Over a year ago, I found this incredible podcast about burnout. I think I've talked about it in every single group I've facilitated since then, and have texted or emailed it to everyone I know.
Here's one of the best parts -
"What we realized is that self-care is the fallout shelter you build in your basement, because apparently, it’s your job to protect yourself from nuclear war. So we talk about sleep, we talk about stress, get physical activity. Well, that’s not going to work if you live in a household where you’re the only person who prioritizes your well-being.
It requires everybody in the household agreeing that your eight hours of sleep is a priority, and we are going to cordon off that time and space and protect it, so that you can have that time. Self-care requires a bubble of protection of other people who value your well-being at least as highly as you do.
So the cure for burnout must ultimately be all of us caring for each other, and right now more than any other. We don’t do lean in, we don’t do lean down, we do lean on. Lean with. Pick each other up."
I've read the book. Twice.
And one thing I keep coming back to is the idea that even if we can't remove the stressor, we can remove the stress. We can't remove the pandemic - but we can dance it out in the kitchen, rest, ask for help, and support each other.
If you can't find an hour for the podcast or more time for the book, try out this 6-minute video for some ideas:
Here's the quick list (source: Emily and Amelia's TED Talk/article):
6 evidence-based strategies to help you complete your stress cycle:
Deep, slow breaths down-regulate the stress response, especially when the exhalation is long and slow and goes all the way to the end of the breath so your belly contracts. Breathing is most effective when your stress isn’t that high or when you just need to siphon off the very worst of the stress so you can get through a difficult situation.
A simple, practical exercise is to breathe in to a slow count of 5, hold that breath for 5, then exhale for a slow count of 10, and pause for another count of 5. Do that three times — for one minute and 15 seconds of breathing — and then see how you feel.
2. Positive social interaction
Casual but friendly social interaction is an external sign that the world is a safe place. People with more acquaintances are happier. Just go buy a cup of coffee and say “Nice day” to the barista or compliment another customer’s earrings. Reassure your brain that the world is a safe, sane place, and not all people suck. It helps!
Laughing together, and even just reminiscing about the times we’ve laughed together, increases relationship satisfaction. We mean belly laughs — deep, impolite, helpless laughter. When we laugh, says neuroscientist Sophie Scott, we use an “ancient evolutionary system that mammals have evolved to make and maintain social bonds and regulate emotions.”
Sometimes, a deeper connection with a loving presence is called for. Most often, this comes from a loving and beloved person who likes, respects and trusts you, whom you like, respect and trust. It doesn’t have to be physical affection (though physical affection is great). A warm hug in a safe and trusting context can do as much to help your body feel like it has escaped a threat as jogging a couple of miles, and it’s a heck of a lot less sweaty.
One example of affection is the “six- second kiss” advice from relationship researcher John Gottman. Every day, he suggests, kiss your partner for six seconds. There’s a reason behind the timing: Six seconds is too long to kiss someone you resent or dislike, and it’s far too long to kiss someone with whom you feel unsafe. Kissing for six seconds requires that you stop and deliberately notice you like this person, you trust them and you feel affection for them. By noticing those things, the kiss tells your body that you are safe with your tribe.
Another example: Hug someone you love and trust for 20 full seconds, while both of you are standing over your own centers of balance. Research suggests this kind of hug can change your hormones, lower your blood pressure and heart rate, and improve mood. It doesn’t have to be precisely 20 seconds. What matters is you feel the stress easing, or what therapist Suzanne Iasenza describes as “hugging until relaxed.”
Of course, affection doesn’t stop with other human beings. Just petting a cat or dog for a few minutes can help complete the cycle too.
5. A big ol’ cry
Have you had the experience of just barely making it inside your home — or bedroom — before you slam the door behind you and burst into tears for 10 minutes? Then you wipe your nose, sigh a big sigh and feel relieved from the weight of whatever made you cry? You may not have changed the situation that caused the stress, but you completed the cycle.
Have a favorite tearjerker movie that makes you cry every time? Going through that emotion with the characters allows your body to go through it, too.
6. Creative expression
Engaging in creative activities today leads to more energy, excitement, and enthusiasm tomorrow. Like sports, the arts — including painting, sculpture, music, theater and storytelling in all forms — create a context that tolerates and even encourages big emotions. Arts of all kinds give us the chance to celebrate and move through our big emotions.
P.S.: How do you know you’ve completed the cycle?
It’s like knowing when you’re full after a meal or like knowing when you’ve had an orgasm — your body tells you. You might experience it as a shift in mood or mental state or physical tension, as you breathe more deeply and your thoughts relax.
It’s easier for some people to recognize than others. For some people, it’s as obvious as knowing that they’re breathing. That’s how it is for Emily. Long before she knew about the science, she knew that when she felt stressed and tense and terrible, she could go for a run or for a bike ride and at the end of it she would feel better. She has always been able to feel it intuitively, that shift inside her body.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure you can recognize when you’ve completed the cycle. Especially if you’ve spent a lot of years — like, your whole life, maybe — holding on to your worry or anger, you’ve probably got a whole lot of accumulated stress response cycles spinning their engines, so it’s going to take a while before you get through the backlog.
All you need to do is recognize that you feel incrementally better than you felt before you started. You can notice that something in your body has changed, shifted in the direction of peace.
“If I was at an eight on the stress scale when I started, I’m at a four now,” you can say. And that’s pretty great.
Have you tried any of these strategies? Are there others that have worked for you?
Thoughts on pregnancy, birth and motherhood.