Stop “Should-ing” All Over Yourself: People, as a whole, are very hard on themselves. We have incredibly high expectations for ourselves and put an unattainable amount of tasks on our list. When we fall short, because we are human, we beat ourselves up with the “shoulds.”
Millions of Americans are returning back to work after being home during the pandemic. While this has been exciting for many, some are feeling burned out by their work. What do you do if you are feeling burned out by your work? How do you reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back”? What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
In this interview series called “Beating Burnout: 5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout,” we are talking to successful business leaders, HR leaders and mental health leaders who can share insights from their experience about how we can “Beat Burnout.”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Andrea Rosario
Dr. Andrea Rosario, DC, DACNB, is a functional neurologist and functional medicine doctor. In her private practice, she helps people with chronic, complicated conditions to discover the root cause of their suffering and guides their recovery with natural solutions. Through her online outreach at Teach Them Well, she teaches specifically on the topic of helping burnt out women escape “fight or flight” and reset their body chemistry for calm.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Of course! As a tail-end Gen-Xer, I grew up in a simpler time. You could stay out until dusk playing in the park with friends, and as long as you avoided the creepy guy in the van and definitely did not pet his puppy, you didn’t have to worry much about safety. Not tied to a screen, a phone, or helicopter parents, there was a sense of freedom and presence that I can still tangibly feel to this day.
As beautiful as that experience was, my childhood was anything but carefree. In the early years, my mom was vibrant, fun, engaged, and present as a parent. However, she and my dad had a tumultuous relationship, to put it mildly. Shortly after she had my little brother, Chris, my mom and dad divorced.
Mom became a single, working mom. Juggling all her responsibilities at home and what started as relatively minor health struggles, she was getting massively burned out in a toxic and grueling work environment. Within a matter of a couple of years, my mom went from vibrant to bed-bound. She ended up having to retire on disability.
She had developed Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome before they had a medical diagnosis for such things. Back in those days, the condition was considered to be “all in your head,” which led to some pretty significant depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.
The daily stress in the house was palpable. We were living off of 24,000 dollars per year from disability retirement. Mom spent days at a time in bed, sleeping. My brother, Chris, and I lived with no supervision most days. We ate ice cream out of the container and sodas all day, every day. Our house became the “cool” house to hang at because we had all the junk food and no rules. As a result, our once neat and tidy home spiraled into total disarray.
By the time my brother was 8-years-old, he had ulcers from the constant stress. By the time I was 8-years-old, I had developed autoimmune thyroid disease. I guess you could say that I know, first hand, the devastating effects burnout can have on not only the person who gets burned out but also their entire family and ecosystem.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My mom was my inspiration to pursue my career. The care she got (or didn’t get) also inspired me. In the beginning, I knew I wanted to be a doctor who cared. A doctor who solved complicated health problems. A doctor who didn’t throw 40 prescription pills per day at the problem just to band-aid the symptoms.
Living in California at the time, there was one legal avenue for that kind of doctor, and that was to become a chiropractor. I dove in headfirst. To get my Bachelor’s Degree in Human Biology, I had to do a thesis. Mine was, again, inspired by my mother. It was on the topic of Fibromyalgia and the connection to Autonomic Nervous System dysfunction. Translation: People with fibromyalgia are stuck in “fight or flight” mode in their nervous systems. You could call getting stuck in “fight or flight” burnout, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
I loved the education I got as a chiropractor. It was a great springboard for my dive into functional medicine (a whole body approach that focuses on finding and addressing the root cause of a person’s health struggles). I later earned a diplomate in functional neurology, which identifies and addresses ways in which the various lobes in the brain are functioning, communicating, and how appropriately neurons are firing.
I needed this combination of specialties to eventually specialize in helping burnt out women escape “fight or flight” mode and reset their body chemistry for calm. It’s my life’s work. I get the honor and the privilege to help families take a different path than mine was forced to take.
I am sorry it had to be this way for my momma and our family, but I am thankful every day for the experience that allows me to understand this important topic, on so many levels.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely! I have a handful of people that I could mention, but I think none would be more impactful than my grandparents. Growing up, every summer and holiday vacation, Chris and I went to my grandparents’ home in the mountains. In their home, we had a routine that was calm and caretakers that were present. My grandma and grandpa loved us so much. But, so did my mom. We were never lacking in love. It was presence and routine that were powerfully pulling Chris and me out of survival mode- year after year, vacation after vacation. Because of this experience, presence and routine became important tools in helping people escape their own burnout or “fight or flight” survival mode.
Eventually, my grandparents sold their dream home in the mountains to move back to the city across the street from my childhood home to help. They helped us have a prepared dinner around the table every night, helped Chris and me with homework, drove us to school, and kept an eye on the home that had become the “hang out house” for all the neighborhood kids.
They taught me lessons that have served me well in life and business. Grandma taught me how to be an incredible nurturer. Grandpa taught me how to find humor in difficult situations. I couldn’t imagine where I would be without them.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Before I learned functional medicine, I opened a traditional chiropractic business, built from scratch. I ran an advertisement for very inexpensive massages to bring new people through my door. Since I found the massage therapists I hired to be extremely flakey, I ended up giving many massages myself.
One day, a man hopped on the table for his massage, and I quickly realized that I didn’t have any more massage lotion. The only thing I could find that was lotion-like is the near equivalent of Icy Hot. Meh. Should be okay! By the end of the massage, he had goosebumps from head to toe. I knew I made a mistake so I called him later that day to check on him. He was still freezing under blankets, but only after trying to take a shower to wash the lotion off. Apparently, the “Hot” part of the “Icy Hot” ignites in the shower. Who knew?
Surprisingly, he returned for another massage. I offered him two additional free massages as an apology. My lesson? It’s better to be honest and apologize for being unprepared than to pretend you’ve got everything under control and accidentally make someone suffer.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” –Joseph Campbell
Matching my nature with Nature was a huge component in my biggest healing breakthrough. I was in a busy, chaotic lifestyle and I got burnt out. When I pared everything back to save my health, I began to hear something I never heard before. I was listening to the rhythms of Nature and syncing up with it. The seasons dictated what I ate, the speed at which I operated, how I took care of my body, how I worked, and how I learned. It’s when I realized that living in a perpetual summer is synonymous with burnout and healing always begins with Autumn and releasing of what doesn’t serve you. Nature has been my best teacher in how to keep my life balanced and vibrant.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am beyond excited about a project I am debuting in mid-September 2021! It’s something that has been in my heart to do for 10 years.
I am leading burnt out women through their healing path by helping them balance their nervous system and body chemistry to create internal calm. This will be a low-cost membership that will include some health education, a community of support, the ability to connect with me to get their questions answered, and, most importantly, illuminating the next gentle steps to shift the trajectory of their life from burnt out to vibrant.
I am particularly excited to offer this because, generally, getting functional medicine care is expensive and rarely covered by insurance. Having grown up poor myself, I know that there are women and families that need this kind of help but it’s out of their reach financially. This is a way I can help more people find meaningful improvements in their lives and the lives of their families.
The membership is called Nourished Rhythms, and I believe it will be a beautiful space for healing. I can hardly wait for it to come to fruition!
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I often have joked with my husband that every time I get a tiny bit cocky, the universe laughs and serves me up a big slice of humble pie. As I mentioned earlier, I have an autoimmune thyroid condition, which means if I am in a flare, I pack on the pounds, lose my hair, can’t string sentences together, and feel like a lump on a log. I’ve been in and out of flares most of my life. But, after finding functional medicine and healing myself and many others, I found myself in a 7-year long remission. My nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle were all dialed in and I was thriving.
I decided I could expand my office staff by 5 times what it previously was, have a 3rd baby that I could totally nurse between patients, and, not too long after that, move into a house that was a fixer-upper with amazing potential and a hidden mold problem. Imagine my surprise when I found myself burnt out, in another autoimmune flare, 60 pounds heavier despite the same diet and lifestyle, and unable to improve my health no matter what I tried. I am still healing from that bout of cockiness, but I am grateful that it taught me that diet, exercise, and supplements can get you so far, but your lifestyle is EVERYTHING for long-term success.
The humility I exercise allows me to listen to people, not judge them, not over-promise, and to be honest when I don’t know the answer. People really appreciate those attributes. They promote trust, which is a key ingredient for healing and for business.
Whenever I am in a transaction with another person or entity, it always has to be a win-win. I don’t take advantage of situations or people. Going out of your way to make sure everything is fair and mutually beneficial creates the most authentic relationships, in business-business, doctor-patient, and provider-customer.
I have a contractor that has been working with me for 7 years. She is a win-win operator, as well. We are constantly looking out for each other’s best interest. She treats my business as if it is her own. She works on her days off, too often, I suspect. When I catch her doing that, she always says, “It’s nothing. There was just something that needed to be done. It’s fine.”. Sometimes this leaves me scrambling trying to make sure I reciprocate. We will both be there for each other forever. As sure as the day is long!
The loyalty that pours from making fairness a conscious decision helps all relationships blossom into goodwill. It’s lovely, and is something I highly recommend!
Whether it is exploring deeper into education in your expertise, the field of business, or the development of your character and mindset, curiosity is an absolute must for a successful business. Being in business takes a lot of trial and error, patience, dedication, and flexibility. If you aren’t curious about how to make things better, you go stagnant and so does your business growth. When things go wrong, as they inevitably will, you have to view it as a mystery and get curious about finding solutions.
Thinking quickly on your feet when the muck hits the fan is a skill that derives from constantly exercising curiosity. A mindset of “there is one pathway to execute my dream business” is destined to fail. If you own a business where everything went smoothly and according to plan, your business is called a unicorn. Get curious about alternative routes.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
Being brought up in a home that was devastatingly affected by severe burnout of our single mom helps inform my understanding of the ripple effect it can have beyond just the person suffering the burnout firsthand. Having personally experienced severe burnout and having experienced recovery, I know the vibrancy that can emerge from the dark overwhelm of survival mode.
As a functional neurologist and functional medicine doctor, I understand the brain wiring and body chemistry that is occurring when a person considers themselves to be burnt out. I know how to change the physiology to shift a person out of that vicious cycle. And, finally, having worked with hundreds of patients who are in “fight or flight” survival mode, I understand how multifactorial and unique the circumstances are that got them trapped in this loop. Because of all of these experiences, I have complete confidence that there are tried and true methods that are universal in shifting a person toward a better quality of life- from burnout to vibrancy.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about beating burnout. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Burnout”? Can you explain?
As a functional neurologist, when I hear people say they are burnt out, overwhelmed, exhausted, drowning, anxious, or stressed out, those all prompt me to consider that the person may be stuck in “fight or flight”. When a person is chronically stressed out or experiences trauma, it can send your nervous system into a state of survival mode.
When your brain is in this survival mode, it creates real physiological changes in your body. Your body kicks out adrenaline which can create anxiety, change your heart rate and blood pressure, and because that adrenaline comes from your adrenal glands, they simultaneously excrete cortisol. Cortisol is known as your stress hormone but is also the hormone that wakes you up and keeps you alert throughout the day. So, if your adrenals are always pumping out adrenaline AND cortisol, it will negatively affect your circadian rhythm. That creates sleep disturbances, but also blood sugar regulation issues, faulty hunger signaling, and inflammation. That inflammation leads to brain functioning issues, like brain fog, memory issues, lack of motivation, trouble focusing, and more. Inflammation also leads to body aches and pains. Certain inflammatory markers disrupt your brain’s ability to calm your “fight or flight” sympathetic tone and your body asks for more adrenaline from the adrenal glands because it’s needed when you are in survival mode. The cycle starts at the beginning again. And, around and around it goes!
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
The opposite of burnout would look like vibrancy and resiliency. You would experience calmness within, presence, clarity of thought, and motivation. Your hormone systems, unburdened by the negative effects of cortisol, would hum like a well-oiled machine. You would have an abundance of energy because not only are you getting deep, healing, restful sleep, you are also properly digesting food, breaking it down into all the nutrients that feed every cell in your body. Endurance is plentiful, both mentally and physically. Your productivity and impact go sky-high in all areas of your life.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Some sceptics may argue that burnout is a minor annoyance and we should just “soldier on’’ and “grin and bear it.” Can you please share a few reasons why burnout can have long-term impacts on our individual health, as well as the health and productivity of our society?
That vicious cycle I described earlier when you asked me what burnout means to me? Well, it is not an easy cycle to escape. The longer the person stays in that “fight or flight” mode in their body, the more it becomes like a well-traveled trail in their brain wiring and body’s chemistry. It becomes rather hard-wired as time goes on. It is not irreversible in most people, but it does get harder and harder to escape the cycle, and the tendency to not have a lot of resiliency before reaching burnout again, often remains long term.
That can eventually lead to chronic diseases like heart disease, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, migraines, mood disorders, PTSD, arthritis, diabetes, and increased susceptibility to cancer due to chronic inflammation.
From a productivity standpoint, the brain implications, alone, should make you take pause. Who wants an unmotivated, unfocused, anxious worker with poor memory? One who gets easily overwhelmed when an unexpected or intense situation arrives? How about one that is hypersensitive to the lighting, sounds, and smells in your office building? One that chronically arrives late or takes regular sick days because their brain won’t allow them to achieve any level of restorative sleep so they can’t drag their themselves out of bed in the morning? That’s what you are going to get if you expect your worker to “soldier on.”
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
From a macro level, there are societal triggers. For men, the expectation that they can’t ask for help, that showing emotion is “weakness,” that they have to be responsible for the role of protector at all times, and have the pressure of being a decent breadwinner and to contribute more to the running of a family than they have in the past. For women, they are juggling the primary responsibility for running a well-functioning household, keeping their family healthy, well-fed, safe, happy, and supported, plus now they need to excel at a career where they are often undervalued and disrespected, they live in a continuous state of alertness of their surroundings for safety reasons, all while enduring the pressure to physically look the part to be “valued” in our society.
During childhood, especially during the first 5 years, if there are traumas or other unfortunate experiences, it affects brain development in a way that puts children in the “fight or flight” loop early on. This makes their stress resiliency lower, just by way of the wiring they developed from the start. To learn more about this, you can look more at Kaiser Permanente’s study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how certain experiences in childhood are indicators of chronic illness later in life. I propose it is in large part due to the physiological processes that happen when you get into “fight or flight” survival mode, as I described earlier.
In adulthood, depending on the person’s individual stress resiliency, months or years operating under chronic stress can put them into the “fight or flight” burnout loop and makes it so their nervous system cannot tell a red flag from a butterfly. Unsupportive, abusive, or toxic relationships can contribute to burnout. Living a hyper-busy, go go go lifestyle can do so as well.
Another common contributor in adulthood is physical ailments that land you straight into that vicious cycle. Inflammation is probably the most common contributor. This often comes from food sensitivities (even healthy foods) or poor food choices. Stress, blood sugar issues, and environmental toxins also cause inflammation. This is just skimming the surface.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. What can an individual do if they are feeling burned out by work? How does one reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back?” Can you please share your “5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout?”. (Please share a story or an example for each.)
- Use Routines Strategically to Shift Your Brain to Calm
Anyone who has taken care of children knows that they thrive with a routine. If they are off routine, everyone pays the price because they cannot regulate their nervous systems well without security and predictability. We, adults, are actually the same. The only difference is we can self-regulate better, so we (often) aren’t resorting to temper tantrums, but our inner environment is not calm and does not thrive without rhythms and routines.
You can perform certain activities that you can perform as a short routine before you sleep at night and before your meals that will shift your body into “rest and digest” parasympathetic mode. These activities effectively give your nervous system a rest from the “fight or flight”/burnout dominance. Choose 1–3 of the following activities to do before bed and each of your main meals: breathe with a 1:2 cadence (exhale is twice as long as the inhale); splash your face with cold water; hum a song or two; say grace, pray, meditate, practice gratitude.
If your job permits, block your day. Notice when you operate best in different styles of tasks. Are you more creative at certain times of the day? Can you more easily write during certain times of the day? Where is the part of the day where you struggle the most? Maybe that’s the best time to do mundane tasks like answering emails. As you tune into your daily pattern, try to create a rhythm that makes you feel like you are floating downstream with ease versus swimming upstream. Your productivity will skyrocket, and your nervous system will thank you!
2. Intentionally Exit the Perpetual Summer Lifestyle
The “Perpetual Summer” is a term I use to describe the “Go! Go! Go!” lifestyle we are conditioned to live in our society. It’s overscheduling the kids with activities. It’s saying yes when you have nothing left in your tank and should be saying no. It’s working at a pace that burdens your health and well-being. It’s not taking breaks or vacations, and glorifying being busy. It’s being hyper-independent and not asking for help.
I advise taking inventory of your day-to-day existence. What are the tasks that are repetitive and/or exhausting to you? At home and at work. Is there any way to delegate any of those tasks? Maybe they could be shared tasks with a teammate at work or hired help at home? Are there any opportunities for automating some of those tasks? Think about things like creating templates for common email responses or getting ready-made meals delivered. Which tasks that could you release? Do your windows really need to be cleaned weekly? Does every meal need to be 100% homemade and healthy 365-days-per-year? Where can you loosen up the pressure you are putting on yourself?
You can also exit the perpetual summer by going into the autumn of your soul, so to speak. What does not serve your best self? That includes people, habits, social obligations, physical items, unnecessary expenses. What if you released them? The trees in autumn release their leaves because they don’t help them in surviving the winter. They don’t hold onto them in fear. If they did, they would not be healthy. If you don’t intentionally release things that aren’t serving you, you won’t be healthy either. It can be a tough and painful process. That’s normal. Do it anyway. You will love the lightness you will feel on the other side.
3. Stop “Should-ing” All Over Yourself
People, as a whole, are very hard on themselves. We have incredibly high expectations for ourselves and put an unattainable amount of tasks on our list. When we fall short, because we are human, we beat ourselves up with the “shoulds.”
Didn’t nail that work assignment? Stop with the “I should have worked through the weekend,” or the “I should have used better wording when I presented my idea.” Not feeling the way you are looking in last year’s work pants? Stop with the “I should have worked out more this summer,” or “I should look hotter for my partner.” Pay attention to how much you should all over yourself. Constantly telling yourself you didn’t measure up is an internal stressor that will surely keep you in burnout. Make an effort to give yourself some grace and be cautious of the way you talk to yourself.
My brilliant coach, Christine Marie Jones, once shared an amazing strategy that helped me beyond anything else I can think of, and I want to share it with you. It is called “Ceilings and Floors.” Like the rest of you, I put an asinine amount of tasks in my planner to tackle each day. I never get them all done. Without fail, at the end of the day, I am filled with “shoulds.” Moments where I could have been more productive or got distracted. The “Ceilings and Floors” strategy goes like this: If you had the most productive day possible and everything went perfectly according to plan, you could tackle this list of tasks. This is your ceiling. If you did the absolutely necessary task(s) which, in your minds’ eye, will only take about ¼ of the time you have available to accomplish all your tasks today, what would that be? That is your floor. As long as you get your floor done, you are moving forward and should feel accomplished and proud. The rest will be there tomorrow to create a new ceiling and floor. It takes away the overwhelm and the stress you put on yourself, which leads to further burnout.
4. Get Some Vitamin N (Nature)
If you can, find some outdoor space near your work where you can escape your four walls and experience a bit of flora and fauna. Can you eat your lunch on a blanket on the grass? Or on a picnic table near some trees? Maybe take your shoes off and do some grounding on the grass? Grounding (aka Earthing) is a healing activity where you absorb electrons from the earth, and it helps to balance your physiology. It may sound like hogwash, but there are extensive studies on its health benefits. If it’s not an accommodating season where you live, they do sell grounding mats that have a similar effect. You can put them under your keyboard, under your desk where you rest your feet, and even under your feet and calves at night while you sleep.
If you can’t access the great outdoors during your work week, try to prioritize some Vitamin N during your weekend. If you can’t make it to the beach, river, lake, or mountains, a stroll through your local park or stepping outside to look up at the clouds or stargaze on a clear night can do wonders for calming your nervous system down.
5. Create an “Absolute Yes” and an “Absolute No” List
Last, but not least, this is one of my most valuable tools. I do it every season without fail. I call it my “Absolute Yes” and “Absolute No” list.
When I am looking at my life overall, I ask myself the following:
What fills my cup? What brings me joy? What sets me up for having a great day? What makes me feel my healthiest? Who brings the most enrichment to my life? What makes me feel loved and appreciated? These are my absolute yeses. They may not all get done daily, but they are all worked into my life so that I am energized, happy, and my needs are taken care of.
I also ask what habits and activities am I using to numb myself versus those that bring me joy? What foods or drinks am I consuming that I know my body doesn’t appreciate? What time do I need to go to bed to get a good night’s sleep? What treatment am I getting from people that is harmful or destructive? What are the time killers that I can eliminate? These are my absolute no’s. Eliminate as many as possible, as often as possible. Nothing is going to be perfect, so no “shoulding!” Perfectionism and shoulding are absolute no’s!
You can do this activity as an overall list for your life, but you can also make an “absolute yes” and an “absolute no” list on a micro level. I have built them specifically for work, family, fitness, food, finances, sleep time, morning time, mealtime, social/friend boundaries, etc. I go a little crazy with this every season, but I make it fun by making it a little mini-retreat. I spend that day doing things that make me happy, celebrate the season, mix in some self-pampering, and, yes, I brainstorm my life’s roadmap. It has served me so well, and I genuinely hope you try it out! Then, I advise you to share your lists with your supervisor (where appropriate) and your family. Let them support you. And, in the case of your family, encourage them to make a list of their own!
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout
Friends, family, and life partners can ask their burnt out loved one about their “Absolute Yes” and “Absolute No” lists. If they haven’t read this article and don’t know what that is, that’s okay. Questions you can ask include the following: What is the most stressful part of your day outside of work? What is one task you wish you didn’t have to do during the week? Are there any actions I could adjust that would bring you relief? What could you do on your days off that would help you unwind?
Then, brainstorm ways to be a part of the solution. Common struggles are dinner prep, messy home, chaotic mornings, kids in too many activities and needing a ride, needing a truly listening ear, and needing time to unwind after getting home from work. So, quick ideas: Start weekend food prep where the whole family or a group of friends is involved, so it’s fast and fun (music, dancing, laughing to change the feeling around what used to be a burden). If a cluttered home is the problem, work with loved ones for a couple of hours each weekend, one room at a time to clear the clutter, starting with the first room you enter in your home.? Help them brainstorm ways they can escape to unwind after getting home before diving into family responsibilities
For co-workers, I would also ask questions about what could make their work situation less stressful. Are there projects that someone could help with? You could offer to take a walk on breaks or go to the park for a picnic-style lunch. If you are a supervisor, be observant of your team. What do you know about them and how they seem to work best? Some of the best employees get burnout the worst. If you are going to demand more from someone because they ”can” do it, at least be mindful of how you can reward them with things that will help calm their nervous system. Little things like setting them up with a desk that has a window nearby so they can see outside, if at all possible, can go a long way. Is there a way that you can give a good employee that may be struggling with burnout some flexibility in their daily tasks so, as long as they get the tasks all done during the day, they are able to block their schedule out with work best done according to the times of day they are more focused, creative, and tired? Maybe they don’t know how to do that and you can teach them?
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
I suggest taking inventory of your employees and pick out the ones who would be most susceptible to burnout. Here is a list of where to start:
- People with a history that statistically has a higher risk for PTSD.
- Those struggling with physical illness, including those in daily physical pain.
- People who appear to be easily startled, anxious, and “on edge.”
- Those who look exhausted all the time, seem depressed, or like they are moving through mud in their actions or work
- The people pleaser. The person who always accepts anything you throw their way and never asks for help. They are likely one of your best employees but they can crash and burn hard.
Starting with those people, I would have meetings with them to find out the following:
- What fills their cup? This is their “Absolute Yes” list. What makes them light up at work? Is it social interaction? Is it purpose-driven work they strongly believe in? Is it praise and recognition? Is it money/gifts? What about random acts of kindness? Everybody has currency. Fill their cup with what makes them light up.
- What work environment is best for them? Close or far from a socially active group? Light from a window versus fluorescent only? What about sitting against a wall, away from the main hallway, not near the office printer, or an exit? And, if a person requests to be seated away from a specific co-worker, please find a way. You never know what the reasoning behind that may truly be.
- What depletes their reserves? This is their “Absolute No” list. Ask this simple question: Is there something that is zapping your energy or deflating your morale that I can try to adjust regarding the work you are doing or your work environment? We all have to do things we don’t want to do in our jobs, so I would express that and say that if it’s within reason and something you can control, you will see if you can accommodate. If not, you will keep it in mind for them.
It wouldn’t hurt to have this conversation with all employees if it is feasible, but definitely look out for the ones at high risk for burnout and keep the lines of communication as open as possible.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to reverse burnout in themselves or others? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
The most common mistake I see is an unwillingness to really pare back the obligations, habits, and people who are taxing their system. Letting go of things is hard. Especially for anyone with trauma in their past. Holding on to things and people is a bit of a security blanket for many. And, there is mourning involved when a person lets go of something they once loved. The relief on the other side of intentional releasing is incredible and always worth the short-term discomfort.
Another common error is placing blame for burnout on one specific cause. It is never one cause. Never. There is a predisposition to burnout from past experiences that haven’t been resolved in the brain’s wiring and body’s biochemistry. There are micro causes in day-to-day life that all add up to a heavy burden. There is the very important influence that relationships play in the nervous system’s perception of safety, security, and predictability or the lack thereof. And, finally, there are physical stressors that create a cascade of events in your body that contribute to perceived burnout. Looking at burnout from a micro level, instead of a macro level, will never produce amazing turnarounds.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My dream would be to have there be a movement toward living a seasonal lifestyle. As I mentioned before, we tend to live in a perpetual summer of “Go! Go! Go!” with an insatiable thirst for busyness and productivity. That’s why burnout is rampant. It’s not how we are meant to function. It creates chaos and heat within our system that is not sustainable if you want to live a healthy and happy life.
We are a part of nature, but because we don’t recognize ourselves as such, we get out of tune with natural rhythms that produce a balanced life. We arrogantly ignore the wisdom of nature to our own peril. We all need to release things in the autumn to have a quieter, more restful winter’s season tending to what’s most important to our values and our life force. When you take seasons of rest, you get inspired, imaginative, and rejuvenated. Like nature does in the spring, you emerge from the rest with new vibrancy. That’s not something that you ever experience if you live in a perpetual summer. You just burn out and your body overheats.
There are different health and wellness needs each season. There are different learning styles for each season. There are certain foods that fuel you best from one season to the next. There are habits that are easier to break, or make, during certain seasons. There are times of the year that are best for various business goals.
Living a seasonal lifestyle is the best way to exit burnout. It lends itself to the two most powerful tools in escaping and avoiding burnout: Presence and Routine. Presence is elusive to most people. Tuning into the current season brings awareness to the present that happens on a macro level, but weaves its way into daily practice by the shifts you make from season to season. Presence becomes effortless. Rhythms and routines are also developed on a macro level when you tune into the seasons because you start to recognize how you operate best from season to season, year to year. It becomes a flow that creates predictability within your nervous system and you begin to rewire toward groundedness and security.
It’s exciting to think about teaching the next generation to harness this lifestyle. They would be operating at their highest potential while being in tune with the natural world around them. Imagine the impact of that for the greater good of mankind and our planet.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would absolutely love to brunch with Amanda Gorman. Most people were introduced to her as the 2021 inaugural poet. She exhibits exceptional grace and brilliance while delivering harsh truths, in verse, about where we are as a society. She clearly realizes that you can’t heal what you are denying as a gaping wound. Even as she poignantly sheds light on our darkness, she inspires great hope as she paints a picture of what’s possible with unity, kindness, and action.
Because she is in her early 20s and has such depth of insight and experience, I would love to glean from her how a person of my age (in my 40s) can take my generation’s upcoming position of power to help create momentum for the future that her generation envisions. Her generation, and those coming after, are very clear-eyed about the challenges we have as a society. They are also dedicated warriors in making it right.
My generation has been raised by Babyboomers and has GenZ kids. There has been a big swing in culture during our lifetime and most of us still have some deconditioning and learning to do. Her combination of honesty, perspective, hope, kindness, and delivery can inspire my generation to become great allies for them, so our kids can raise their kids in a more gentle and unified world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I would love to welcome your readers to my Teach Them Well website. There they can find a quiz to discover if they are indeed in the “fight or flight” vicious cycle within their body. Through my website, you can also get connected to my podcast, blog, social media, and my Nourished Rhythms Membership, as well as various health courses I offer.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!