3 Crucial Steps to Recover from Burnout

Confession: I used to dread getting out of bed.

My mother-in-law had dementia, and I lived in the same house with her. This meant that I was regularly confronted by her as soon as I left my bedroom.

Sometimes, she would ask me a question over and over again. I would lose my patience as I answered her multiple times, with increasing irritation. I often lost my cool well before I left the house for the day.

Sometimes, she would be accusatory. Why did this happen? Why did I do this? Who was responsible? Whatever it was, it was surely someone else’s fault, even if it was obvious that she was the culprit. If you dared to suggest that it was actually her who did this thing, she would be indignant and scoff vehemently. In these cases, it was usually best to just drop the subject and quietly clean up the mess. You quickly learn that you can’t win arguments with people who have dementia.

Sometimes, I would arrive downstairs to find some disaster in progress. She couldn’t remember how to turn the stove on, and so was eating her eggs raw. Or there was a puddle of pee on the floor in the middle of the room. She had lost control of her bladder without even noticing. Again, no comment required. Just remedy the situation as best you can.

One day, she found some expired food in the refrigerator and was eating it, along with the blue-green mould on top of it. She thought it was healthy because it was green! A battle then ensued as I tried to take the mouldy food away from her, while she chased me through the house in an attempt to retrieve it. Sometimes, the absurdity of the situation made me laugh. Sometimes, it made me cry.

But I think you get my point. My bed was my safe place. Leaving it meant being confronted by some form of headache-inducing chaos. Naturally, I preferred to put that off as long as possible.

The thing is, for months and even years after we finally got my mother-in-law into a nursing home, I continued to have difficulty getting out of bed. It was like my heart had become wounded somehow. Or my faith in life. Probably both.

I tried reprimanding myself. Why was I so lazy? I never used to have such difficulty getting up in the morning! I worried about my work ethic. What had happened to it? It seemed to be permanently disabled.

When reprimands didn’t work, I tried thinking of rewards instead, like the grilled cheese sandwich I would prepare for myself later for lunch. Or the walk I would have with my dog after work. I relished being under the gracefully arching branches of the trees, with the sun warming my face. This helped somewhat. But though this got me out of bed, it didn’t restore my enthusiasm for life.

The fact was, I simply didn’t want to get out of bed anymore, and I didn’t know how to fix the problem.

It took me awhile to realize that I was suffering from a classic case of burnout. Well, maybe not classic. In classic burnout, you feel numbed by your life and uninspired by your daily activities. By the time you reach the stage of being unable to get out of bed in the morning, your burnout has reached epic proportions.

So, what did work? What finally helped me get out of bed?

Number One: Remember the things you loved to do as a child.

In my case, it was drawing. I used to love drawing when I was young. Art was always my favourite class in school. Although it took some coaxing from my mother and my older brother, I eventually signed up for an evening drawing class at the local art centre. And every time I went to that class, it was like life was breathing itself back into me.

Number Two: Treat yourself with exquisite kindness.

Beating myself up for my lack of initiative was not making me feel better. In fact, it was making me feel like even more of a failure. Although it seemed counter-intuitive, offering myself boatloads of compassion and kindness made me feel less tight and defensive. It allowed my heart some space to open. It gave me some room to heal. While kindness didn’t get me out of bed right away, it did loosen my huddle and paved the way for later expansion.

Number Three: Find a way to express your feelings.

One definition of burnout I’ve heard is “repressed emotions”. And I certainly had plenty of those. All the frustration, anger, fear, anxiety, dread, and sadness that my mother-in-law’s condition had inspired in me needed to be felt. I couldn’t keep pushing it down and pretending it didn’t exist. It was killing me. Or rather, it was keeping me in a deadened state.

This final point turned out to be a big insight. My body was so stuffed full of unfelt feelings that it had actually become numb. I never knew what I was feeling about anything anymore. Mostly, I just didn’t care. Allowing myself to feel all those difficult, challenging feelings – hard as it was – was life changing.

Every morning, I would settle onto my yoga mat, and essentially do nothing. I would lie in various restorative yoga poses, using props to support me, and gently check in with myself. Then, keeping my breath steady, I would allow myself to feel whatever feelings were there. Nothing was off limits. Anger, sadness, dread. All were welcome.

It took awhile to get this process started, but once my body began to feel safe, I was surprised at the different emotions that came up each day, usually with a boatload of tears. Gradually, the contours of physical body began to take shape again. I could feel the heaviness of my limbs on the ground, the tingling of the muscles along my spine as they began to soften and relax, the gentle opening of my hips. And then, finally, as my physical body began to relax, my mood became lighter. One day, I felt the gentle rise of energy within me, and cried with relief. I was finally returning to myself.

I still don’t know if I’m fully recovered from that awful case of burnout, but I do know that I feel much better. I don’t have any problems getting out of bed anymore. I look forward to my daily plans. I’m still not always as inspired as I’d like to be, but I feel confident this will come in time.

For now, I’m just enjoying becoming better acquainted with myself, feeling what I feel, doing the hobbies I like, and resting when I need to, without guilt or self-reproach. It’s a new way of life for me, and one I plan to continue.

If you are interested in doing some gentle, restorative yoga classes, consider stopping by my website at www.rebeccasrestfulyoga.com. You can attend a class live, or sign up for a monthly membership, where you’ll have access to dozens of already recorded classes, all taught by me – a person very familiar with burnout and all the emotions that come along with it. Please know that you’re not alone. Together, we can heal from the pain of burnout.

About the Author: Rebecca Wong has a BA in English Literature from the University of Waterloo and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She studied at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine under respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le, and graduated from the East West School of Planetary Herbology under Michael Tierra. She received training as a yoga teacher at The Branches in Kitchener/Waterloo, and therapeutic yoga teacher training from the School for Somatic Soulwork under Deniz Aydoslu. She now teaches yoga for anxiety, depression and burnout at Rebecca's Restful Yoga Studio in Toronto.

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