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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?

Friday Waypoints- 6/14/19

What I’m Reading

“Changing Body Composition through Diet and Exercise” by Michael Ormsbee, Ph.D.

I’m actually listening to this book on Audible. I’m on the road a lot and I spend most of this time listening to books. Ormsbee writes, “Improving body composition by losing body fat and optimizing lean is not about vanity –it’s about health.”

This book is not about losing weight. It’s about decreasing the amount of body fat in your body and it’s about insuring that you do not lose muscle mass. I like this approach because I do not want to lose weight. My BMI puts me in the overweight category, but that’s because I work out and exercise regularly. I realized years ago that you begin losing muscle mass as you age and I have worked very hard to maintain and grow muscle. I “preach” to clients, “You need to work at becoming stronger as you age.” Maintaining your lean muscle mass is one way of do this. Ormsbee does a very good job explaining the basics of nutrition and puts the focus on the right things.

What Are You Listening To?

Apple Music is introducing me to new music and helping me stay in touch with my favorites. Just hit the “For You” tab on the app and you get the option of “New Music Mix,” “Favorites Mix,” and “Chill Mix.”

Don’t underestimate the power of music in your life. Recently, I’ve been utilizing the Mindfulness Meditation that encourages you to “Step in the Feeling.” This could include “stepping into the sadness. Most of us DO NOT like listening to “sad” music, but there can be something therapeutic about purposely sitting during a mindfulness session and “stepping into sadness” while listening to sad music.

Of course, listening to “happy and upbeat” music is important too! I’m listening to some past favorites right now and this music is conjuring up many memories associated with that music. Let music by thy medicine.

Families Want to Get Along

One of the reasons I love what I do is the desire that most families have to get along. They want to end the conflict. They come to me hoping that I can help and many times I can.

Raising teenagers is not easy! Teenagers are under a lot of pressure! Neither Parents not teens want to fight and when I see them years later, they scratch their heads and wonder why there was so much conflict.

This week, I witnessed a wonderful family following the “therapeutic map” that I laid out before them. I saw them all working together. And they left with smiles on their face because they saw something work. It keeps my compass pointed toward “True North.”

Friday Waypoints

Friday Waypoints – 05/17/19

Mark Neese is back with another Friday Waypoints blog post. On this weeks Friday Waypoints, Mark discusses how drugs cause parents to abandon their children, why the internet is a dangerous place for teens, and he revisits The Parklands of Floyd Forks. Mark discusses his previous visit to The Parklands of Floyd Forks, a hidden gem in Louisville, KY, in his Friday Waypoints on 5/10.

Drugs and Parents that Abandon Their Kids

I’ve been working with families for about 25 years. My early career was working in the rural counties surrounding Louisville. The families that I worked with were struggling with poverty and at times intellectual disabilities. It was challenging and rewarding. Every now and then I run into one of the family members that I worked with and it is very gratifying to see them doing well these many years later.

Today things are different. I have never witnessed an epidemic as I have today: parents abandoning their children because of drugs. This past weekend was Mother’s Day and two of the teens that I work with wanted to call and talk with their mothers but were unable to contact them because they were both AWOL. Both mothers are semi-homeless and have serious drug problems. To compound the problem, one of the teens witnessed his father being taken away in an ambulance because of a suspected overdose, on the very same day. Not such a “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Meditating in The Parklands of Floyds Fork (Reprise)

I was back at the Parklands yesterday to visit the Moss Gibbs Woodland Gardens. It is the gem of the new park system. It’s beautiful, and quiet, and I anticipate spending many of my mornings there. I’m practicing Mindfulness and using guided meditations by Donald Seigel. For those interested in learning more you can visit his website for free meditation downloads: http://www.mindfulness-solution.com.

The meditation that I used yesterday while sitting in the midst of the garden was one that focused on self-compassion. During this meditation you focus on the phrases: “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I live at ease,” or “May I be safe, may I be at peace, may I be free from suffering.” You can do this while driving, walking or sitting in a quiet place in your home. The Woodland Garden offers a place to sit quietly and listen to the Towhees, wrens and Cardinals. It offers a place to be part of a forest.

The Internet is a Dangerous Place for Teens

I am working with a Teen that was nearly swallowed up by Internet. Her mother saved her. It started with the website, “Wattpad.” This is a social storytelling platform. It ended with her sending pictures of herself to perfect strangers through a group on Instagram: #ddlg. She was being groomed for something dangerous and evil.

These are adult sites and 13-year olds should not be on them! She had no clue what she was getting into.

Parents, monitor your teenagers on the internet. There are predators that will take advantage of their innocence and take it from them!

Quote I’m Pondering

“Your smile and your laughter lit my whole world.”

Ranata Suzuki

Friday Waypoints- 02-21-19

Podcast I’m Listening to

I’ve been a big fan of Sam Harris because of the work he’s done on Mindfulness. He has an app called “Waking Up” and a Podcast entitled, “Making Sense.” This past week the podcast episode #147 was an interview with Stephen Fry. Fry is an English actor, comedian, writer and activist. If you’ve listened to the Harry Potter books, it’s his voice you will hear.

Harris and Fry spend much of this podcast talking about mindfulness and meditation. There are literally thousands of podcasts to listen to while you’re driving.  If you’re looking for a few to follow, consider these:

  • Optimal Health Daily
  • The Daily Meditation Podcast
  • Happiness Podcast
  • Meditate and Move
  • Optimal Living Daily
  • Stoic Meditations

Lessons from My Clients

Most of my practice has been with Teenagers and their families. What I have observed and seen with many of these teens is that life can be a struggle. In fact, it can overwhelm them. Many are experiencing anxiety and mild depression and they can’t seem to shake it. It’s partly due to social media and technology, but it’s mostly due to cultural influences. What I mean by that is the that teens are affected by the things we value and spend our time doing. Teenagers today are under a lot of stress. They struggle with finding meaning in life. Life is getting more and more complicated at home, at school, in the community, and with peers.

What I relearned this past week is that sometimes our teens simply need to talk to someone about their worries and fears. I saw the burden lifted as a wonderful young man simply talked and I listened.

I Lost a Good Friend This Past Week

There are few things that bring things into perspective like losing a lifelong friend. Life really is short. Without going into details, most of my adolescence was coupled with him. I admired him, I never felt judgment from him. We supported each other through our hardships, but these past few years he was in unbearable pain.

I am sad for many reasons. This is a great loss for many people. He was an intelligent man and for many years, was full of life. I will miss him.

And as we do with many of our losses, we live with them. I will live with this loss.  I will live. “Life is to be lived,” as the saying goes. And it is short and fragile. Remembering that, and remembering my dear friend’s life, will hopefully inspire me as it did when he was alive.

 

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.  

 

A Guide to the Good Life

“A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy,” by William B. Irvine.

I’m in Colorado visiting my two granddaughters as I write this. I started reading “A Guide to the Good Life” on the plane. It was one of the few times I wanted the flight to last longer. “Just let me finish one more chapter,” I whispered to the pilot.

This is a book about Stoicism and developing a philosophy of life. Classical Stoicism has little to do with the modern definition of a Stoic: One who is seemingly indifferent to or unaffected by joy, grief, pleasure, or pain.

“I discovered,” writes Irvine, “that the goal of the Stoics was not to banish emotion from life, but rather, to banish negative emotions.” He explains that a “philosophy of life” is the guiding principle for living, or a way of living that hopefully leads to The Good Life.

Irvine explains that The Good Life has little to do with prosperity. Many people have experienced The Good Life despite the lack of prosperity and, of course, think of all the people that are very prosperous and yet are unhappy and miserable.

I’ll be sharing several Stoic Techniques and ways of living as I digest them. They “hit a nerve” with me and I hope they will with you as well.

Stoic Technique One: Negative Visualization

At the very root of our nature is the notion that we are insatiable. We are never satisfied with what we have. Irvine describes this as the “Satisfaction Treadmill.” We desire something and acquire it. We lose interest in it. We desire something else, and so on. This is also called “Hedonic Adaptation.”

We have all witnessed this in our lives. The new car. The new computer. Fill in the blank. The result is that we experience a lack of happiness with the things in our lives, the people in our lives, our health, our job, and life itself.

One technique for getting off of this treadmill is Negative Visualization.

“This is,” Irvine writes, “the single most valuable technique in the Stoic psychological tool kit.” This technique involves periodically visualizing the possibility that the enjoyment of the people and things in your life will come to an end.

-Regarding our children, when we kiss them as they leave for school, remember that they are mortal and not something that we own. They have been given to us but possibly gone tomorrow.

-Regarding a job, visualize losing it due to no fault of your own.

-Regarding your health, reflecting on what it would mean to lose it due to an accident or illness.

-Regarding your spouse or partner, think about losing them to death or to divorce.

This is not intended to be morbid or for the purpose of robbing you of the joy that these people, activities or things bring to your life.

Rather it is intended to:

-Help you cherish every kiss from your spouse, your partner, or your child.

-Help you appreciate getting up and going to your job each day.

-Get you out and enjoy the health you do have rather than the health problems you have.

-Embrace the life that you have each day.

-Learn to desire the people and things that you already have.

Irvine concludes, “Negative Visualization, rather than making people glum, will increase the extent to which they enjoy the world around them, in as much at it will prevent them from taking that world for granted.”

There is something sobering about thinking that all things and people in our lives are temporary and impermanent. It is sobering to visualize that the life we have will come to an end and that we will eventually lose everything.

This Stoic technique helps us to take live one day at a time and treat the people in our lives as precious and priceless.

I think this is a worthy Philosophy of Life that will help lead us to The Good Life.

I’ll be sharing additional Stoic Techniques in upcoming Blogs. Stay tuned.

Friday Waypoints- 11/16/18

Meaningful Moment:

Watching the Sun set on the second night of backpacking in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. I had hiked into the Chessler Park area of the Needles District with 60+ lbs. on my back, through some beautiful and rugged terrain. Except for a few jet streams, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was facing a desert meadow with rock formations in every direction. I wondered how many people had been able to witness such a beautiful sunset, in such a beautiful place. It was a spiritual experience. It was an experience that had gotten me outside of myself and had made me feel that I was a part of something bigger, older, and a part of something that had been there for millions of years and likely will be there for millions more. I felt connected and at peace.

Book I’m Reading:

“A Guide to the Good Life” by William B. Irvine. This book was recommended by Tim Ferriss on his podcast “The Tim Ferriss Show.” I was completely taken in by this book. Irvine re-introduces us to the idea of having a “Philosophy of Life.” He begins by asking, “What do you want out of your life.” If you don’t know, you may be at risk of mis-living. This book is about Stoicism and Stoic techniques that help us find the good life. I’ll be reviewing this book and discussing some of the Stoic Techniques in upcoming blogs.

Podcast I Recommend:

Daily Meditation Podcast, by Mary Meckley. I like this podcast. First, it’s free. Second, It’s a guided meditation. You simply get into a meditation mode and listen to the podcast. Third, these are short, around 10 minutes. Give it a try!

Friday Waypoints- 11/2/18

Meaningful Moment- Switchbacks

I took three adolescent boys into the woods to train with backpacks this past weekend. It was therapeutic!!! We stopped on the trail in the Jefferson Memorial Forest and walked through a stream bed. We looked for geodes. It was three young teenagers in the woods, looking for geodes.

I saw the burdens that they were each carrying lifted from their shoulders during that hike. They each carried 20 pounds in their packs; training for the overnight trip in a few weeks.

Somehow the forest, a heavy pack, and camaraderie can take away some of the junk that you carry around each week. I really believe that!!!

Lessons from My Clients- I unplugged

Thank you A.H., a teenager that I’m working with. Really, ‘thank you’ to his mom. Part of our encounter this week included a discussion about electronics and his iPhone. He informed me that Sunday is “electronics free” day. I asked him what he thought about it and he said he loved it!

I have been feeling edgy over the past couple of weeks. It’s election time and there has been a lot of news coverage. I seem to be on my phone browsing during all of my free time (Twitter, Facebook, and other news apps).

I think that sometimes we need to unplug from it all! I deleted those apps from my phone for the month of November. I feel better already!!!!

Book I’m Reading

I’m reading “The Hurried Child,” by David Elkind this week. I read it 25 years ago and he has since updated it. It impacted my life when my sons were in elementary and middle school. “Children need time to grow,” Elkin writes, “to learn, and to develop. To treat them differently from adults is not to discriminate against them but rather to recognize their special estate.” Slow down. I’m writing a review soon.

True North Health

The Therapy of Hope

Throughout our history, humans have gone through many times of despair. Families have lost hope. At times, people have felt and feel hopeless. I don’t want to sound like a downer, but all of us, at times, have wondered if it’s worth it. We have contemplated giving up on a relationship, a teenage son or daughter, a job, and yes, ourselves.

I have taken many courses throughout my life, and I’ve read many books, but none affected me as much as “A Theology of Hope,” by J. Moltmann. In it he writes,

Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.”

People come to therapy because they have feelings of hopelessness. As a young therapist, I was inspired by Moltmann’s declaration, to be an instrument of hope. At the very heart of therapy is the goal of helping people find hope, because without it they cannot live.

I believe that hopeful people inspire hopefulness in others. A hopeful therapist has many tools and strategies for helping people, but most important they inspire hopefulness. I believe they infect people with their hopefulness. They engage in a Therapy of Hope.

I have often advised that, when people leave their therapy sessions with a therapist, and they do not feel more hopeful, that they should seek out another therapist. It doesn’t matter how many letters they have after their names or books on their shelves, what you need is more hope. Thankfully, there are many, many clinicians that are able to give you this most basic gift.