‘We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value – the rapture that is associated with being alive – is what it is all about.’ – Jospeh Campbell
On the flip side of burnout out is a radical idea that challenges the very fabric of current cultural norms. Balanced living.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
Yet the art of living a balanced life is not easy. It’s actually extraordinarily challenging. I Dare You, is the title of the William H Danforth book that lays out this recipe for living.
First published in the 1930s, Danforth’s slim manifesto advocates the idea that each person has not one, but four lives to live: physical, mental, social and spiritual. The ingredients for life are a body, a brain, a heart and a soul, he would say. All four must grow in balance with each other.
Or what? Or else? I’m a questioner with a rebel streak who will poke about researching the life out of anything before it gets house room. But this idea makes absolute sense, even to deeply suspicious little old me.
Let’s look at the reality of life today.
We live in a world that highly values work. It’s gone beyond cult status. And I’m not saying work isn’t important, but how did it come to be the be-all-and-end-all in our lives?
The industrial revolution changed the way we lived and prompted literature reflecting deep concerns for social wellbeing, from HG Wells to William Morris. But the social media revolution seems to have created fewer ripples of concern as the internet’s globalisation rips down old barriers of time zone or place. Maybe we’ve just got used to work obsessing in the century that has passed since News from Nowhere and The Time Machine were published.
We may point to books like the Four Hour Work Week, but who do you know who lives that life? Has the internet really freed us to live more – or do more? The Devil Wears Prada is as relevant today as it was 12 years ago. Probably more so because advances in tech mean we can have meetings and file share anytime and anyplace (with reliable wifi).
We are trained to value work beyond our body, beyond our Self, beyond love. Otherwise, how would all that work get done? Our ‘things’ based culture would collapse. Instagram would rustle to the sound of tumbleweed. Who would make everything? Who would buy everything? Who would ‘like’ everything?
Our world relies on our commitment to shackling our time to our work. And when we see our work as a vocation, then we are especially vulnerable to burnout. Because we’re trying to make the world better for others.
I know. I’ve done it. More than once.
According to Danforth, a balanced life looks like this…
Mine used to look more like this.
That rush that comes from doing more, achieving more, pushing further, giving more, receiving more… it is highly addictive. I used to suffer from the ‘disease to please’. Not any more. I now know myself. And my value.
Burnout is a hideous experience. Being stressed is bad enough; burnout is the inevitable crash of too many hours at the desk, too few laughing with friends, meditating in whatever activity inspires your connection with your soul Self and caring for your body in a nurturing, loving way.
Burnout has its own trinity: physical, mental and nervous exhaustion. Its symptoms can include uncontrollable emotional outbursts, disordered eating, drinking too much, poor sleep, foggy brain and thoughts of suicide are not uncommon.
If the thought ‘I know it’s not a solution, but dying right now, seems attractive’ bobs by, then it’s time to take action. Now. Nothing is that bad. Those thoughts are a big red flag, waving at you, telling you to recalibrate. Rebalance. Change. They are not an instruction, they are a flag. See the flag.
Why you are so vulnerable to burnout, likely lies in your past. Getting a deep understanding of why past events are no longer relevant to you is a key part of ensuring burnout never happens again. Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) is one way to very quickly get a deep understanding of where these behaviours originate and exactly why they are no longer relevant to your present. But other brands are available, as they say, and the counselling root is one. Psychotherapy is another.
There are, of course, practical steps to take which keep our four lives in balance with Danforth’s model.Here are eight habits to cultivate and enjoy.
Eight tips for Avoiding Burnout
Good nutrition not only feeds your body, it feeds your brain. When you’re stressed your brain is flooded with the stress hormone, cortisol. It does not need buckets of caffeine mixed in with that. It does not need gallons of sugar. Stressed, wired and sugar-rushing is not going to make anything better. Your inner voice may be screaming for them, because you’re exhausted and miserable, but fresh vegetables, fruits, proteins and lots of water are the way. At least 80% of the time. (I may be a questioning rebel, but I’m also a realist).
Exercise can be as effective a treatment for depression as drugs. That is why time, every day, should be devoted to it. Walk, every day. Dance. Go to yoga. Walk to yoga. Do a sport or physical pastime that you enjoy and mix it up. Focus on having fun. If you need a personal trainer to chase you then get one, but make sure you’re not choosing another person to bully you – look for someone who makes you feel good about yourself.
Loving ourselves can be one of the hardest journeys we embark on, but also one of the most rewarding. Spend time being present with yourself in ways that nurture you. Be present with others and nurture them. Let in their love. Friends, family, lovers, pets, your community… get in there.
Laughter really is an incredible medicine. Watch funny films. Hang out with funny people. Go to comedy clubs. Laughter cuts down stress, can numb physical pain and aid learning ability! Laughter yoga is a real thing – chuckling, guffawing, snorting belly laughs work wonders.
Start with just 5 minutes a day. Everyone has 5 minutes.Set the timer on your phone and just go for it. There are a gazillion guided meditations out there and many, many apps. Just try it. It’s like learning to draw. It’s frustrating, but persistence will repay you a thousand fold.
If you have a spiritual practice, giving time to connecting with it is hugely nurturing for the mind and body. If you don’t and prayer feels alien to you, mantra can be extraordinarily calming. It brings the same calm, talking the mind away from its incessant chatter and towards nurturing thoughts. Mantra is a key part of yoga mediation and brings a deep connection to the breath, which, in turn fuels and calms the body and nervous system in other ways. Try the phrase ‘I Am Enough’. Very simple. Easy to take on board. Highly effective, if applied frequently.
Exercising and eating well will help you sleep better. Turn your bedroom into a sleep haven. It should not resemble your living room. No TVs, laptops or mobile phones in the bedroom. I know, but all that light going to mess up your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Watch less TV
Let go of the Netflix and wine before bedtime. Play cards, go for a walk, read books, play chess. Do the mind tasks that don’t involve passively staring at a screen will not only help your mind step away from the day, it strengthens the brain and has been shown to be effective in treating brain fog. So stop watching soaps and start doing sudokus. No laptop. No mobile. Leave the screen alone.
If you recognise any of the symptoms of burnout I describe in this post and would like help getting back to balance, do get in touch.