It’s a lesson I have been learning again and again for the last 15 years: Don’t take on too much. A new project here, a fun idea there, a bunch of travel, lots of family commitments… all these good things should amount to more good things… right?How do we say ‘no’ to new and exciting things, even if we can feel that maybe things are getting out of balance?
Like this: “Noooooooo.”
Some call it burn-out, which isn’t wrong, but I’ve decided to call it something else: Break-through. Burn-out implies losing something, failure. Although the symptoms might track with what we consider burn-out (deep exhaustion, recurring illness, relationship strain, etc.), a break-through is about allowing what needs to happen to finally rise to the top- via those symptoms. Break-through is reframing a difficult experience from a down-ward spiral to a new beginning. It’s when we stop making excuses for choices and start really listening. –> If you’re in a hurry and ready to skip-through, drop down to my top 5 burnout break-throughs.
Since first discovering yoga in my early 20’s, I have spiraled down into burn-out numerous times, only to pick back up again through yoga and some hard life lessons. Well, my old friend is back, and this time I’m sharing. Why? Because it’s real. Because even our teachers and mentors learn things the hard way sometimes. Because I want people to know that I’m not out doing things because I don’t want to; it’s probably because I’m busy parenting myself at the moment (see tip #2).
Yoga is about digging out of all the overlying garbage and dark feelings that pull us down and honing our ability to step into the light. Three yoga terms come to mind to help us understand this process of moving from burn-out to break-through: Ahimsa, Aparigraha, and Svadhyaya. These three of the ten Yamas and Niyamas represent part of a series of right living, or living true to ourselves, and they can help us move from burn-out to break-through.
Burnout to Break-through tips:
#1- Stop the bleeding. An emergency care provider wouldn’t tell someone who is broken and bleeding that they should really spend some time meditating and relaxing in order to heal. They stop the bleeding, set the bone, and then talk about how to heal and maybe even how to prevent future injury. In yoga, the term we can apply is Ahimsa, meaning non-violence or non-harming. Ahimsa, abstaining from violence, doesn’t just apply to harming others (think 10 Commandments). We can use this principle to stop harming ourselves, and start transforming from burn-out to break-through. We must immediately make decisions to stop the harm to ourselves, then start to apply soothing balm to the injury through beneficial, mindful practices. If being over- extended is the harm, *cough, cough* immediately identify areas to trim. Stop the bleeding of energy.
#2- Self care isn’t sexy; it’s more like parenting yourself. I stole this line recently because it perfectly explains the hard work of deep, meaningful self care. As much as I like getting massages, pedicures and taking yoga classes, the un-sexy self-care that I need more is MUCH harder to implement… at least at first. Things like sleep habits, food and liquid intake check-ins, and mental hygiene* are critical to beginning a new pattern in a positive and healthy direction. Parenting ourselves is about making decisions based on what we really need, not what we want or might be using to cope. And, just like parenting children, that’s hard work.
#3- Disappoint people that live OUTSIDE your home first. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how easy it is to put off the needs of the people closest to us in addition to our own. Perceived pressures from work, community and extra-curriculars can draw us out of connection with the ‘feed’ of our household and result is a feeling of disconnection. People will either understand the need to withdraw from activities and responsibilities or they won’t. Either way, we don’t have to share a bed or a life with those people.
The yoga principle that comes to light here is Aparigraha, or non-possessiveness. Are there activities, obligations or responsibilities that we see as ours, and ours alone? Is this reality, or are we grasping at these things that are actually non-essential to our deeper well-being? Whether it is people or things, invoking a spirit of non-possessiveness can help us to identify what is truly ours, and what isn’t.
#4- Take the lesson, but don’t take it too far. Stop the bleeding, but don’t immediately amputate the limb. I recently took a seminar on resiliency from Lorca Smetana, and I love the imagery she used: When you’re at the bottom of a hole, it’s hard to see much in the way of options. The lesson: Start climbing out of the hole, and continue to reassess. Stopping the bleeding of energy away doesn’t mean we have to permanently or exclusively cut certain things out. We need to incorporate svadhyaya, or self-study, to refine our awareness and allow things to better be illuminated. Things that don’t feel clear or in alignment might not be the best option.
#5- Be kind to yourself. Part of healthy parenting includes compassion. Yep, here we are again, learning the same lessons in a new way, at a different time. So what? Would we rather learn someone else’s lessons? If we can trust that we are in the place where we are supposed to be and that we are capable of uncovering our own health again, why do we judge ourselves for it? Remember to parent with compassion, not contempt. This is part of the ‘mental hygiene’* that is so important to a break-through versus a burn-out. Think about the last time that you made a mistake and someone responded graciously and with kindness. It’s amazing how different it feels, as if we are looking up from an illuminated, shallow hole rather than a deep, dark emotional pit. Invoking compassion for ourselves aids in healing and also helps us share this feeling with others, like a little glowing ember.
In burn-out, the concurrent epidemic to the COVID-19 pandemic, the implication is that we’re going down. We’re letting our embers die. We’re losing.
When we reframe to a mind set and language that helps us see options and cultivates the ability to imagine a brighter future, we’re breaking out of that pattern. We’re moving through and out of the darkness. These things that we’re feeling are part of this process. We’re learning. We’re growing. It’s not burning out when we’re allowing a life that feels light-filled and true to emerge. It’s breaking through.
Please comment with your own thoughts or experiences!
*This is another term I borrow from a fellow teacher and all-around cool guy: Coach Drew.