What Burnout Can Teach Us

Follow your heart to build resilience | Interview with Helga Birgisdottir

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Helga Birgisdóttir, or Gegga as we call her, is an amazingly resilient soul.

She has been a nurse for 36 years, in her beautiful home country of Iceland. The last 6 years of her career have been spent nursing in a psychiatric hospital.

Like all of our authors in The Top 10 Traits of Highly Resilient People, Gegga has learnt her resilience lessons the hard way. Right now she is on the road to recovery from burnout – and this wasn’t her first experience of it either.

So Gegga is here to tell you what she’s learnt from crashing and burning. In fact, she says there is a gift in every crash!

Dr. Andrea – So Gegga, I know you have a lot of wisdom to share, and I love what you wrote for our book. Even though the topic is heavy, you always add a little bit of humor in there too.

Gegga – Well thank you. I couldn’t live without humor, you know. It’s a life saver, it’s my medicine.

Dr. Andrea – Yeah, I get that, a lot. It sounds like you have had many opportunities in your life to use humor as medicine. I know one of your sayings is, “There’s a gift in every crash.”

In fact I shared this quote from you in one of my TEDx talks when sharing that you had quite a crash on your bike, and you used humor and lightness to heal your face, and in time for you to go to a class reunion!

And this was not even a week after your accident!

Gegga – Yes, of course! I don’t want to miss anything!

Dr. Andrea – In our new group book, The Top 10 Traits of Highly Resilient People, you tell us about another crash that you experienced. This one was physical too, but also mental and emotional.

Tell us a little about what led you to this burnout and crash?

Gegga – Well, it could be a long story, but I will try to keep it short. I just didn’t listen to myself. I didn’t walk my talk about following my heart, taking care of myself, I didn’t do it.

I’m co-dependent; it’s in my genes I would say. I had some difficulties, my daughter was sick. There was a lot of pressure in my nursing role, and I was kind of a workaholic.

It’s so difficult for me to say no to people if I’m asked. So I said yes to all the extra shifts, so I was working 16 hours every day, with hardly a day off for weeks. So I crashed, and at that time my daughter was in the mental health facility too, and I was her caretaker.

This was over a period of about two months, and I learned something very important from that crash. I learned that if I’m not following my heart, if I’m not in agreement with what I’m doing or asked to do, then I need to listen to myself.

During that time in the hospital the patients were often treated with medication, but there was very little time for others things like talking or art. When I started there, six years ago, we did more painting, talking, and meditating with the patients. This was my passion and what I wanted to do with them. We also used The Work of Byron Katie, which is a very good technique to release stress.

But there is no time for that in the system anymore. So instead of saying ‘wait’, I just kept on working. I needed to save the world, you know.

Watch Gegga’s full interview here on YouTube, and if you would like to get a copy of The Top 10 Traits of Highly Resilient People, it’s available on Amazon now.

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