Tag Archives: Health

Precursors to Burnout

19 May

One of the characteristics of burn-out, when you’re in the middle of it, is a sense of overwhelm. You’ve lost your mojo, your ability to concentrate, perhaps even your ability to remember a time when you were capable, competent, confident. Just know that those things are still there. You just can’t get to them. SO — they are not “lost,” they are simply “misplaced.” That can be a distinction that makes the difference between continuing the downward slide, and beginning a hopeful upswing. You are still you. You have an opportunity to make some changes so that the best possible “You” can emerge.

Notice that I didn’t say, “The Old You.” The Old You is just the You that you knew. Perhaps there’s an even better You that is preparing to come forth. Didn’t think of that, did you?

A number of things led up to your burnout. It doesn’t matter whether you know, or understand, all of the factors. Just know that this didn’t come “out of the blue.” Conditions were favorable for burnout, you just didn’t notice. Here’s what you must do: start creating new conditions — conditions that are favorable for you to feel well, energized, and thriving. Conditions where You 2.0 is happy.

How to do this? I like the 15-minute technique. When you are feeling tired or overwhelmed, set a timer for 15 minutes, and do something different from what you were just doing. Go for a walk. Watch some cat videos. Clean off your bathroom counter and sink, or your kitchen counter. Fold and put away your laundry. ANYTHING. Take a picture at the end of 15 minutes so that you can look back and appreciate that you did something that was only for yourself.

After you are in practice with these little 15-minute bursts, begin to use this time for something creative. Write in a journal. Draw a picture. Take some photos or video. Work a little bit on a craft project. You will gradually have a “body of work” built up that begins to feed and restore your soul. As you do these things, you will have energy and clarity to make other changes. You could eat a piece of fruit, instead of a cookie. You could find a 5-minute exercise video on YouTube and move a little bit. Inch by inch, these new patterns will have a positive effect.

Resilience and Recovery

19 Feb
English: Maria Moline, instructor, coaches her...

Typical ZUMBA Class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something odd (for me) happened a couple of weeks ago.

I injured myself, doing something that, in hindsight, was dumb, results predictable, and entirely avoidable.


Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been attending a ZUMBA class to get myself back into exercising. As I have felt better and continued to lose weight, I’ve also been taking advantage of the well-equipped workout room at my apartment complex. As someone who really hates almost everything about exercise, this is a big step. I don’t really hate exercise. I love movement: dancing, gardening, walking, playing. I dislike the whole mechanized, impersonal, automated, testosterone-driven exercise scene. The rituals and costumes just don’t do it for me. However, I am convinced of the importance of vigorous exercise every day, and have been getting my head around figuring out how to do that.

So a couple of weeks ago, I came home from my Monday night ZUMBA class. I felt really fantastic. My execution of the dance moves was self-scored (I can’t help it!) at about 85%, and I also felt like I had pushed myself, but not too far. I was so energized that I really didn’t feel like eating much for dinner after the workout.

The very next morning, I felt so great that I practically skipped over to the workout room. I got on the elliptical machine for a few minutes. This is a machine that I recognize holds great promise for me, and I have to work on my coordination and stamina to master it. After less than five minutes, though, I felt fatigued.

This was the moment when I should have stopped. However, I switched over to a recumbent bike and pedaled for about 15 minutes. Usually I can do 30 with no problem, so stopping after 15 was the dawning of my awareness that I should maybe take it easy.

I went about the rest of a typical Tuesday, seeing clients and teaching two Awareness Through Movement classes. However, that evening, I was so stiff that I could hardly walk. My right hip felt inflamed, and things did not feel like they were “lining up” in my hip joint. I came home, took some ipuprofen, and went to bed.

No position was comfortable. Wow, I thought, I have really done it. I couldn’t roll over in bed without causing a shooting and terrible pain that made me yelp. So, something about the twisting. . .

Here’s where the resilience came in, and the beginning of recovery. The executive summary is, I was better the next day, have not re-injured myself, took some time off from structured exercise, and have returned to my ZUMBA class. Happy ending. The resilience piece is that I started thinking using the Feldenkrais Method.

  • In the present moment, what movements seem to cause pain?
  • Is there a way to do those movements in a less painful way? (Changing speed, force, size, trajectory of movement)
  • What parts of myself am I not including in the movement?
  • Is there an easier way to do what I intend?

I slept fitfully that night, but each time I awakened, I moved in mindful ways to make myself more comfortable. I found an easy way to roll over that did not tweak and twist my back. I experimented with other silly variations of the movement, exploring for comfort. By the next morning, I got out of bed, stood for a few moments, and took a few tentative steps. No pain!

In hindsight, I realize that I should not have done lower body work so soon after my ZUMBA class. If anything, I should have done upper body work. I returned to class last night, and my continuing experiment is to rest today. I have clients and two Feldenkrais classes, so my “exercise” will be some gentle Feldenkrais and perhaps a bit of a walk. Tomorrow I will return to the workout room, and see if I can do five minutes on the elliptical machine.

After a setback, we can’t always just “get back on the horse” immediately. I had to be willing to take small actions, slow down, stop, think, explore strategies, and allow things to re-integrate. To rush the process is unwise. Of course, I can apply this process and this new learning to other aspects of my life — namely, my overall recovery from burnout — to redefine setbacks as opportunities for learning.  The resilience and new wisdom come from this process of ebb and flow, light and dark.

The Resistance Report

24 Jan

Hello, Faithful Reader!

The recovery continues. As you may know from previous posts, I made a radical change in my lifestyle a few months ago, and am no longer eating the Standard American Diet. After following Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live program for five months, today I am just a whisper away from having lost a total of 40 pounds so far. I have a big goal: 30 more pounds, for a total weight loss of 70 pounds, target date May 1. I will make it at 2 pounds each week. This is a very exciting project for me, and I feel healthier each day.

Perhaps this improvement in my overall health throws other things into more stark contrast. I have a lot of leftover inertia from the dark days in November, when I was weepy, irritable, and could hardly move. Perhaps I need to adjust my expectations. I am judging myself for appearing over-dramatic, while I also realize that I am minimizing something that was potentially quite serious. I have added the practice of writing down my accomplishments for each day, even if I just write, “Took a shower. Bought groceries. Saw three clients. Taught class.” When I acknowledge my accomplishments, I have proof that I am improving, taking constructive actions each day. This is an important element in recovery from a burnout, I think.

The good news is, I have been writing every day. That part of my creativity practice is going well. However, I pressure myself ibecause I have not published anything on either of my blogs in several of weeks. In other words: still not the productivity that I would like to see for myself.

There are a lot of “should do’s” in my to-do plans. They are tasks and projects that are important, but not urgent. One factor contributing to my burnout was that everything that needed to be done seemed to be on urgent status. It is impossible to prioritize tasks when they are all the same level of importance. My to-do list gets longer and longer.  I realized that the feelings of overwhelm, or just plain whelm, are still very close to the surface. With the surge of energy that arrived in late November and December, I generated a lot of ideas for new projects, and also for implementing some systems to help my work flow more smoothly and to keep my new priorities straight. However, there are so many ideas, and so much that actually needs to be done, that the to-do list is daunting. I have felt some of the old paralysis, resistance to getting on with it.

I am able to access a memory from somewhere that “there are no ‘shoulds’.” Maybe yes, maybe no. However, I know that there is a lot of baggage and resistance that comes up with “I should. . .” or “I need to. . .” I will shift my vocabulary to say, “I want to. . .” “I get to. . .” and “I have an opportunity to. . .” Instantly, the energy shifts. I feel freedom and aliveness to choose those actions that best take me where I want to go. I am learning how to just let go of the rest.

Realistically, I actually am accomplishing something small every day. Small is good. Baby steps. I must sit with my own impatience, which is probably a big factor that got me here (burned out) in the first place. So yesterday, I started thinking about how else I could work with this resistance instead of against it. This is a martial arts concept, and also an interesting element within the Feldenkrais Method.

Here is my solution, and it is very practical and low-tech. I hope it helps you, too, or perhaps inspires you to come up with something else that works for you. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present: the humble index card.

Index cards for tasksMy stack of index cards is a no-list list. A list that doesn’t look like a list. On each card is written a project, task, or deadline. I have put long-range deadlines on my calendar already, so these cards are for work that must be done this week. In the morning, I simply pick a card and work on it. I can make notes on the card about supplies, contacts, or other resources needed, and if there are additional tasks associated with the main project, I can make another card. When I complete the task on the card, I remove it from the stack. That way, I can see one stack getting smaller, and one stack getting larger. The completed tasks can go into an envelope, and I can see at the end of the week that I really have accomplished something! I really need this tangible and visible sensory experience to keep the feelings of overwhelm at bay.

See that top card on the stack? It now goes in the “DONE” pile! Woo hoo! I think I am gonna make it.

‘Tis the season to be burned out

17 Dec
A Christmas tree inside a home.

A Christmas tree inside a home. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some reason, it has been a tough week to stick with my burnout recovery program. It’s interesting that I say that, because I can point to a couple of real successes. I have stuck to my eating plan and now weigh less than I have weighed at any time since December of 1999. So my nutrition and overall health is good. I have also written at least 750 words every day except one since the beginning of December.  Writing is my touchstone to creativity, and this is a milestone. Having stopped writing completely for about nine months, and having just resumed in November, I am pleased with my return to visits with my muse. I feel like I am writing my way back to health.

But burnout doesn’t go away all at once.  Things are vastly better than they were a month ago, and for that I am grateful.  However, the personal”fuel supply” is slow to come back. An interpersonal challenge regarding a professional matter has sapped my energy and attention since Thanksgiving, and the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut is one of nationally historic proportions. I felt my energy drain away as I turned my thoughts and actions to each of these issues. Simply dealing with daily matters is still an effort. However, I feel some strength returning on the professional front, and I feel the pain of compassion for all of the victims of the tragedy. I will continue to reflect as all of this flows through.

Even without a national tragedy, the holiday season is difficult for many people. I am going to follow good advice and conserve my personal energies as much as possible.  We are doing simpler holiday gifts this year, opting instead for stocking-stuffer fare and a dinner together as a family. I am sticking to my eating plan and will go to my regular exercise classes. I will get on the floor each day and enjoy some Feldenkrais for my own benefit. For now, my own self-care is the key to being able to care for others.

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Anatomy of a Burnout, Part 2

3 Dec
I've Been Known To Burn The Candle At Both End...

I’ve Been Known To Burn The Candle At Both Ends – 21/365 Fire (Photo credit: Jer Kunz)

In the last post, I described the convergence of events that contributed to my burnout. Today, I realized the reason it all seemed so overwhelming.

The problem was that, in my mind, normal tasks that would have been easy, all seemed to jumble together into one, big, THING. Somehow, I eventually was able to take a step back and just take things one day at a time.

On Thanksgiving Day, I hosted a small family dinner. Our upstairs neighbor brought the turkey, I prepared all the sides. During our dinner, the expected arrival of a guest Feldenkrais trainer from Germany occurred as planned.

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I spent time with our guest, cleaned up from the holiday, and began to take our equipment from the storage unit to our training venue. Since it was likely that I would miss a day or two of the training because of the trial, I started to delegate some tasks so that everything could proceed smoothly.

The trial began on Monday morning, and ended on Wednesday afternoon. Each day, I kept in touch with my assistants at the training. They were fine. I was back at work at the training on Thursday.

When I write it all out like that, it seems simple. Standing “on the edge,” it felt like everything needed to happen simultaneously.

So here’s my first big tip for dealing with burnout. My schedule became manageable when I broke things down into small pieces, understood a logical sequence, and then just did one thing at a time, in order. I managed to eat well and get enough sleep each night. That self-care, along with staying in the present moment, somehow de-fused my anxiety.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts to keep a sane schedule, things just get crazy. I can plan, but I have to be flexible to allow for the unexpected. Exciting opportunities may come my way, or situations beyond my control may come my way. This time, my resilience only appeared as I reflected in retrospect. Next time, I will just do one thing at a time, until everything is done. And that oxygen mask? I’m keeping it close-by.

What helps you to get through hectic times? Share your experiences here.

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A Rhythm of Life

23 Nov
The Whisper of the Muse. Elizabeth Keown, G.F....

The Whisper of the Muse. Elizabeth Keown, G.F. Watts and Kate Keown. Albumen print, 261 x 215mm (10 1/4 x 8 1/2″). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was reading an interesting discussion about creative burnout on the blog ScoutieGirl. Her reflections on her own work schedule and how to be as creative as she could be got me thinking. Here are a few of my random musings.

1. Creativity comes in lots of different “flavors.” When I first read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron (about 10 years ago), I let go of some of my own prejudices and misconceptions about living a truly creative life.  Some of these ill-founded ideas were based on familiar stereotypes: the starving artist, high-maintenance pain-in-the-ass, incapable of sustaining stable relationships, living a life of excess and dissipation. Who in their right mind would want that for a life? (Oh yeah, let’s not forget another stereotype, the insane genius.) By dismantling some of these stereotypes, The Artist’s Way helped me to embrace, for the first time, the idea that “creatives” can make a good living, have stable loving relationships, and seem outwardly normal in every way. This was very good news to me, a middle-aged woman, launching out on her own as a refugee from academia.

2. If you are waiting for Your Muse, be prepared for him/her to arrive on an erratic schedule.  Some people have the flexibility to work very well like this.  However, if you add a partner, children, clients, or artistic collaborators to the mix, they get pretty impatient with your damn muse. Muses are happy to be trained. If you show up at pretty much the same time every day to do your work, and stick with it, your Muse will learn your schedule and will work with you.

3. You have to know yourself well enough to honor your own rhythms.  Whether you are a morning person or a night owl, it makes sense to work when you are feeling the most awake and alert — the most responsive and fluent in self-expression. Sometimes, you can have more than one rhythm.  After a long absence from writing, I have been writing every day for the past two weeks, usually in the morning. I log in to a site called 750words.com and have at it. I may write more, or other things, at various times of the day. However, it is that early-morning-while-it-is-still-quiet time when I can best get things going.  I usually keep a pretty sedate schedule, up by 8 a.m., in bed by 11 p.m. and asleep by 11:02. When I am working on a new project, I can be so mentally stimulated that I am writing late into the night. Like tonight.  When inspiration beckons, I like to follow it. I am in the process of finding a way to organize my time so that I can have a blend of structure and spontaneity in my work. I’ll let you know how that goes!

4. I think there is a difference between physical burnout and creative burnout, although they may go hand in hand. My own comeback from burnout actually began when I became aware that a few health issues needed improvement, and ASAP.  I began in earnest to pay attention to getting enough rest (I am talking 8 hours a night, folks) and to improve my nutrition.  As I began to feel better, I somehow showed up again in my own life.  I didn’t even realize that I was burned out, and that was why my creative inspiration had dried up. My personal burnout manifested as overwhelm. Too many irons in the fire, too many tasks, too many requests, too many emails. The only thing that there wasn’t too many of was clients. I simply didn’t have the energy to do the daily and weekly activities necessary to fill the pipeline with new customers. Happily that is now turning around as well.

Each of us is constantly adapting to circumstances and our environment as we find it, moment by moment. When you change anything — your schedule, your nutrition, your projects — you will change too, and your work will change as a result.  This is called “artistic development.”  The great thing is that, apparently,  a growth response to change can keep you learning and creating throughout your lifetime.  That is what I am counting on.

Have you found a rhythm that works for you? How do you balance all the aspects of your life? 

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A Burnout Bio

18 Nov
Forest fire

Forest fire (Photo credit: ElissaMeyers)

It was a weekend of revelations.

One dear friend and colleague said, “I’ve missed your newsletter.  I used to gobble up your short blog posts.”

“You haven’t missed anything.  I haven’t been sending out many newsletters.”  I dodged, but I got her point.  Here was someone who had enjoyed my writing, and I had to acknowledge that I had stopped.  Stopped dead in my tracks.

Later that day, another friend asked, “So, how long has it been since you last wrote something on your blog?”

“Months,” I replied. “Months and months.”  Tears, surprising tears, began to well up. “I absolutely love to write,” I said. “But in the last few months, I just couldn’t face it.  I am all dried up, drained out, and have absolutely nothing to say.”  Gradually, after more conversations, I had a new and convenient basket to put my feelings in.  It was called “Burnout.”  Not just a label, this term was a holding place for the contrasting feelings of apathy and exhaustion, playing side-by-side with anguished emotion.

“What if you wrote about burnout?” My friend knew full well that it was a leading question, but I’m glad she said it.  It was plain as day, and she was perceptive enough to know that at that moment, I couldn’t see it.  Once she said it, I saw it instantly.  I even FELT it.  It was as though blood started flowing through my veins again.  Lights came on inside my brain. I could see new possibilities.

So this is the inaugural post, a simple introduction. Here I am, writing again, on a new blog. You will read my confessions from the journey, currently in progress, back from the brink.  Actually, I was past the brink.  That phrase just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

I don’t have the right, nor the expertise, to tell anyone else what they should do.  All I can do is share my story, and hope that it inspires you.  Thanks for dropping by!

Are you, or someone close to you, experiencing burnout in some facet of your life? Are you a helper of “Crispy Critters?” Leave a comment, be in touch!

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