stress

How to make your resolutions work

The year is almost over!! To me, it isn’t really hard to say goodbye, it was a difficult year in many aspects, but also a year that taught me so much about myself! Who I am, what is really important to me, what I needed to change. And I found out on a very personal level that change isn't easy (wanted or unwanted). And it's even harder when you don't have the energy to experiment new things. 

What I also found is that real change can only come from within, supported by our deepest motivation. It all starts with a wish, a desire, a longing... but for what? I learned that having clarity on what I want, and more importantly, what I truly needed, was pivotal to turn things around.

So, I'll start the new year with much more clarity on the things I would like to accomplish, and what I want to bring into my life. That empowered mindset makes me much more confident that I will reach my goals.

I stated some powerful resolutions that are aligned with my heart, body, and Soul.

What are resolutions? Wishes and dreams, goals and plans. In short, resolutions are about changes we want to make.

Having navigated many changes in all areas of my own life, as well as supporting my patients in their journey after a diagnosis or illness when I was still in the medical field, and working as a project manager on implementing complex operational changes, I have seen up close what worked and what didn't work when it comes to change.

I would like to share some thoughts about resolutions with you, to explain why they usually fail and how to approach things differently.

When you ask people about their resolutions, you usually get 3 types of response. 

  1. Well, I should quit [X] so that's what I'm gonna try. Between the brackets are things like [smoking, drinking, shopping, spending, eating chocolate, overeating, ...].

  2. Well, I should start [Y] so I'm going to do that. Between the brackets are things like [moving, running, eating healthy, being there for my family, a project, ...].

  3. Resolutions? I don't have any because they don't work anyway.

The core feelings behind those responses are:

  1. guilt

  2. guilt

  3. cynicism, defeat

Not very positive. 

This is exactly why resolutions like this usually don't work. They are stated while we are in a restrictive or judgemental emotional state. We believe we are doing something wrong and we try to fix ourselves. 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with ambition, setting goals and trying to be the better version of ourselves. But, it's important to know what that version is and whether it suits us.

Usually, the wish for change comes from a sense of urgency. Things go wrong, we don't like the results we are getting. And that leads to stress. Our systems are built to eliminate stress immediately. And the way we are wired, it leads to behavior that temporarily decreases stress -> eating, drinking, smoking, shopping, checking our phones, ... 

Oops. 

The things causing us stress, are the same things we go to as a temporary stress release. And we know it. That's where the guilt creeps in, the 'shoulds', the inner critical voice. We punish ourselves with restrictive measures (causing stress) and we call it a resolution - "I am going to be a better version of myself without this behavior. I should ... "

We humans have stress on a daily basis and we have needs on a daily basis. We want to feel safe, supported and loved. However, during our lifetimes we taught ourselves to get positive feelings through external things. Self-soothing is a lie... We don't self-soothe, we externally-look-for-soothing. We fall into the trap of feeling good for a short while though unwanted and destructive behavior, causing stress and in the long run, not giving us what we are longing for.

It's a vicious cycle. Or a downward spiral. See how this will never work?

How would it be when we were able to shift our perspective and look within to find what we need? To give the love, care, and support to ourselves? To break the cycle in a different, lasting way? To spiral up an up towards the things you truly want?

When you create change by adding restorative practices, you will decrease stress and enhance relaxation. This creates so much more space to invite new things into your life! 

To create lasting changes, you need space and clarity on your deepest motivation and your true needs.

To help you state powerful intentions that are aligned with your heart, body, and Soul, and the energies of the January New Moon, I created a 9-day online program, the WinterLight Wellness Week.

You can find more information about WinterLight HERE.

Discover your blocks and limiting beliefs to heal from burnout

During my career in psychiatry, I worked with many depressed and anxious patients who were stuck in patterns that kept them locked in. It was frustrating for them because they could feel how blocked they were but weren’t able to see what the blockage was. Usually, it took a while until they recovered and were able to reflect on their thoughts and emotions without getting extremely upset. 

When I found myself in severe burnout in 2016 after a series of extremely stressful life events, health issues, and surviving almost 3 years in a toxic work environment which caused me PTSD, at first, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I felt awful, extremely tired and exhausted, and I had severe cognitive problems, causing me to get lost in the supermarket, and how to get dressed.

I recognized that something was very wrong but I didn’t know what it was. When I was told it was burnout syndrome, with severe physical and emotional depletion, I didn’t know what to think of it.

I have always been a firm believer in our capacity to shape our reality and manifesting our intentions. In my private life, I lived with the Moon cycle, and every New Moon I journaled about my intentions for the month. Usually, my intentions were focused on the things I wanted to accomplish. And usually, I did. 

While in this burned out state, I felt like a total failure. How could I have created this mess myself? I must have done something wrong because I clearly never wanted to manifest the health problems, traumatic work environment, divorce, and the stressful life I was living. How could I unconsciously have wanted all these things?

I remember telling my husband that I was convinced that “this was all happening for a reason although I couldn’t see why yet”. 

What I didn’t know yet was that this way of looking at the situation was my lifeline. It was a form of surrender, enabling the transformation to start.

During my recovery process, I found out that the old way of living wasn’t sustainable anymore. The old way of striving, pushing, achieving, always making deadlines, following orders, and forgetting myself, my health, my body, my spiritual needs. I needed to do things very differently.

This was when the hard work started. Doing things differently, but how?

I wanted to live a different life, and I started to try new things. Some worked fine, but some threw me back into exhaustion, grief, and despair. 

While reflecting on every change I tried, I found out there were certain patterns surfacing. Patterns related to my thoughts and feelings, that were vital for my ability to change and grow. I began to notice some major blocks I must have had all my life, but I had always navigated them without really seeing what I was doing, causing major energy leaks (this became clear to me because I was so depleted and needed every shred of energy.)

With my clients, I can see similar blocks. These are usually beliefs, deeply ingrained in your system, that are difficult to look past or challenge by yourself. The blocks are always ready to defend their existence because they made you survive difficult situations in your life. The pay-off was disconnecting from a part of your Soul. Sometimes, after years of living this way, leaving you with nothing, the connection between you and your Higher Self severed. 

In my opinion, this is what burnout really is. Separation from your Higher Self, from the Universe, and from the Life Force itself.

As long as you are in a stressful situation, this will go on. Stress is a sign. It is telling you that the situation you are in isn’t serving you. That it is taking something away from you. 

Of course, stress is a part of life, but it is first and foremost a NORMAL response to an ABNORMAL situation. Changes need to be made.

For me, that meant: walking away from relationships, setting clear boundaries, quitting a toxic job in a broken health care system, and caring for my body.

Stress is survival. However, when the challenges are over, you don’t need to shut down the vital parts of you anymore. The problem is, after years of stress (childhood trauma, difficult family situations, work-related stress), the survival strategy can become a habit. And it created beliefs that this is the only way to survive. The beliefs are so strong that they become blocks in your life, preventing you from changing and living your best life. 

It is very important to discover the blocks in yourself if you want to shut them down and live the life you want, in alignment with your true empowered Self, led by your Inner Voice.

What I discovered was that I was constantly trying to fix a broken system, a toxic environment, destructive relationships. There was no space for my Self to flourish while I was busy trying to fix everything. Unfortunately, what I manifested in years of trying to fix everything, was separation from my Soul, separation from the Universe, separation from others, broken relationships, and a body-mind disconnection. Also known as burnout syndrome.

What I found out through deep soul searching was that I was blocking myself with major limiting thought patterns. And I now see them in my clients too. I made a list of four big blocks that are often present, some of them I had to overcome myself. They usually start with “I am…”, followed by something negative or conditional.

Four major limiting beliefs that can lead to burnout:

  1. I am alone. This one comes in many shapes. For some people it is perfectionism, thinking that things will only be done perfectly if they do it themselves. They don’t let others help them or take over. Others have experienced interpersonal trauma, an unavailable parent, or loss, and believe they have nobody to support them, or if they ask for support, they will lose it. And consequently, they do it all themselves.
  2. I am unsupported. This is related to the first one but goes deeper. When we felt unsupported or not taken care of as a child (food, shelter, unconditional love, attention) this created a deep spiritual wound. It may even go as far as not believing there is an Omnipotent or Divine presence (God, Mother Earth, Source, the Universe…) to help and guide you, causing you to work very hard and trying to create your life all by yourself. This belief prevents us from collaborating, helping others, and asking for help, and it creates feelings of loneliness and disconnection. What if the truth is that there is always Divine guidance and support available, and you just have to ask for it?
  3. I am successful only when I work hard/all the time. This is a very destructive belief, that many of us have been brought up with. Stories of working hard in school, being ambitious, and only receiving praise when coming home with good grades install this belief. What if the truth is that if you are doing something from the heart, with passion instead of pushing, you will be way more successful? Another way how this shows up is reluctance when it comes to rest and recovery. To be productive and successful it is vital to rest and restore our energy as well. However, if the belief is that only hard work is leading to success, it’s very hard to surrender to rest and downtime.
  4. I am not worthy. This is a very common block that prevents us from receiving. If we feel unworthy, we are constantly trying to show our worth by over-giving. Over-giving is the main cause of depletion. This belief is very common in women, caused by our patriarchal culture and the heritage of centuries of gender oppression. If you hold this belief you might have issues receiving compliments, help, suggestions, advice, love, health, abundance, energy, Divine guidance. What if you are inherently worthy, and using your skills and talents and being you is enough to be of value? You can’t give from an empty cup. You can only give from the saucer when the cup is overflowing with abundance.

Of course, there are many more blocks that can be very individual. But usually, they can be grouped into one of those big four. 

Try to find out which one(s) resonate(s), and journal about them. Also, write about your fears and doubts and you will discover what is beneath them. 

What really helped me in releasing the blocks was working with several coaches and theta healers. Coaches can help you see what you are missing, unearthing the limiting beliefs you might have. Theta healing is a powerful way of releasing limiting beliefs, using the energy in the body to untangle them. Some say it even affects you on the DNA level, which makes it a very powerful healing tool that can even affect your health, and the health of generations that come after you. 

The coaches/theta healers I worked with are:

Darling Allegri (USA) - XOXDarling who starts a great new group program August 27th, 2018, around releasing your biggest limiting beliefs to help you past the blocks that prevent you from stepping into your best life. Early bird enrollment until August 8th.

Yvonne Dam (UK, NL) - Amaze Yourself who is a great life and career coach.

Jocelyn Mercado (USA) - We Are Sacred Planet who is a business coach for inspired people who want to serve the world in a purposeful way. She will start a new group business coaching program in September, I will keep you updated on that one too. I followed it and started Elemental Life because of this program and never looked back!

If you feel called to share your blocks and limiting beliefs in the comments, please do so. You can always email me (email address at the bottom of the page) as well, or book a call to see how I can support you in your healing journey. 

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.

Cyclical living to prevent and recover from burnout

I have been paying attention to the Moon cycle my whole life. When I was a child I often looked up to look for Her, and when I found Her I would marvel at Her brightness and Her shape. Sometimes She was full and round, sometimes barely visible, a small crescent. 

At a young age I learned what the waxing and waning Moon looked like (see RESOURCES for an explanatory e-book). It wasn't until my late twenties that I discovered that the Moon phases had their own energy and purpose. 

The Moon has been a guide for ages. Every year, a Farmer's Almanac is published, which lays out the Moon phases and the best days for planting, sowing, doing labor on the land, harvesting and more. When aligned with the Moon cycle, farmers have bigger crops, better harvests and less waste. People have lived with this wisdom since the birth of agriculture. 

Somewhere along the way we forgot. We run on a treadmill of achieving goals, always pushing, striving and making deadlines. New ideas, growth, and success are valued more than the stillness, where fertilization and incubation happens. This skipping of an important phase in any project, from a start-up business to writing a book to creating a successful product, seems efficient. It saves us time, and we can go on faster to the next thing in life. However, living in overdrive like this, and skipping rest and recovery, has a huge downward risk. At first, we don't notice. Until we collapse.

I had lived my life in this running, linear way for 38 years before I crashed. When I was in dire shape, in the midst of my burnout, I discovered something important. I noticed that my exhaustion was the worst at New Moon (and when I was menstruating). The depletion of cosmic and physical energy took so much that I wasn't able to move or sit up for days. 

Because I was following the Moon already, I found out quickly. I never thought this effect could be so profound, I was aware of the esoteric meaning of the Moon phases but I never really paid attention to the physical effects (or any bodily signal, to be honest). But when I started to connect the Moon energy to my own energy levels, everything clicked.

We are so used to living in 5th gear, never taking a break or allowing our body to rest. But we forget that we are cyclical beings. Especially women, because we have a menstrual cycle on top of it. 

Everything in the Universe consists of spirals, circles, and cycles. Galaxies, the solar system, the planetary movements, the Earth when spinning around its axis and thus creating the seasons, the Moon cycle, but also the cycle of life, growth, death, rebirth. Molecular structures move energy around in a cyclical motion. This is the basis of oxygen-dependent life, it's called the citric acid cycle (and it was a pain in the ass to memorize for my Med School exams, I tell you).

So, when everything is cyclical, why do we think we can just skip a phase? How can we systematically skip Winter? We need rest, recovery, contemplation, allowing new ideas to form, hibernating under the surface in order for the cycle to complete itself and start over again.

We can't skip the Winter, but we do it on a systematic basis. We have labels rest and recovery as 'laziness'. We think contemplation is 'unproductive'.

When we follow these voices, judgments, beliefs, and we continue to skip it, it leads to burnout. Burnout is nothing else than a very long Winter enforced on you by your body. When you are experiencing burnout, start with rest, not a weekend, not a vacation. What you need is real prolonged rest. This can be very scary, just have faith your nature. The cycle will start over again one day.

When you are planning a new adventure, start with rest, contemplation to be more successful. When you just finished a big project in your business or job, celebrate your success, then rest and evaluate. Learn from your experiences, and integrate them. 

Start paying attention to your energy and your cyclical nature today. Awareness prevents problems and it will help you to be more successful, and live a sustainable life. 

If you want to talk with me about this subject to find out what it can mean for you, feel free to book a complimentary discovery call with me. 

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.