burnout

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking The Stress Cycle

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

“The problem is not that we aren’t trying. The problem isn’t even that we don’t know how. The problem is the world has turned “wellness” into yet another goal everyone “should” strive for, but only people with time and money and nannies and yachts and Oprah’s phone number can actually achieve.”

Sometimes a book comes along at the exact right time in your life. Sometimes, that’s a book you probably should have read three degrees ago. This book is exactly that for me. It provided a brand-new way of looking at stress in my life by separating stress from stressors. They write:

Dealing with your stress is a separate process from dealing with the things that cause your stress. To deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle…Stressors are what activate the stress response in your body. They can be anything you see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or imagine could do you harm. There are external stressors: work, money, family, time, cultural norms and expectations, experiences of discrimination, and so on. And there are less tangible, internal stressors: self-criticism, body image, identity, memories, and The Future. In different ways and to different degrees, all of these things may be interpreted by your body as potential threats.”

A failure to go through and resolve the stress cycle can result in burnout, which was “first coined as a technical term by Herbert Freudenberger in 1975. ‘Burnout’ was defined by three components: 1. emotional exhaustion—the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long; 2. depersonalization—the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion; and 3. decreased sense of accomplishment—an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.”

If we’ve known about burnout for so long, how is it that we’re just now figuring out how to fix it?

This is not quite a rhetorical question. The answer is: Because it’s hard. If everyone knew how to combat burnout, we would all be doing it! (And the monetized “experience of self-care” that’s sold by the capitalist machine will go away, but that’s for another time…) Part of the problem is that we’ve been looking at stress the wrong way. “The good news is that stress is not the problem. The problem is that the strategies that deal with stressors have almost no relationship to the strategies that deal with the physiological reactions our bodies have to those stressors. To be “well” is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.”

To get un-stuck, the Nagoskis’ write, we must move. Run, dance, kickbox, tense and release muscles, and, most importantly, breathe. The book has other great tips, as well as a way to plan out all of the options you have for completing the stress cycle.

So the real question is: How are you completing the stress cycle today?

Brain Fog & The Body-Mind Connection

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Brain Fog & The Body-Mind Connection

I’m sitting in a Starbucks this morning in Woodland Park, Colorado. There is snow on the ground and I can’t see Pike’s Peak because of the fog. Winter lasts forever here!

I’ve been reading books on Thyroid health because I’ve been experiencing another type of fog: Brain Fog. As it turns out, my thyroid has been under producing Thyroxine and brain fog is associated with Hypothyroidism.

There is a lot of new thinking about hypothyroidism. Anthony William, in his book, “Thyroid Healing,” suggests that an under-functioning thyroid is one of many symptoms caused by the reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). These other symptoms include: problems with sleep, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, and brain fog or mental fatigue, just to name a few. William also warns that people can also experience an increase in anxiety and depression as a result of EBV reactivation.

Most of us have the EBV in our bodies, but it remains dormant most if not all of our lives. An environmental stressor can reactivate it. He suggests that something as simple as having an old filling replaced or exposure to mold can bring it out of dormancy.

I don’t bring this up to jump into the debate about hypothyroidism, but rather to reassert my belief that “our bodies and minds are so closely connected that they catch each other’s diseases.”

Seeking Treatment

As a clinician who sees people that are struggling each day with anxiety, depression, mental and physical fatigue, I take it very serious to help them consider that these issues could have a physical basis. I insist that they consult a health professional.

I’ve been experiencing “Brain Fog.” It’s possibly being caused by a virus that was reactivated sometime in the past 6 months. Knowing this means that it’s “not in my head,” or “burnout,” or “something wrong with my thinking, such as sabotaging thoughts,” but rather, it’s a virus or low thyroxine production affecting my body.

This means that I can do something about it. I can help my thyroid heal and combat the EBV. It will always be there but hopefully back into dormancy. “Healing Thyroid” offers several nutritional strategies to accomplish this. And of course, exercise, fresh air and the forests will provide the rest.

I want you to know that all of this is supplementing the care from my doctor. I am taking medication to supplement the loss of Thyroxine, and she is monitoring my blood work closely.

It will be a team effort.

Tuesday Thoughts: The Importance of Community

For several years now, I’ve been a supervisor of pre-licensed social workers and marriage & family therapists working on their two years of post-graduate training. Over the past year or so, I’ve realized that there often arises a theme for the supervision I do each week. This past week’s theme was community.

Community connections keep us mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy.  Often, when people hear community, they think of the neighborhood they live in, or perhaps their immediate family. However, community, like success, is how you define it. Humans are relational creatures. Even the most introverted among us benefits—psychologically, physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually—from being connected to a community.

This becomes infinitely clear when a person is separated from community. My first year of teaching was spent in the middle of nowhere (Maine) where I was teaching writing, doing improvisational comedy, and cooking, all while living as a house parent with twelve 8 and 9 year-old girls. While there was another house parent, she and I had opposite shifts. As it was a summer program for children at high levels of performing arts expertise, almost all of the students came from very affluent backgrounds. There were very few students of the same, or even a similar, religious and cultural background as me. I remember crying in the director’s office, feeling very alone and separate in my ‘different-ness.’ It was in that moment that I realized how important community is.

In building or discovering your own community, consider how you might connect on multiple levels:

  • Intellectual: Can you join a book club or discussion group? Your local library or independent book shop may serve as a resource.
  • Physical: There are hundreds of recreational leagues for adults all over most major cities. Maybe you want to play a sport you played growing up. Maybe this is the time to try something completely different! (Your local YMCA is a good starting place.) Even if you’re not a “class person,” consider attending group exercise classes at your gym, or look for Groupons to try a completely new activity.
  • Spiritual and/or Religious: Most faith communities have “newcomers groups,” where you can meet many like-minded people. If you’re not inclined toward organized religion, Meetup.org has lots of groups that seek to explore philosophy.
  • Hobbies: Again, this is a great opportunity to seek out local businesses, which often have groups based on their products. Yarn shops often have knitting groups; outdoor gear shops often have hikes, etc.
  • Volunteering: Volunteermatch.org has a great search engine that can match you with your interests, availability, and amount of time you have available. Through volunteering, you can find people with similar interests. Even if you don’t cultivate a connection outside of the volunteer experience, volunteering gives you an ongoing community.

How will you connect with your community this week?

Jennifer Kendrick

AAMFT Approved Supervisor
Kentucky Board Approved MFT Supervisor

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker in KY
Licensed Clinical Social Worker in IN
cell: 502.203.9197

Escape. Explore. Connect.

I do a lot of walking in parks. This past week I noticed the signs at Joe Creason Park had the following tag at the end: Escape. Explore. Connect. What good advice. People seem more stressed today than ever before. Relationships seem more complicated. We’re connected to social media, the news networks, podcasts, and our smartphones to the point that most of us are mentally exhausted. We worry about our kids, our finances or jobs, whether or not to vaccinate our kids (the answer, of course, is yes, yes, yes, get your children vaccinated) and we worry about our health and mortality.

If any of this applies to you, here is my prescription:  Escape. Explore. Connect. Sometimes, it’s that simple. I tell people all the time that one of the benefits of getting out and exploring the forests and parks is the feeling that time slows down. It happens to me all the time. I spend 3 or 4 hours hiking and it seems like I’ve been out for a day. An overnight backpacking trip feels like a full weekend.

Time slows down when you Escape, Explore, Connect.

Lately, I’ve been in the forests exploring for geodes. I am fascinated with them. I love to bring them home and crack them open to discover the quartz crystals inside. Sometimes they’re solid quartz. They are all beautiful. Some are the size of walnuts and some the size of baseballs. What I’ve discovered is that they took hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years to form. Air bubbles developed underground and were slowly filled with crystals by quarts-saturated water. There are lots of ways to connect with the forest and this is one of them. I’m out there in the creek beds exploring and escaping. I am carried away to a time millions of years ago. Escape. Explore. Connect.

This spring, I hope to begin collecting, drying and mounting plants and their flowers. Escape. Explore. Connect.

This March, we are going to host a family-friendly hike in the Jefferson Memorial Forest. It will be the first Saturday of Spring, March 23, 2019. It will be your chance to get some Nature Therapy and to Escape. Explore. Connect.

Setting Boundaries

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about boundaries, especially as people set their intentions for the New Year.

As a refresher, here are some healthy boundary reminders:

  • It is not your job to fix others.
  • It is okay if others get angry.
  • It is okay to say no.
  • It is not your job to take responsibility for others.
  • You do not have to anticipate the needs of others.
  • It is your job to make you happy.
  • No one has to agree with you.
  • You have a right to your own feelings.
  • You are enough, and don’t have to convince people that you are.

It took me a long time to learn that fourth one–not being responsible for others. As a social worker and family therapist, I think it’s common for those of us in the helping profession to feel like we have to do all the things for all the people. As it turns out, that’s not all that healthy, either for the person helping, or for the person being helped! (There’s a lovely poem by Shel Silverstein called “Helping.” It’s one of my favorites, and has adorned the wall in several of my offices over the years.)

do all the things

Here’s some of what boundaries are NOT:

  • Shutting everyone out, and not sharing any information or asking for help.
  • Not caring about the people you love.
  • Ignoring/avoiding your own feelings or concerns in order to “keep the peace.”
  • Rules by which you dictate the behavior of others.
  • A guarantee that everything will be perfect.

I like to use the analogy of a house. Rigid boundaries are a big stone wall miles away from the house. No one gets in, but nothing gets out, either. If there’s an emergency and you need help, no one can assist you without knocking down the wall. In contrast, diffuse boundaries are no barriers between your house and the outside world. Anything and anyone can get in or out. While that may seem fine if you need help, you also have to put up with people peering in your windows, and even potentially walking right into your house!

The ideal would be a fence with a gate. You get to choose what you let in and out. You can see what’s over the horizon, and prepare, if necessary. (One of the downsides to the big stone wall is that you can’t see what’s over the horizon until it’s right on top of you. So if there’s a tornado coming, you won’t be able to see and prepare for it until it has torn down your wall and is coming toward your house.)

If you feel like you need to work on healthy boundaries in your relationships, contact True North Counseling!

Jennifer Kendrick

AAMFT Approved Supervisor
Kentucky Board Approved MFT Supervisor

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker in KY
Licensed Clinical Social Worker in IN
cell: 502.203.9197

Friday Waypoints- 1/11/19

Job Satisfaction

Every now and then something happens that makes you question yourself and what you’re doing. This week I had a brief encounter with a young man that is struggling with life. He’s living with his mother, unemployed, and bearing a mental health burden that no one deserves. My heart goes out to him and his mother. Unfortunately, he is unable to handle the gentle pressure that therapy sometimes places on you and our session ended prematurely due to his very agitated response. And unfortunately for me, his response triggered memories of similar incidents over the past 25 years. That’s the nature of the work we do. Sometimes people come to us and change us. I shared this incident with a colleague and she shared a similar incident that almost caused her to quit being a therapist. She was assaulted by a client during a session. We are people. We love helping people.

So, what do we do? We see the next client, weather the negative reviews on google, share our burdens with family and friends, get out and hike. We listen to the latest Bon Iver album. At times, we see a therapist. And we stoke the flames that that burn deeply within us, that brought us to the very first therapy session, that for some of us was 25 years ago.

I love what I do. Later in the week, I sat across from Harper, a 14-year old that needs my help. She was abandoned by her father and struggling to make sense of it and of life. She’s growing and it warms my heart. Like I said, sometimes people come to us and change us.

Stoic Quote

A friend gave me “The Daily Stoic,” by Ryan Holiday. The quote for this past Wednesday was from Epictetus: “Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and in a word, everything not of our own doing.” Those of you that know me, know that I live my life based, in part, by slogans. It helps me stay focused on the important stuff. One slogan that relates to this quote from Epictetus is “Adjust to the things that won’t adjust to you.” This slogan reminds me that there are things that are not going to change no matter how much effort I apply to them. In a way, that’s why I love the Jefferson Forest, and the Red River Gorge, and the Grand Canyon, and all the other places that I explore. They are not going to adjust to me no matter what I do. We need immutable things in our lives. And we need to adjust to them. That includes places AND people.

Student Intern

Our new Student Intern started this past week. Her name is Sharonda Tunstull. She is a graduate student at Campbellsville University, working on her Master’s in Social Work. We are so fortunate to have her with our agency. She is going to be developing an Adolescent Group and seeing individuals and families for therapy. She is also going to co-lead a group for individuals with development and intellectual disabilities called, “Positive Relationships.” Welcome aboard, Sharonda!!!!

Circadian Dis-Rhythms (Or, Why Can’t I Sleep?)

I started having problems with sleep a few years ago. Before that, I slept like a baby. I’ve learned a few things about sleep recently and I want to them share with you. I’ve learned about the importance of good sleep. And I’ve learned about sleep hygiene.

Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours demolishes your immune system,” writes Matthew Walker PhD. “It more than doubles your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.” He goes on to write that, “Inadequate sleep disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that it would be classified as pre-diabetic.” It increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle.

I’ve learned that sleep, or lack of sleep, affects our memory, our ability to learn, and our ability to make logical decisions.

I’ve learned that insufficient sleep can increase aggression, bullying, and behavior problems with children.

I’ve learned as Joseph Cossman wrote: “The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”

So, here are some Sleep Hacks

Tips I’ve learn for getting a good night’s sleep:

  1. Stick to a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time.
  2. Exercise is great but try to exercise no later than 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  3. Avoid caffeine 8 hours prior to bedtime.
  4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
  5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night.
  6. If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt sleep.
  7. Don’t take naps after 3 pm.
  8. Relax before bed.
  9. Take a hot bath or shower before bed.
  10. Dark bedroom. Cool Bedroom. Gadget-free bedroom.
  11. Have the right sunlight exposure. Get outside at least 30 minutes a day of direct sunlight.
  12. Don’t lie in bed awake. If you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing.

I am sleeping better now. I’ve started practicing good sleep hygiene. I’ve started taking Melatonin (recommended by most sleep researchers). I have more to learn about good sleep, and I’ll share more information as I get it. Sweet dreams.

Friday Waypoints- 12/28/18

Book I’m Reading:

I picked up James Hamblin’s book, “If Our Bodies Could Talk,” to read on the plane during a recent trip. It’s great read. Think of it as an FAQ about the body. He covers topics that are interesting like, “What are dimples?” and “Why are blue eyes blue?” I particularly found his discussion about vitamins very helpful. If you’re convinced that taking vitamins is helpful, you might want to get his book and read this section. There’s a lot of money being spent to convince you that you need vitamin supplements. I decided, after a year of research, that my body does a pretty good job of extracting the vitamins that I need from the food I eat, so I do not take them. What I liked about this book, was the ability to fast-forward through the sections that were less interesting to me.

Meaningful Moment:

The Government Shutdown and Zion National Park- Thankfully It’s impossible to shut down a park. I did some Desert Therapy this past week in Nevada while attending a family get together. This included a drive through the barren landscape of SW Nevada and a couple of day hikes in Zion National Park. (A BIG Thank You to all the Rangers and Federal Employees that are keeping the National Parks open during the Shutdown!) We did a hike to the Emerald Pools and then along the Virgin River to the beginning of the Narrows. Despite it being winter, there were lots of people there. But for some reason, none of that bothered me. The day before, we had done a short day trip to Hoover Dam where there were lots of people as well.

This day was different. The walls of the valley reminded me of my hikes in the Grand Canyon, particularly the hike from Phantom Ranch to Ribbon Falls. It was as if the desert, the Virgin River, Angels Landing, and the Emerald Pools had transported me to another wonderful place. We slowed down and savored our time there. We let nature infect us.

Lessons From My Clients:

Never Go to Bed Angry! Sometimes the lessons I learn are simple. I was speaking to an older client this week about her relationships with family members. She recounted hearing her mother telling a friend that was having marital problems, to “Never go to bed angry!” It’s interesting that this was wisdom that Elsie (not her real name) overheard from her mother back in the Fifties. I think it’s fascinating that her mother didn’t actually tell her that, or at least it’s her recollection that she learned it indirectly by overhearing it. Think about the things that your children overhear you say to your friends and extended family members. We could expound about the wisdom of “Not letting the sun go down upon your wrath,” but I think it’s also important to ponder the ways that we transmit these tidbits of wisdom to our children and even our grandchildren. They hear everything. Hopefully, the things they remember help them for the rest of their lives.

My Advice for the New Year: Get Rid of Baggage!

I had some time to kill at the airport this past week and I used it to clear away some of the distractions and junk on my phone. More specifically, I unsubscribed to all of those unwanted emails that I accumulated over this past year. There were lots and lots. And then I got rid of all the apps that cluttered up my phone. And then I…..don’t look away….I unfollowed or unfriended people on my social media that, frankly, were either not a friend or just honestly annoying. I guess I have a low tolerance for people’s opinions about politics and other personal topics and I was getting tired of being dragged down into the gutters every time I opened Facebook. You are what you eat. You know what I mean? We can’t keep letting junk into our minds because eventually it changes us and usually not for the better. Getting rid of this year’s baggage might help you have a better year regardless of whether or not you make any resolutions. It’s kind of a reboot.

Happy New Year!!!!

The Hurried Child –Are We Creating a Generation of Anxious Children?

I first read David Elkind’s book, “The Hurried Child,” while in graduate school almost 25 years ago. It provided a course of treatment for me to use with families and their children. I encouraged families to relax and limit the stress that they imposed upon their kids. This stress usually took the form of over-involvement in extra-curricular activities and pressure to excel academically. Elkind asserted then and continues to in the 25th Anniversary edition of his book, that we are rushing our kids through childhood and contributing serious problems with anxiety and depression.

“The concept of childhood, so vital for a child’s healthy development,” he writes, “is threatened with extinction in the society we have created. Today’s child has become the unwilling, unintended victim of overwhelming stress –the stress borne of rapid, bewildering social change and constantly rising expectations.”

People need stress. It’s very important for our body to function and can help create creativity and motivation for being productive in society.

But chronic stress is very harmful and can lead to health issues such as, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and anxiety, just to name a few.

“For some children, Elkind summarizes, “chronic stress is translated into what Freud called “free-floating anxiety,” in the sense that it is not attached to a specific fear of apprehension.”

Childhood Anxiety is becoming an epidemic in our country.

I think Elkind is careful to spread the blame to several institutions for this rise in stress and anxiety with kids and not just parents. These include: the family system, schools, the media, and the internet. I recently reviewed the book, “IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are growing up less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood,” by Jean Twenge, PH.D. “Whereas teens used to hear about social events through whispers,” she writes, “they can now see up-to-the-minutes pictures of exactly what they are missing.” Children and teens are being robbed of the peace and safety of living in the “here and now.”

I remember many things about my childhood: playing with my brother Tim, building forts, and watching Saturday cartoons. I grew up during the Vietnam war and remember seeing soldiers on the evening news. Also, the threat of nuclear holocaust was a constant fear in the 60’s. But we used most of our days living like kids: playing in the here and now.

Unbeknownst to us, we we’re practicing a form of Mindfulness! Playing in the here and now!

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy-For Children

At True North Counseling, we want to help children and teens cope with stress and anxiety. We want to help children and teens get better connected with themselves and with the “here and now.” We do this through Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy-For Children (MBCBT-C). This is done in a group setting and uses evidence-based strategies to help them cope with stress. We utilize graduate-school students and provide this group treatment at no charge to the children and teens that we see for Individual and Family Therapy. If you would like to utilize this service, call 502-777-7525 to set up an assessment for your child or teen.

If you’re worried that you might be contributing to the increased stress and anxiety of your child, read Elkind’s book.  

 

Friday Waypoints- 12/14/18

Sometimes you simply need a break. I rarely get sick. Hopefully, it’s because I eat well, exercise, love my family, friends and job, and because I take care of myself. But I was under the weather this past week and I decided to take a day off.

Meaningful Moments- Taking some time off

I really didn’t do a thing. I binge-watched a couple of movie trilogies. Grazed on food throughout the day. I laid around and did nothing.

I felt a little guilt because of my “purpose driven” way of thinking. It’s difficult to disconnect from that.

But I woke up feeling better physically and mentally.  I think that it helped me recover from whatever I had. This is the “body mind connection” that so many have written about. Your body and mind are so closely connected that they catch each other’s diseases. That is a lesson that I continue to learn and apply.

Movie I watched

I am a Veteran. I enjoy watching historical movies about war. I think it’s a “band of Brothers” kind of thing. A friend who enjoys classic movies came over for dinner and he suggested “The Paths of Glory,” starring Kirk Douglas. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick. It’s a movie made in 1957 about WWI.

What I didn’t know about this movie is that it was one of the first anti-war movies made. It was heart wrenching.

Take some time and buy or rent the movie. It won’t change your mind about the senseless nature of most wars, but it will humanize the losses that we experience as a nation and as a people during war.

Lessons from My Clients- Talking Helps

When teenagers and their families come to see me (and other therapists as well) they talk. And they get better. I see it all the time. Things get bottled up and sometimes a teen needs to talk. Talking to me helps and talking to each other helps too. Things can get a little heated during our sessions.

But when family members look at each other and talk and cry, it’s therapeutic.

A 10-year wonderful girl was able to tell her absent father how much he had hurt her by abandoning her. He wasn’t there, but she was able to say the things that she has wanted to say to him. “Daddy, you really hurt me, when you stopped seeing me for no reason.”

She had been blaming herself. We talked. I saw the burden that she was carrying get a little lighter.