When you hear the definition of ‘Burnout’ you can understand why it’s such a buzzword at the moment, especially amongst parents.
“Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It is a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical and mental stress.” The charity MIND recently conducted research and concluded ‘there are quite stark statistics that suggest that burnout is a real risk for many employees in the UK’.
We live in a world where we often spend most of our days in ‘flight or flight’ mode, also known as our sympathetic nervous system – that part that helps protect us from danger. However, living in a world where we are constantly needing to be on high alert to stay ‘safe’; even being outside and worrying about the dangers like cars is enough to activate that system, not to mention financial pressures, high-pressured jobs, constant comparison on social media around what we look like…it is overwhelming to even think about all the input we have into our brains!
In order to live well and for our bodies to function, heal and operate at optimum health, we really need to be in a balanced state. By that I mean, we naturally need to be in our sympathetic nervous system for some of the time, but we need to access our parasympathetic nervous system, aka our ‘rest & repair’ or ‘rest & digest’ system more than we do at the moment. This is particularly important if you are a busy person and prone to getting overwhelmed.
Breathwork is an amazing way to access the ‘Rest & Repair’ zone, even when we are going about our day, there are things we can do to help ourselves without needing to make more time to do them.
Here are some ways to activate your Vagus nerve which is the centre of the parasympathetic nervous system…
How to calm down when you have a stressful situation NOW
The first thing is to make sure you’re breathing in through your nose, the second checkpoint is bringing your shoulders down (from your ears) and making sure they’re relaxed so you’re not adding tension, the third thing is to breathe into your belly to pull in the oxygen to the bottom of your lungs as this is the area which supplies two-thirds of your respiratory system
How to calm nerves if you have a couple of minutes
This is particularly useful if you’re about to do public speaking or are able to take a couple of minutes for yourself. Extend the exhale….really really extend it. Once you’ve gone through the above 3 checkpoints, really try and breathe as slowly as you can until you’re totally out of air…you can do this through the nose or through pursed lips to help you slow it down. Be intentional about the very slow pace. Then just repeat as many times as you can.
If you have 5/10 minutes and need a bit of headspace
I would really recommend putting on a timer, closing your eyes and doing some box breathing (in through nose for 4, hold for 4, out through mouth or nose for 4, hold for 4, repeat). This really helps to balance your nervous system, enables you to focus and the awareness of the breath can really help you come out of your head. It’s an amazingly effective technique if you can stick with it for even just a few minutes a day.
If you have 30-60 minutes and really have a chance to restore
Doing a longer guided breathwork session really allows your body to have the time, space and energy to really process, heal and transform. A technique called Conscious Connected Breathwork is an incredible way to really go on a journey, get into your body and allow yourself to get clarity, ignite your aliveness and ultimately let things go. We all have ‘stuff’ and carry trauma and this is a really effective way to get beneath those layers we hide things behind and release them.
There are loads of different guided breathworks online, but it can also be really effective to have a 1:1 to help you go deep and really feel that you can share what you want to get past. Often people say deeper breathing techniques are like therapy without the talking!
5 stages of burnout
Burnout can look different for everyone; it doesn’t mean you are literally on the floor, it can just mean that you have no motivation or energy, you feel low, you feel exhausted all the time, or it can be more severe so just be really mindful of how you’re feeling and notice if feelings are happening more often or you can’t shake things.
Signs to look out for are; constant fatigue, feelings of ‘can’t be bothered’, lack of motivation, needing more coffee at the start of the day, ‘needing’ wine at the end, general overwhelm, moodiness, irritability, feeling wired.
There are 5 stages of burnout;
- Honeymoon phase – satisfaction by taking more on but starting to predict stress
- Onset of Stress – awareness that some days feel much more difficult than others and you feel fatigued by what was exciting you
- Chronic stress – high stress levels frequently and starting to feel you’re not doing anything well
- Burnout – stress symptoms becoming critical and you feel you can’t cope
- Habitual Burnout – ongoing mental, physical or emotional problems that are so imbedded in your life and it starts to have long-term effects on your relationships, job and social life
If you are feeling that burnout is approaching, then do be mindful of other things; limiting screen time and stimulation can be really helpful as having unread messages, additional comparison via social media and apps pinging at us can be really stressful, especially if we’re trying to get on with other things. It’s also best to reduce stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and wine even though we feel that we ‘need them’.
Remember that giving yourself time before you get to a stage of burnout is better than needing to take more time off when you do reach that stage. A way that I justify this to my busy mind and long to-do list is that if I don’t take a bit of regular time out to rest & repair, I won’t be any good to anyone anyway.
Your health is the most important thing and everyone who truly cares about you will want you in the best health possible.
If you’d like to hear more about breathwork and how it can help you to break the cycle and restore then please do get in contact with me.