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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- 5/3/19

Lessons from My Clients

Mindfulness can help. I am working with several teenagers and my hope is that I can give them tools to help them live life skillfully. Mindfulness can help. I often think that if I can come up with the perfect combination of words for my clients, then they’ll listen and get better. But of course, it’s not that simple. Brandon is a 16-year old adolescent that is struggling with OCD behaviors. I’m learning that Mindfulness helps when words don’t. I’m helping him retrain his anxious brain through deep breathing and mantras. I’m learning that my anxious brain needs some retraining as well. I need reminded again and again. Thank you, Brandon.

Book I’m Reading- “Self-Compassion,” by Kristin Neff Ph.D.

I was introduced to this book while listening to some lectures about mindfulness. What struck me, is the sense of disappointment that hangs over many of our heads. Maybe this is an echo of the voices from our past. Regardless, we are usually our harshest critic.

Self-compassion is the remedy for self-judgment. “Insecurity, anxiety, and depression are incredibly common in our society,” writes Neff, “and much of this is due to self-judgment, to beating ourselves up when we feel we aren’t winning in the game of life.”

Quote I’m Pondering

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

-Anonymous

Road Trip This Week

I’m in Colorado this week visiting my granddaughters. I drive out once a year just to experience the road. It keeps my grounded. I love the convenience of flying, but I need the experience of driving. I use the time to listen to books, podcasts, and music. And I use the time to think. There is something in the hiking world called “Trail Dissociation.” If you’ve done a long hike or backpack trip, you know what I mean. Your mind wanders. The same thing happens when I do a road trip. I think and think, and think about lots and lots of things in no particular order or fashion. It is like meditation and I feel like it’s a “reset.” My body pays for the long trips but my mind reaps the benefits!

 

Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

What is Essentialism?

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices re-actively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the non-essentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”

A Review

This book came to me via a recommendation from Bossed Up, an online group for women that deals with career, relationships and life. (Bossed Up has an accompanying podcast, which I also recommend.) I started reading the book at a time when I was struggling with setting my priorities and creating balance in my life. The first suggestion from the book that I followed was to make a pie chart of how you want to spend your week, including work, family, faith, hobbies, and any other things that you feel are important in your life. Then, spend a week tracking how you actually spend your time. If you’re anything like me, how you want to spend your time and how you actually spend your time are not the same. At that point, you have to examine your priorities, and focus on what you want the most. My mind was blown when I heard (I listened to this book on audio) the author, Greg McKeown, say, “The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing and it stayed singular for the next five hundred years.”

(That sound you hear is my mind exploding.) What he’s saying is this: You cannot have priorities. You can have priority. You have to decide what is the thing that you want to build your life around. I suggest that your priority be something that feeds your soul, gives your life meaning, and gives back to your community. But the great thing about priority is that you get to decide what that thing is.

Here’s the other mind-boggling thing from the book: “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”

There will always be people telling you that THIS is the most important thing. Looking this way, being this kind of parent, doing these sorts of things, going on this kind of vacation… When you change your default answer from “yes” to “no,” you open up a world of possibilities for yourself. McKeown also writes, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” Too often it seems that people and organizations will tell you that this one particular task MUST be attended to, RIGHT THIS SECOND! One guideline I suggest is asking the person making the demand, “Where (or to whom) should I shift my other tasks so that I can give this task the time it deserves?” Alternatively, “What would you like me to de-prioritize?”

I would love it if every supervisor in the world read this book. Then we could really get a good conversation going about goal setting! Once I came to the realization that “only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” It completely changed how I look at setting goals. What do you think?

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.