Many, if not most people, identify with experiencing some degree of burnout. To varying degrees we all face the stress of everyday life, work, relationships, and family. Not to mention, we are also surviving a pandemic! Burnout is a miserable concoction created from emotional exhaustion, depleting compassion, chronic stress, and the belief that nothing you do makes any difference in the world. When these ingredients come together, it makes it difficult to be present in relationships, in sex, and in life. In other words, burnout isn’t sexy. We cannot talk about burnout without addressing stress because burnout and stress love to walk hand in hand.
Let’s talk about stress, Baby!
We’ve all felt it, and some of us can’t get away from it. Stress is a body response to internal or external stressors. Stressors come in all shapes and sizes including self-criticism, body image, time, money, work, memories, discrimination, oppression and really anything else that plagues your happiness. Dr. Emily Nagoski makes the comparison to seeing a lion (in the wild not in a zoo) and being flooded with a stress response in order to achieve survival. Your instincts might lead you to run in order to escape the threat. Or they could lead you to fight in order to defeat the threat. But what happens when you can’t escape or defeat the lion? What happens when the lion is your jerk boss you see at work every day? When you have to pretend to like the lion in order to keep your job? And even though you get to escape the lion at the end of day, how do you face the lion tomorrow and every day after? This my friends, is how chronic stressors turn into chronic stress.
6 Ways to Complete the Stress Response Cycle
It makes sense to feel stuck in this sequence of facing, suppressing, and recovering from daily stressors. If you can relate to the experience of chronic stress (aka facing your lion every day), there are specific things you can do to start completing the stress response cycle.
Physical activity. This is the single most efficient strategy for addressing stress. If you were being chased by a lion you would run. If you’re being followed by daily stressors run, or walk, or dance, or ride a bike, or do any other movement that leads to breathing deeply. Physical activity is what tells your brain you have successfully survived the threat and now your body is safe to relax.
Breathe. Breathing grounds us. It reconnects us to our bodies. It helps re-center the mind away from the distressing thoughts or situations, and brings a renewed state of calm. A technique to practice next time you face your lion is called square breathing. Inhale through your nose slowly counting to 4. Hold at the top of the breath for a slow count of 4. Gently exhale through your mouth slowly counting to 4. Then, at the bottom of the breath, pause and hold while slowly counting to 4. Then go back to step one and complete this cycle until you feel grounded.
Positive social interaction. Turns out that something as simple as saying “Have a nice day!” to the cashier at the grocery store reminds your brain that the world is a safe place. You can try this with your cashier, neighbor, or even your dog. These small acts of kindness can help you feel connected and it even helps them in return.
Laughter and affection. Let’s take that positive social interaction up a notch. Being connected with someone you love is another reminder that the world isn’t all bad. Have a laugh with someone you love or reminisce together about funny memories. Share a hug with someone you feel safe with. When you hug, try to both support your own weight and hold on to one another for 20 seconds. Research shows a hug lasting this long can have physical and mental health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and improving your mood.
Have a good cry. We are told: “Don’t cry.” “Don’t be sad.” We tell ourselves: “Keep it together.” “Just let it go.” Well sometimes, in order to “let it go,” we have to allow ourselves to feel the emotions within us. Tears are cleansing for the soul. Even watching your favorite tearjerker movie can guide your body through the emotional cycle.
Creative expression. When you can’t put it into words, put it onto paper, into color, into a melody, into clay, or into movement. In whatever medium attracts you, channel the stress out from your body. This expression does not need to look or be “perfect”. You might be surprised at what you learn from seeing your internal experience portrayed onto a physical space.
If you take away anything from this collection, please know that you are not alone in the experience of being chronically stressed and burned out. Please know that you do not have to continue to grind through it alone. If any of this information felt helpful or elevated a burden you have been carrying, a portion of this information comes from the book ‘Burnout’ by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. It is a life changing read, particularly for people who identify as women. If you are interested in having help addressing chronic stress and burnout check out our list of therapists here.
Skylar Naron is an LPC- Associate, passionate about helping people let go of shame in order to feel a greater sense of self-love. Her clients may be experiencing body image issues, pain during sex, religious sexual shame, a loss of intimacy, or sexual anxiety. Skylar empowers her clients to let go of negative thoughts patterns in order to adopt new affirming beliefs about themselves. She believes in the healing power of mindfulness practices and implements these techniques into her work with clients.
If you are interested in working with Skylar, you can schedule an appointment online or call the office at 512-994-2588 and ask to be scheduled with Skylar.