fatigue

The productivity myth - why taking a break is vital for your health

The productivity myth - why taking a break is vital for your health

Rest and recovery is vital for our health. Why is taking a break so hard for us? This article gives you insight on the productivity myth, the way we are conditioned to always work and achieve to be successful, how rest is associated with doing nothing, and why that is a lie. We need down-time to prevent burnout, exhaustion, chronic stress, adrenal fatigue, and other depletion syndromes.

Remove these 4 energy leaks to decrease stress

To feel energized and to prevent stress-related illnesses like burnout, it's important to be critical of which energies you give access to in your life, and what of who you give your energy to. To feel radiant, strong and centered, it is important to be aware of energy leaks and to remove them. Here are 4 types of energy leaks to be aware of, and to take action on, to kickstart your healing process. 

How to recognize burnout?

After having lived for 9 months with burnout syndrome I have learned a great deal about it.

As a Medical Doctor I had obviously heard about burnout, but I never knew that burnout was so physical and so scary. I always thought it was 'just being stressed and overworked and you will have to take a break'. Now that I'm 9 months in and still have concentration issues, more bad days of exhaustion and physical pain than good days, you won't ever hear me say that again. Burnout is a serious condition, with serious implications for the patient and his/her surroundings and has to be taken seriously to prevent life-long damage to the body, brain, coping abilities and career.

I'm on a mission now. I consider it my duty to share my story and some facts about burnout to educate people and to make them aware about it, so they can seek help and prevent hitting a brick wall.

Burnout is defined as a stress related disorder by the World Health Organisation and is considered one of the most prevalent stress-related disorders at this moment. It is especially prevalent in people within caring or serving professions (medical personnel, social workers, teachers), stressful positions or a combination of stressful situations, both at work and at home.

What is burnout?

The “burnout syndrome” has been defined as a combination of emotional exhaustion, cynicism or depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment caused by chronic stress - World Health Organisation

Emotional exhaustion represents the basic individual stress dimensions of burnout and refers to feelings of being depleted of one’s emotional and physical resources. The cynicism or depersonalisation/detachment component represents the interpersonal context dimension of burnout and relates to difficulties in social relationships with self and others. Reduced accomplishment represents the self-evaluation dimension of burnout and refers to feelings of incompetence and a lack of achievement and productivity.

Usually, burnout is mentioned in the context of a job situation, but it can occur in other situations as well, for example due to severe interpersonal stress (conflict) or chronic stress in personal life (e.g. taking care of family members, life events). Contributing factors are high amounts of stress, high work load, heavy job demands, low supervisor or co-worker support (or family/friends), inconclusive communication and uncertainty about demands, conflict of responsibility (e.g. between expectations of the organisation and the employee, or conflict between work demands and personal needs), low control, low empowerment. Usually people with a coping strategy of striving, pushing through difficulties and persevering (the people you definitely want on board!!), are the ones who crash themselves into burnout. I can now absolutely see how my masculine energy that made me accomplish a lot in my life, finishing medical school in under 6 years for example, completely wiped out the balance and drove my head into the ground after 5 major life events and never taking a break to integrate and recuperate.

What struck me when I was confronted with burnout, were the prominent physical symptoms. It started with chest pains that I ignored for months, and I ended up suffering from palpitations, tachycardia (fast heartbeat while resting) of 170 bpm, sleeplessness, weight loss and severe problems in filtering light and sound. The latter made a visit to the grocery store between all the products and choices a true nightmare. Taking the kids to school or going to a classical music concert was also stepping into a hell of sound which I had to escape as soon as possible. What also struck me where the severe cognitive symptoms, like executive brain function disorders (I couldn't cook a meal or label a package anymore, I just didn't know how to perform small tasks). There is evidence that burnout changes neural circuits in the brain. It can lead to impaired memory and cognitive performance. It can also lead to impaired ability to modulate emotion, which means that it is harder to deal with strong emotions caused by stressful situations. The chronic stress that caused burnout, also created a vicious cycle of being less able to cope with stress.

How to recognise burnout?

Burnout is never something that happens overnight. The symptoms come and go and increase until a threshold is crossed. The symptoms that can tell you that burnout is imminent or happening, are listed below (source: www.psychologytoday.com).

  • Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion:
  1. Chronic fatigue. In the early stages, you may feel a lack energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted, and you may feel a sense of dread for what lies ahead on any given day. I wasn't able to sit upright for most of the day.
  2. Insomnia. In the early stages, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep one or two nights a week. In the latter stages, insomnia may turn into a persistent, nightly ordeal; as exhausted as you are, you can't sleep.
  3. Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention. Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can't get your work done and everything begins to pile up. Like I was having problems planning and organising simple tasks like cooking, schoolrun, packing bags, choosing groceries, making lists. Impossible. Talking on the phone or finishing a sentence took all my energy.
  4. Physical symptoms. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches (all of which should be medically assessed). I was assessed for arrthythmia attacks.
  5. Increased illness. Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems. It's better I don't go into this... the list is endless.
  6. Loss of appetite. In the early stages, you may not feel hungry and may skip a few meals. In the latter stages, you may lose your appetite all together and begin to lose a significant amount of weight.
  7. Anxiety. Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes in your ability to work productively and may cause problems in your personal life. I wasn't able to drive or use public transportation because of my anxiety, something I've never had before.
  8. Depression. In the early stages, you may feel mildly sad, occasionally hopeless, and you may experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness as a result. At its worst, you may feel trapped, severely depressed, and think the world would be better off without you. (If your depression is to this point, you should seek professional help immediately.)
  9. Anger. At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace. (If anger gets to the point where it turns to thoughts or acts of violence toward family or coworkers, seek immediate professional assistance.) 
  • Signs of Cynicism and Detachment
  1. Loss of enjoyment. At first, loss of enjoyment may seem very mild, such as not wanting to go to work or being eager to leave. Without intervention, loss of enjoyment may extend to all areas of your life, including the time you spend with family and friends. At work, you may try to avoid projects and figure out ways to escape work all together. This was very hard as I didn't want to slip into depression. Luckily I was always able to see the beauty in nature. 
  2. Pessimism. At first, this may present itself as negative self-talk and/or moving from a glass half-full to a glass half-empty attitude. At its worst, this may move beyond how you feel about yourself and extend to trust issues with coworkers and family members and a feeling that you can't count on anyone.
  3. Isolation. In the early stages, this may seem like mild resistance to socializing (i.e., not wanting to go out to lunch; closing your door occasionally to keep others out). In the latter stages, you may become angry when someone speaks to you, or you may come in early or leave late to avoid interactions. I have been stuck to my home for 6 months. I have never felt so alone in my entire life. I even felt disconnected from the Source.
  4. Detachment. Detachment is a general sense of feeling disconnected from others or from your environment. It can take the form of the isolative behaviors described above, and result in removing yourself emotionally and physically from your job and other responsibilities. You may call in sick often, stop returning calls and emails, or regularly come in late.
  • Signs of Ineffectiveness and Lack of Accomplishment
  1. Feelings of apathy and hopelessness. This is similar to what is described in the depression and pessimism sections of this article. It presents as a general sense that nothing is going right or nothing matters. As the symptoms worsen, these feelings may become immobilizing, making it seems like "what's the point?" My kids were the reason I pulled through, I don't know what would have happened if I didn't have them to be around for. 
  2. Increased irritability. Irritability often stems from feeling ineffective, unimportant, useless, and an increasing sense that you're not able to do things as efficiently or effectively as you once did. In the early stages, this can interfere in personal and professional relationships. At its worst, it can destroy relationships and careers. I remember being so angry with my sweet neighbours across the street for slamming the doors of their cars which I could hear through the wall (no filter....). 
  3. Lack of productivity and poor performance. Despite long hours, chronic stress prevents you from being as productive as you once were, which often results in incomplete projects and an ever-growing to-do list. At times, it seems that as hard as you try, you can't climb out from under the pile. Well, I'm so happy to have found my husband, he did EVERYTHING for months without complaining. I wasn't worth a dime in the home and he took care of the laundry, the kids, the dishes, the groceries...

Whenever you recognise a few of the symptoms from the lists, even mild ones, or when you think you are suffering from burnout or heading towards it with increasing speed, seek help. Stopping the train from derailing and taking a step back is more effective than having to remove the wreck from the track, like I had to do. Don't wait, take action towards self care, self compassion and talk to somebody who can help you in taking action if you can't.

Burnout is serious. I hope my story inspires you to take action TODAY.

Are you aligned?

You have probably heard of the newest buzz word in town that seems to be the solution to every single problem, and the answer to every failure.

--- ALIGNMENT---

The truth is, bad things don't happen because we are not 'aligned'. That's a weird way of looking at life. We are trying to make the best of our lives and sometimes we fail, falter, meet roadblocks or life is getting in the way of your plans, because you get sick, or there is some major life event happening for you. It's not that we can avoid all sources of pain. It teaches us what we need to know to evolve.

So when you hear something like "Oh, you didn't succeed in your project? It must have been misaligned with your true calling." please let it go immediately. Because this way of looking at alignment sounds ridiculous and remarks like above are not helpful at all.

However, there is a true part to being misaligned and the blockages in life. As I was living a severely misaligned life for a long time I experienced a lot of extremely hard situations, which I didn't quite understand because I was constantly trying to work hard, do my best and make the best decisions I could possibly think of. However, things went awry and the last 3 years everything came down crashing down around me, relationship, work, everything at the same time. The only way to get through this mess (I thought) was to continue my old coping strategies of thinking things through, making lists, and fighting for a good outcome. Although I felt like I was doing the right things, and moving forward, the only thing that could make it all better was not holding on to striving and fighting the situations I was in, but letting go. I had to steer myself away from the things that were holding me back.

To find out whether you are in alignment click here

Letting go sounds so easy. "Just let go and everything will work out fine!"

Well, eh... letting go isn't an easy thing to do, because it isn't an active verb, let alone the fear that comes along with it. When your life isn't working out while you are busy planning, deciding, organising and coping, the scariest step to take is to let it all go. That's just not  something  your mind can do actively - ah, well today I'm just gonna let it all go - that's just not how it works. The more you want to let go, the harder it gets, the more anxious you get. That's because ego wants to protect you and gets in the way. It starts screaming in your ear that you can't, shouldn't, all will go down in flames, and so on. It's makes it impossible to hear the whispers of your heart, or to understand your gut's language of intuition. The only thing you listen to is the fear, the scary thoughts and disastrous scenarios playing out in your head.

For me this wheel of negative thoughts, fear, obstacles, conflicts led to illness. My body started to protest, I became very tired and hyper at the same time, I couldn't cycle without chest pain, I couldn't breathe properly. My body was signaling to me that I had to change but I didn't hear what it was saying. My body stopped me in my tracks by creating a situation which forced me out of it all. Because clearly, my mind/heart wasn't going to take the steps.

There had been severe misalignment between my body, my mind, my heart and my Soul. Those are all different layers of our being and in order to be happy, healthy and fully functional as a human being they need to be aligned as much as possible. When we are tired, we need to rest. When we are hungry, we need to eat. When we are not hungry, we shouldn't eat. This also means that when you are coping with chronic illness or a stressful situation you will have to align your plans, expectations and activities because there is a limitation somewhere in one of the layers. It sounds very simple but we're largely overriding the signals in our modern lives. When we do that for a long time, one or more of the layers of our being will be complaining and acting up. We call this 'symptoms'. We then start looking for a physical cause, but maybe it's just a misalignment between the layers.

During recovery, I learned how to take care of my body and how to listen to it again. I had to reset myself and start from zero, bed rest in my case. And not beating myself up for being in this situation I created myself by pushing and striving and fighting. That took me a while to be honest, to let go of the fighting mindset, towards myself. Self care and compassion is the most important thing to do, especially when you are healing.

Letting go just happened. I don't know when exactly.

She just let go.
No one was around when it happened.
There was no applause or congratulations.
No one thanked her or praised her.
No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort.
There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore…

~ excerpt of 'She let go' by Rev. Safire Rose

When I gave up fighting, stopped trying, took plenty of rest and healed my body, I truly allowed alignment to happen. The only way to do this is to listen to the signs of your layers and stop doing things that make you feel misaligned and miserable. If you check in with yourself daily, you will begin to notice. And then, one morning, you wake up, and you let go. Slowly, I began to feel subtle differences in what was working and what was going against the flow. My intuition began to show me the way. I felt overcome with joy, because I could see the light again at the end of the tunnel. In learning a new way of living, by listening and acting upon it, I ditched the old ways of being misaligned.

It's not always easy and I still get sucked in by daily life but I am capable of pulling myself out of it. I recognise I'm not aligned anymore. For me that shows up as fatigue, tiredness, tension in my chest, breathing uneasy or just generally feeling 'meh' or emotionally dull. Noting this enables me to consciously make better decisions and take care of myself. I know it's time to stop what I'm doing because I'm in a mode of striving instead of allowing, and it's killing the flow of energy. And sometimes it just means going to bed at 8 pm to get some rest.