Sometimes it’s important we take a break from everything and give ourselves some much-needed time to recuperate. We often get so absorbed in taking the next step, planning the next milestone, setting up the next goal, doing what is “right”, meeting the society’s and our expectations that we forget to just be.
I have been a lifelong believer in taking action, achieving my goals, setting & meeting expectations, performing to the best of my abilities, and taking up something new every now & then that after a while I start to lose energy until my mind and body finally collapse. If I say no to something or if I stop giving to those I care for, I feel like I’ve let them down. It’s as if I am betraying them. Before they can say something, I feel like I have disappointed them. As a result, I end up letting myself down, try even harder, and feel even more exhausted.
I can’t remember the last time I took a proper break in the past year where I wasn’t doing something about my job, my relationships, or my experience with spirituality. My life has been a roller coaster ride in the past year. If it was not me dealing with a job loss and the struggles of looking for a job during a pandemic, I was busy taking care of my emotions, my mental health and trying to identify what was “wrong” with me. The minutes I had in between was spent learning a new skill, spending 10+ hours every day in the office, or working on getting into a better physical and mental shape. Something that was successful in calming my mind down, meditation, had resulted in making it even harder to allow myself to relax and had turned my life upside down. Between getting a job and now, I have witnessed more upheavals than in the past 28 years of my life. What can be more than having your entire identity completely shaken up within a span of weeks?
Finally, a week back a point came where my body, mind, and soul decided to shut down. Imagine feeling anxious out of nowhere multiple times a day. It just got too much to bear. I decided to take a few days off from work because it became impossible to sit at my desk and have any motivation to get my work done. Not just that, I decided to take a break from everything. It even came to a point where I didn’t want to blog anymore because I felt like I had no energy left to even write. Every sentence I wrote was draining me. I didn’t cook for more than a week, my blood pressure started to drop drastically, I had to take painkillers for a constant headache, felt emotionally overwhelmed and I started making excuses to not talk or to hang out with anyone. I have gone into a recluse where it was taking 200% of my energy to have any conversations..
Yesterday, I told a colleague that I wish I could take a month off from work. My statement sounded alarm bells in her mind and she replied, “When we reach that level, it’s not good. It means something needs to be done.” While she meant that the company had to do something to improve the work environment, to me the statement also meant that I had to do something to protect myself before I collapsed. Well, now that I am taking a few days off, I am finding it extremely difficult to decide what to do. That was until I realized that that was the problem. I am so used to doing something or making something right that spending just a few hours not thinking or not working or not being “productive” feels impossible.
What I am going through is called “burnout”. The term “burnout” is relatively new, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”. While most often this term is used in terms of one’s job, other areas of life can cause a person to feel burned out too. In my case, it was everything from my job to my experience with spirituality and my constant endeavor to heal myself emotionally, physically, and mentally to improve myself. But, now, I am just tired to a point where earlier this week I told myself that I don’t care anymore and that I’ll just let things take their course without me constantly trying to prove anything. And that’s probably the best decision I could have made.
Some symptoms of burnout include:
- Exhaustion: Feeling physically and emotionally depleted. Physical symptoms may include headaches, stomachaches, and appetite or sleeping changes.
- Isolation. People with burnout tend to feel overwhelmed. As a result, they may stop socializing and confiding in friends, family members, and co-workers.
- Escape fantasies. Dissatisfied with the never-ending demands of their jobs, people with burnout may fantasize about running away or going on a solo-vacation. In extreme cases, they may turn to drugs, alcohol, or food as a way to numb their emotional pain.
- Irritability. Burnout can cause people to lose their cool with friends, co-workers, and family members more easily. Coping with normal stressors like preparing for a work meeting, driving kids to school, and tending to household tasks also may start to feel insurmountable, especially when things don’t go as planned.
- Frequent illnesses. Burnout, like other long-term stress, can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, the flu, and insomnia. Burnout can also lead to mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.
(Source: Identifying Burnout )
Anyone can feel burnout at any point in their lives. Typically, continual stress from a job or personal life can result in individual burnout. In my case, being a highly sensitive individual requires me to take a lot more time to de-stress and I am prone to easily getting overwhelmed. While I have started to take measures that help me better manage my stressors, there are times where things are out of my circle of control. At such times, removing myself from the situation typically helps but, then, there are times when I don’t have a way to remove myself from the situation. This time when my lucid dreams started again and some spiritual experiences started to feel overwhelming, I decided that this was it. Honestly, I had started contemplating if moving to a different country will help me. But, then, I told myself that I am done running away and that forcing myself to go through yet another drastic change is the last thing that I need. If I do decide to move, it has to be because that’s what excites me and not because I am looking for an escape which has been a pattern throughout my life. Also, right now even trying to plan for a trip is causing me anxiety let alone planning a move to a different land. I need to get a handle over this because I physically and mentally can’t continue to live like this. This has also led me to gather the courage needed to dive deeper into my spiritual experiences and confronting my fears once and for all so that nothing else has control over me. But I’ve also realized that I can’t do it alone anymore.
My decision led me to make a couple of changes in my meditation practices which have so far proved to be beneficial. There are still times when it gets overwhelming but that’s the best I can do at the moment. Next, I decided to take a step back from everything that was not critical and prioritized my need to get some peace. Finally, I ended up contacting a therapist who could understand what it means to go through a spiritual emergence. When I had my first session with her, I was hesitant to tell her about my experiences because I didn’t want yet another person to tell me that they didn’t believe me, try to find “logical” explanations for my experiences and I was too exhausted to explain myself. However, to my surprise, it seems like this person is fully equipped to provide me with the tools that I need because she has 20 years of experience working with people having such experiences. She has a Ph.D. in psychology and gets spirituality! In her words, “Psychology is the study of psyche. And psyche is spirit”. How awesome is that?!! She is perfect! It truly feels like I have been waiting for her since forever. I didn’t even have to explain any of my experiences to her because she could connect with every small incident I mentioned & used a spiritual term to describe those experiences!!!!!! Can you imagine that? And she empathized with how exhausted I feel with having to explain myself, going through this without the emotional support I need and dealing with all the loses that the experience has brought with itself while trying hard not to let the hurt get to me. The constant upsurge of underlying emotions and unveiling of past & new information means I am on the go 24*7. The best part about meeting her was that she was even more excited than I was about my experiences!!! I’ve finally found THE ONE!!!! I guess that was the benefit of me deciding to take a break 😀
In the end, I am taking a break from everything and prioritizing my mental health. I have no plans for the upcoming vacation except taking it one day at a time. It’s either going to be a disastor or it will give me the much needed peace that I am looking for. It’s confusing my friends and family but this is what my body, mind, and soul need right now. Honestly, it’s also confusing me because I am not used to not going after the next thing so sometimes I literally have to coach myself to not do something if it doesn’t provide me peace at that moment. I am taking a break to be with me and just have enough energy to do what I want instead of trying to accomplish something else.
If you or your friend/family member is burning out, here are a couple of tips that might help:
- Listen to their concerns & validate their emotions. Please don’t try to explain their situation to them. It won’t help you or them
- Don’t ask them to make plans or do anything that you think can help them. Just don’t! Not everything requires solutions from someone else
- Ask them what they need. If they say they don’t need anything or don’t know what they need, do something for them that you think can help them without expectations
- If they need some alone time, let them have it. They deserve it and so do you
- If you’re going through a burn out, just do what you want. If lying on a couch the entire day makes you happy, do it. If eating all the unhealthy food there is to eat, eat it. If anyone judges you, ask them to buzz off
- When you start to feel a little better, take it one step at a time starting with making your body and mind feel healthier
- Try and not engage in unhealthy behavior. Yesterday, I thought having a beer will help me feel relaxed and my body told me today that it doesn’t want me to drink beer anymore. There goes my love for beer
- Don’t force yourself to do something that you don’t feel like doing. Do what makes you comfortable
It’s completely natural to feel drained. Sometimes even our best intentions can make us feel drained because we might be giving more to something or someone than we humanly can. At such times, it’s completely normal to take a step back and re-establish ourselves. You can’t give more than what you have and, if you continue to, a point will come where you will have nothing left to give and that would be a loss for everyone involved. Sometimes you deserve your love more and sometimes others will need to step up to give you their support. Try not to get to a point where you overstretch yourself and if you’re already there, give yourself the break that you deserve.
Finally, continue to love yourself. Remember you’re amazing the way you are and will always be loved! Others matter but so do you! ❤