Do you feel like a candle burning at both ends? Are your eyes on fire most of the time? Do you feel disoriented? Is it hard to move your body?
You may be experiencing Burnout.
One day, I was driving in my car during my last semester of the Master’s program of physical therapy school. I suddenly didn’t know where I was. By that, I mean it felt like I was in a different town. I was disoriented and recognized nothing around me. I had never seen the buildings. The signs with the names of the roads were foreign to me. Didn’t know where I just came from or where I was going.
Driving the car was not a problem. I was just confused and could not make sense of my surroundings. I was scared and immediately began to pray. I grabbed my cell phone and called my husband to explain what was going on. He asked me to pull over and breathe for a few minutes. I pulled into a parking lot and saw a big sign with the name of a massage studio that, unfortunately, I do not remember or I would be publicly thanking her! I called my husband to let him know I was going to get a massage and would call him back in an hour. I got out of the car and sort of floated in as if sleepwalking.
The woman greeted me and said she was about to close, to which I said,” I really need a massage because I feel really disoriented and in my last semester of PT school”. She quickly escorted me into a beautiful room and began an hour of gentle loving massage and spent a lot of time on my belly. During that hour I cried and felt like I was going back into my body. The massage therapist told me I was not sleeping enough, eating poorly, studying too much, and stressing out. I asked her why no one else seemed to be experiencing this and she responded, “Who else has 3 small children, a husband, and is 40 years old in your Master’s program?” I smiled and said, “No one”. She smiled back and said in her beautiful Mobile, AL accent, “Y’all burned out honey. It’s time to start taking care of yourself”. That was my first experience with Burnout.
In the early ’70s, Herbert Freudenberger coined the term Burnout.
He was a child survivor of the Holocaust and then went to live with an uncaring aunt that had him live in the attic. He ran away when he was a teenager and later became a successful psychologist in N.Y.’s Upper West Side. He worked 12 hours a day and then went to a bad part of town, the Bowery, to assist young people till 2:00 am. One day, his family was preparing to go on a vacation, but Herbert could not physically move from his bed. His analytical mind kicked in and he began to wonder what was happening to him. It was not just exhaustion and it was not just depression. Something new was occurring. He decided to self-analyze himself and began to speak into a tape recorder for two hours than listen to his recordings.
These are his words from the recordings: “I don’t know how to have fun. I don’t know how to be readily joyful”.
When he heard his own words, his mind went to the drug addicts down on the Bowery with their blank looks and their cigarettes burning out. So he wrote the book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. High achievers and the young people on the Bowery were both similar to him. Mr. Freudenberger said, “Burnout really is a response to stress. It’s a response to frustration. It’s a response to a demand that an individual may make upon themself in terms of a requirement for perfectionism or drive”.
“I don’t know how to have fun or be readily joyful” these words for Herbert changed his whole life.
The key to preventing burnout is balance.
Picture yourself sitting on the center of a seesaw. On one side there are your stressors (work, family responsibilities, bills…) on the other side there are your stress relievers (activities that create fun and let you feel joy). Which way is your seesaw tilting? Which side is pulling? Have you forgotten what is fun and joyful? Here’s an easy powerful list of fun and joy to choose from:
- Date night, girls/guys night out (see previous blog)
- Laughing out loud
- Watching funny movies
- Walking on the beach
- Playing with your animals
- Playing with small children
- Playing board games
- Jumping on a trampoline
Are we demanding too much from ourselves and seeking the unrealistic goal of perfection? Let’s listen to our bodies as they scream for our help. Today, let’s honor the fact that we create burnout. In the same breath, let’s agree to balance our lives by adding more joy and laughter to the other end of our seesaw.
With Love and Health,
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