To me, burnout is that feeling of constant depletion; perpetually trying to pour from an empty vessel. It’s so interesting that “soldier on” and “grin and bear it” are such common phrases when we talk about burnout, or feelings in general. However, unless we acknowledge and validate our feelings, we end up creating a pipeline for emotional bypass that can sometimes pass as resilience. What might look like resilience and “bouncing back,” can actually be suppressed and repressed emotions. That’s when burnout can get ugly.
These suppressed and repressed feelings (that have now piled up over years and years of “soldiering on”) can manifest themselves as back pain, sleeplessness, overeating, anxiety and even depression. We end up living in a world of pressure, overwhelm, stress and frustration and chalk it up to “well, it’s just the way it is.” But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we cannot be effective in our jobs if we come from a place of exhaustion, pressure, and overwhelm. So, here are 4 things you can do to move from emotional bypass to resilience, in the true sense of the word.
1 – Notice what is happening in your body. Thoughts happen in your mind, and feelings exist in the body. Our body talks to us all the time. The problem is that we are not always great listeners. What does your body feel like when it’s feeling stress and overwhelm? Do you notice an increase in your heart rate? Do you sweat? Is there tightness in your chest? Do you experience headaches? When you start to notice these things in your body, it is time to pause and pay attention.
2 – Feel your feelings. It is safe to feel your feelings and feelings are always better out than in. Unfortunately, this has become an incredibly undernourished part of our humanness for a number of reasons including a fear of being seen as weak or too emotional. In fact, humans are feeling beings that think, instead of the other way around. Honor your emotions and create space to feel and release them by giving yourself permission to cry, scream, or even punch a pillow. You can’t think through your feelings; you have to feel through them.
3 – Calm your nervous system. Now that the feelings have run their course, it is necessary to bring your nervous system back to a parasympathetic state of calm. One of the best strategies to do this is purposeful breathing. Try three rounds of a box breath (inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, and hold for 4. Notice how you feel after the breathing exercise. Calm? More at ease? Relaxed? More focused? Your nervous system is much happier now.
4 – Make a new choice. Feelings are simply neurocircuitry and chemical processes that occur in your brain. Once the circuitry of that feeling has run its course (which takes about 90 seconds), you have the ability to choose a new thought to create a new feeling. As the neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor says, “Peace is only a thought away.” This means you need to spend some time figuring out how you actually want to feel. What’s one action that aligns with that feeling? Do that.
While this work does not take away the stressors (external) of the situations in work and in your personal life, it does shine a light on your agency in how you get to experience your life. You do not have to fall victim to your external circumstances. Instead, you can decide how you want to feel, notice when your body is not in alignment with that feeling, feel through the current feeling, calm down your nervous system, and then make a different choice. This is how you move towards empowered thinking and resilience, which ultimately allows you to show up as your best self, both at work and at home.