If you read my previous blog post “The Season of the Slow Burn,” you may know that this year I have experienced burnout. It was not in the obvious way of waking up and looking in the mirror with the realization “I am feeling slightly burned out.” This time around, it was more like accidentally stepping on a rake only to have it spring up and abruptly smack me in the face. Probably could have avoided it if I was practicing more awareness, but unfortunately, I didn’t recognize some obvious signs in front of me. Like many, during this year I have at times been building the airplane while in flight.
As I share with clients, we do not have to eliminate hardship or painful life experiences in order to live a full and meaningful life. Alternatively, we can nurture ourselves and build our resources in order to increase our physiological and psychological ability to respond flexibly and more effectively. I have not been perfect at managing my self-care and burn out, but I would love to offer you what has worked for me at different phases.
Throw the ‘shoulds’ right out the window
Maybe it’s just me, but I have never told myself;
- I should or should not do something and found it to be comforting or helpful.
- I am a therapist, I should know better.
- I shouldn’t use distraction techniques. I should meditate instead.
I, like you, have never experienced a global pandemic before. If there was a step-by-step guide distributed on how to navigate this, then perhaps I did not get my copy. So, with all due respect, the incessant ‘shoulds’ can just go ahead and zip it. Please and thank you.
Instead, I ask myself, “What do I want most for myself versus what I want right now?” Typically, I want to engage in strategies that sustainably support my wellbeing. If I choose to indulge in distraction or avoidance techniques because that’s what I want right then, so be it. But it poses a question to me that allows me to pause and explore the intention and impact of what I choose to engage in.
Our limbic system is symbolic. Use that to your benefit!
Just like hearing an email alert on your phone can rouse your attention, a news headline leads to panic, or the sight of a crowd of people makes you anxious, the sight of water can slow down your thinking and a calm breeze can allow you to breathe deeper. Take the time to feed your senses intentionally soothing and adaptive information.
o Ask yourself before each session or work engagement, “how large of a container do I need to hold space for the multitude of experiences, emotions, or tasks I may confront today?” A bucket? A bathtub? A pool? Bigger? Get creative with it. Your brain, your symbols!
o If your resources are low on any given day, consider some chest bling. What I call chest bling, is my symbolic large mirror that hangs in front of my heart facing outward. It compassionately reflects what my client is sharing without permeating my energetic boundary.
o There is an added challenge when there is less division between work and home life. I used to depend on my ride to and from work to shift gears. Getting dressed for work and then into my comfy clothes allows me to shift roles easier at the end of the day. Showering, even for two minutes, surprisingly, washes excessive stress down the drain and drops me into my senses.
o One of these most sensory-loaded acts is drinking a cup of herbal tea at the end of the day. Feel the temperature of the mug in your hands, the aroma of the steam, notice the taste of the various herbs, and feel the warmth throughout your body. This cup of tea is feeding you calming sensory information. Can you give it your attention?
o Building in time for a walk, even if for 20 minutes/day can be a complete game-changer. When I was most supported throughout this pandemic, I was making time for hour-long walks almost daily. Walking, breathing fresh air, and listening to an audio book or podcast can be the ultimate amygdala soother.
Of course, visit Rebecca’s The Healing Corner for more resources to calm your nervous system. Be well, helpers and healers!