You Say: “It’s Just Stress!”

I say: "It's burnout and your brain is shrinking!"

Burnout in my profession. Oof. This week’s writing prompt from Thrive punched me right in the gut for two reasons. One: I’ve burnt out twice, even though I’m meant to know better, and I adore my work. Two: Because of my experiences with burnout, helping women entrepreneurs avoid and/or recover from burnout is my main focus.

I’ve always wanted to help people. There was never a moment that I believed that I wouldn’t be working one-on-one with people to solve some sort of issue in their lives. I LOVE this work, in all its forms. As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I work with people to solve health issues that Western medicine isn’t working for.

Online, I work as a guide to help women, especially entrepreneurs, avoid burnout or recover from it if they are already crispy. In the online world, burnout looks like not offering your services and inconsistency with posting and communicating. I haven’t experienced that (I’m doing it right this time!) but I have plenty of previous burnout experience!

In my brick and mortar acupuncture practice, my previous burnouts looked a lot like this:

  • Being annoyed when a new patient contacts me (don’t they know I don’t have the time!)

  • Not enjoying having a full schedule (ugh, can’t I rest, EVER?!?!)

  • Sighing and waiting to get ready to leave for work at the last possible minute because I don’t actually want to be there

  • Rushing out the door as soon as the last patient is gone

  • Feeling exhausted at the end of a shift, no matter if it’s 6 patients or 16.

The main cause of burnout that I’ve seen in myself and my colleagues is being too attached to our savior mentalities. We often don’t feel like we can’t take time off because people NEED US. I’ve had to remind myself multiple times that acupuncture isn’t emergency medicine.

Another cause that I see often is: acupuncturists most commonly work for themselves and run EVERYTHING from billing to scheduling, to working with patients, cleaning their offices, washing the sheets and towels, filling out all the necessary paperwork, etc. etc. etc. Many of these activities are outside of our ‘zones of genius’, so we waste a lot of energy on all the things that aren’t the working 1:1 with patients part that we love.

Yet another is compassion fatigue. This happens to all medical professionals, not just acupuncturists. When you hear similar stories all day every day and you’re tired already, it can be difficult to drum up the amount of compassion you’d have normally. It’s difficult to react well to a patient who has the same ongoing issue but refuses to do their ‘homework’ to get better, especially when you’re dancing around burnout.

In the past, to recover from burnout, I:

  • Disconnected from the internet. It is impossible to listen to the signs from your body when you are distracted at every waking hour.

  • Returned to a regular practice (meditation, yoga, running.. doesn’t matter what, just needs to create clear head space)

  • Got myself care. Acupuncture, massage, sound healing. The most important piece here: it’s not something I do for myself, it must involve asking another person to help me!

  • Re-upped my gratitude practice. I use mala beads on the way to bed. Often I fall asleep before I reach 108 things, but I aim to be able to do it, every night.

  • Spent time with true friends. There is nothing more nourishing to me than 1:1 time with a good friend. Often, it gives me a perspective I wouldn’t have thought of before and jolts me out of a particular way of thinking

  • Gave myself a victim mode check. Am I feeling like everything is happening TO me instead of FOR me? It’s a clear sign that I’m not using boundaries well and I’ve lost my integrity. I’m agreeing to things I don’t want to agree to and blaming other people – no bueno.

Burnout is no longer a topic that we can avoid. It’s everywhere and it’s happening all the time. Studies show that your brain’s frontal cortex (the place that allows you to think logically) SHRINKS, literally, physically gets smaller, when you’re burnt out. Turning this around requires us to take action to rebuild our brains (neuroplasticity is AMAZING) so that we can avoid it in the future. 

Just one minute of deep breathing will help you rebuild your brain. In simple small steps, you CAN recover from burn out. It’s the inner work that will save you. 

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