub of ice cream and your sorrows will magically disappear. Feel sad? Eat ice cream. Feel frustrated? Eat ice cream. Want to feel happy? Eat a shitty chocolate bar. Want to lose weight? Eat a pill. No wonder majority of people in North America are feeling burnout, anxious or depressed.
Going into gut health is a topic for another blog post, so I will leave it for the future.
All your body really need is whole foods with a variety of colors. The problem is, most of our habits and our behaviour at the grocery stores are influenced by marketers, the mental state we are in, which in turn is influenced by whether we go alone, or with two toddlers and a baby (you know, that's a real "treat")... Whether you have planned your meals for the next few days or not, also has a huge influence what actually goes into your shopping cart. Back in the day when I was running the household by myself, I used a service called Super Healthy kids, where I could pick the week's menu, print out a grocery list, and just follow the plan! Easy and brainless.
For us moms and dads with babies, eating meals can be a struggle. Sitting in a calm state and chewing our food slowly... wait, what?! I feel that the importance of sitting down as a family everyday trumps everything else, but that often means I don't get to eat my meal in a calm state and end up eating way too fast. I won't go into the messy details, but I am sure you get the picture.
Changing your mindset can be an eye opening experience. Learning why are you doing the things that are driving you into constant high stress and burnout. Why are you always wanting more, achieving more difficult things, always reaching for the next big thing? It can be reasons that you have control over and things that you don't have that much control over. I didn't have a choice. I just had to manage, hoping the day would come that I could breath. It took years and I wish I had the wisdom to take mini-breaks just for me. Lock myself in a hotel and spend few days just by myself. In fact, that sound pretty alright to me right now.
I wish I had shown the same kindness and care I'd given my good friend. Say hello to Self-Compassion.
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? Dr. Kristin Neff
You may be totally new to self-compassion concept, like I was until few months ago. Imagine you are with a good dear friend and you are telling her/him about your hardship. See the gentle, understanding, loving look in her eyes? That is compassion. Now, Imagine you could feel the same gentleness, understanding and love towards yourself. That is self-compassion. If you are having hard time imagining this, it is a sign that you may need to work on this area. I can highly recommend Dr. Kristin Neff's work (link below).
Quick story about my plantar fasciitis injury. Last october I injured my left foot. I've tried everything from needles to shockwave therapy. Very painful treatments to a very painful injury. I am constantly on my feet (or was until Covid19 down) and rest is not in the books. Then I stumbled across few people who convinced me to shift my mindset about injury. Instead of hating my heel for being sore, I started to think of it lovingly. I literally started talking to it. When I felt pain "It's ok. You're just a bit sore. It will be ok, don't freak out." then rub it with aromatherapy lotion called "Love". Yeah, I know, very cheesy. I shifted my mindset from negative to positive. I started meditations, imagining love streaming through my body and into the heel.
And crazy as shit (pardon my french), something started to shift. I am not 100% rid of the plantar fasciitis yet, but it is getting there! Unbelievable! I am doing rehab work, but more than anything I believe it is the mindsight that i did about pain and showing self-compassion instead of tough love, that made a huge difference.
“The love and attention you always thought you wanted from someone else, is the love and attention you first need to give to yourself.” –Bryant McGillns
Can you show some compassion to yourself, what ever you are going through? Instead of pushing through, can you slow down, take a breath, dig deep into your emotions, recognize self-compassion in you. Be your own best friend. It's a powerful feeling if you just let it in.
Now, don't mistake self-compassion with a permission to get lazy. It takes hard work to show yourself compassion. For me, getting up early to meditate, rub my feet, foam roll and write has been crucial. If I don't get to do these things early in the morning, my whole day gets thrown off and I feel anxious and cranky. But if sleep is what your body needs, then sleep in and take a mini break to show yourself compassion during the day or after kids are in bed. For me, I just know that will not happen, and by the time they are sleeping, I am out!
Dear friend, I hope this helps you to find a loving way out of your burn out.
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” – Etty Hillesum