Updated: Oct 14, 2022
The intention of this blog series is to bring more awareness to burnout, to make it more tangible vs something that happens to someone out there and not to us, to recognise how burnout could be showing up in our life and what steps we can take to recover from it.
In this post we'll have a look at how stress plays a part in burnout, why burnout doesn't affect everyone, and how to stop comparing our level of energy with others. To catch up on part one of the series, which focuses on what burnout is and its warning signs, click here.
As we mentioned in the previous post, burnout can develop in the context of work, parenting, relationships, over-responsibility, or helper syndrome (although only burnout connected to work is classified as a syndrome under ICD-11!), but no matter in which environment it comes up for you, it's connected to long-term stress, being out of alignment and/or overworking.
Most of us are under constant stress
Let's have a quick look at what stress is: we use the term quite regularly in our everyday life, but apart from knowing that it's bad for us, are we actually aware of how and why it shows up in our bodies? Dr. Joe Dispenza's work on stress is amazing, so in this article, I'll be mostly summarising his research in order for us to get a better understanding of it.
According to him, stress is a normal 'program' that runs in our body. "Feelings of stress were developed in every organism in nature, including humans, so that we could adapt more easily. We all have a 'program' for short-term stress and therefore resources (meaning energy) we need for critical situations."
The moment we notice a threat in our environment - this could be a real danger (a car driving towards us without slowing down when we're crossing the street) or imaginary danger (when we hold a presentation in front of a group of people and we're scared to death, but objectively speaking there's no real danger to our life), a "fight or flight" reaction gets triggered in our sympathetic nervous system:
♥️ our heart rate and blood pressure increase
💪 muscles tighten and
🧬 hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) flood our bodies...
...so that we can get ready to either escape or fight our enemy.
Sounds familiar right?
This short-term reaction is absolutely normal and necessary for our safety when we are in actual dangerous situations: this is what gives us that extra dose of energy that allows us to "fight or flight".
Once the danger passes our bodies go back to homeostasis, which is a "normal, balanced state." Our body is only supposed to be out of balance for a short amount of time until the danger passes.
Since we still have the same 'program' running as back in the caveman days, we react in the same way to stressful situations in our everyday lives, only now it's not the tiger that's chasing us, but other things our mind has classified as "dangerous" (fear of abandonment in our romantic relationships, tight deadlines and expectations at work, holding a presentation in front of people...) - they all feel like life or death situations.
In fact, according to Dr. Joe Dispenza, most of us are NOT in homeostasis, in the balanced state we're supposed to be in the majority of the time, but in long-term stress or constant survival mode, typical for the 21. century.
Now, when we're under stress for a longer amount of time that uses up a lot of our energy. Imagine a battery that starts with 100% charge: the more stress we're under, the quicker we use up our energy and the emptier the battery gets, so we can end up functioning at 10% of our energy in our daily lives.
When we're under constant stress, we have "less energy for growth, renewal of our cells and for healing since the majority of the energy is used up elsewhere for defense purposes. Our immune and endocrine systems get weakened /.../, so it doesn't come as a surprise that long-term stress is related to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, ulcer, colds, flu, etc. No organism in nature was designed to survive the consequences of long-term stress."
To put this in the context of burnout: when we experience burnout, we've been exposed to stress for prolonged periods of time, which causes us to continuously lose our energy and weakens our bodies.
Stress is caused by negative thoughts
Now we understand that stress is a reaction to perceived (real or imaginary) danger in our environment.
As mentioned above, the majority of us are constantly under stress: not because of a real dangerous situation in our outer world, but a non-threatening / often fictional danger that we keep replaying over and over in our inner world (like watching a movie with a bad ending), which is triggered by our negative thoughts, limiting beliefs, unconscious programming, fears, worries, etc. For more about this, I invite you to read the section "What causes burnout" in part one of this blog series.
Dr. Joe Dispenza says that stress in the modern day is "caused by negative thoughts that elicit constant emotional reactions that drain our energy."
This is how you can picture it:
🧠 Limiting beliefs & negative thoughts & unconscious programming elicit
😟 constant emotional reactions (fear, anxiety, sadness, anger...), which elicit
🚨 constant stress, which elicits
Why burnout doesn't affect everyone, although we could be in the same environment
You may be wondering why you are experiencing burnout, while your co-workers, friends, partner aren't and what that means about you.
Burnout often brings up a lot of comparison and self-judgments, which is why we have to be particularly compassionate with ourselves as we're recovering from it.
I know it may be seductive to compare ourselves with others, but when it comes to burnout any comparison is meaningless.
We're not only inherently different (no two people on this planet are the same!), but we always have to look at the bigger context. We:
have different personalities, personality characteristics, and coping mechanisms
have different life circumstances
have different internal drivers / motivation (for example, a 3 and 8 in the Enneagram are trying to find acknowledgment through outer success, while the 4 and 9 are looking for emotional stability and inner peace)
have different levels of joy, playfulness, and inspiration towards the work we do
respond differently to stressors
have different resources and tools for coping with stressful situations, different levels of emotional mastery, and setting boundaries
research shows that "it's possible that individuals who are more prone to experiencing higher levels of anxiety (trait anxiety) are also more likely to develop burnout as well." (Koutsimani et al., 2019).
Comparison (whether it comes from ourselves or others) leads to self-criticism, and judgments towards ourselves, such as:
👉 we're not as productive / energetic / tough
👉 we're not able to work as well under pressure
👉 we're weaker for experiencing burnout while our coworkers / spouses don't (even though we're in a similar situation)...
... which hurts us even more and robs us of even more energy that we already desperately need.
When I worked in my old marketing job, all the junior account managers had a pretty similar workload and we worked in a similar environment. But how come I experienced burnout and my colleagues didn't?
Well, working there was absolutely out of alignment for me. The work brought me very little pleasure, I was feeling disconnected from what I was doing, had no real interest in the topic, I felt stuck somewhere I didn't want to be, and trapped in the 9-6 lifestyle and I had lost all my joy and creativity.
But that was me and my truth.
My coworkers, on the other hand, loved marketing, didn't have a problem with the 9-6 work week, found their projects (mostly) exciting, kept on coming up with creative ideas and initiatives, didn't mind working overtime and even when they did, they weren't completely exhausted...
You see how it's not about comparing ourselves to others, but comparing our current reality with our desired reality. And if our desired reality is miles away from our current reality that just means we have some work to do around the inner blocks (limiting beliefs, fears, unconscious programming, setting boundaries, etc.) that have prevented us to create our desired reality.
So put your focus away from others and just be honest with yourself:
Where are you out of alignment with your truth? What do you really want? Is this really where you want to be and what you want to be doing?
What are you afraid may happen if you slow down?
The way out of burnout is coming back into our alignment
Burnout doesn't mean that we are weaker / less productive / less energetic and it doesn't mean anything else about us. What it does mean is that WE are out of alignment with ourselves, our truth, our body and that at some point WE have self-abandoned our needs for rest and recovery.
In fact, when we're IN alignment, it's like we're hooked on a different source of energy: you'll know this from the times when you get lost in whatever you are doing because it's fun, exciting, time flies by, you're in a state of FLOW and it seems like you have endless levels of energy.
Alignment simply means that what we're doing feels good, easy, light, and spacious. It feels like we're going with the current vs against the current.
And it's not only possible to feel that, it's our natural state and what we're supposed to be experiencing! It's just that we have layers and layers of societal conditioning that has tried to convince us that what doesn't feel good in our body is supposed to be good for us (for example: "you have to stick it through, no one likes their job") and what feels good is actually bad for us (for example: "work can't be fun, you can't make money by doing something you love").
This is why recovery from burnout is a process: there are deeper layers that need healing, not just our exhausted body. We'll talk more about that in the next post, which will focus on how to recover from burnout and how to course-correct if you feel yourself slipping into the old patterns.
Deepening the work on burnout
If you happen to be experiencing burnout right now (whether it's mild or severe), know that your experience is valid, that this means nothing about you, and that this is just your body letting you know that you need rest and realignment. ✨
And know that there is so much support for you if that's something you want. I'll be hosting a powerful workshop Overcome Burnout And Get Back Your Passion & Energy, where we'll be diving deeper into healing & recovering from burnout, including:
✨ reprograming what’s been unconsciously driving you to burn out & overextend yourself
✨ forgiving any judgments towards yourself (for being weak, for wanting and needing rest, for burning out in the first place…)
✨ recharging and replenishing your energy
✨ recognizing your burnout warning signs so you’ll be able to know when you’ve pushed your body, mind & soul beyond your limits and start to counterbalance sooner
✨ recognizing and implementing your self-care & nourishment practices to start recovering from burnout
You're welcome to join us on the 28. September if this calls you or share this article or workshop with someone in your life whom you think it may benefit! 🙏
With all my love & gratitude
Catch up on previous posts from the series
1️⃣ First part: Understanding Burnout And Recognizing The Warning Signs
3️⃣ Third part: How To Recover From Burnout
Joe Dispenza, You Are The Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter, 2018.
Koutsimani et al. The Relationship Between Burnout, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Psychology. 2019, Volume 10.