September marks 5 years since I started my PhD and set in motion a new beginning in Calgary. The past 5 years have been filled with exciting changes, new friends and I continue to love being able to see the mountains on any given day! There have also been challenges.
In the last three years, it seemed there was one thing after another from death and grief to chronic pain and sickness to conflict and stress. Ultimately, I started to use up all my resources and experienced burn out. I will address burnout in more detail in future posts, but in a nutshell, burnout occurs when our mind and body are moved beyond their resources. There is profound emotional and physical exhaustion, detachment, apathy, and cynicism and a deep sense of feeling ineffective.
Two years ago, I recognized that something was off and it took another 6 months to finally take a break. I lightened the load of my intense volunteer work, scaled back on social engagements and took a step back from seeing clients so that I could focus on getting back to a mental, emotional and physically healthier place.
I have experienced firsthand what happens when you pour and pour and pour – there is truth in this famous quote:
Ah yes, on some level perhaps we all know this, and particularly as therapists, we tell our clients this over and over!
I want to share a bit of what I did to refill my cup –
I completed an online writing workshop for grief following the death of my dad. For me, this was a great way to write at my own pace, process at my own pace, as well as provided me with an empathetic, understanding online community (stay tuned for future posts about my musings and learning about grief).
I talked to my medical doctor. We often forget that our doctors can be a great resource. My doctor was amazing with providing me with some extra tools. It is likewise beneficial to rule out any new underlying medical issues and manage existing ones.
I started moving my body again (in any way that I could on a given day). Activity had been my main tools for combatting anxiety and chronic pain and when I ceased being active, it augmented the stress and anxiety, not to mention my pain. Most importantly, I am working on not judging myself for not being in the shape I was 5 years ago!
When I was too tired to move, I committed to working on breathing. I am fan of Dr. Andrew Weil’s explanation of 3 breathing techniques, outlined here.
Mornings can be hard when you have chronic pain or experience depression, anxiety or burnout. For example, mornings can be flooded with overwhelming thoughts of tasks that need to be done and so on. In the morning I narrate my actions as I do them – quite literally. (Oh good morning Jenn, I am stretching and getting up. I feel the hardwood on my feet. Oh, hello Elvis and Dexter (my dogs), I will get you breakfast soon. I am walking to the bathroom. I’m opening the curtains on the way, etc.). This is my way of staying 100% present in the moment and if other thoughts come in, I gently acknowledge them and go back to narrating my experience. By the time I’ve completed my morning routine, I’ve shaken off some of the fatigue and apathy.
Instead of large goals, I made smaller goals or chunked larger goals into manageable pieces. I’ve also tried to do exactly what I wrote about this blog a year ago and try to find small ways to incorporate mindfulness, relaxation or gratitude into my day.
- Experiencing, stress, anxiety, burnout, imposter syndrome, depression, chronic pain or other struggles should not be shameful!
- Yes, you can be accomplished, successful, respected and still experience mental distress.
- If you are in a helping profession (nurse, doctor, psychologist, social worker), yes, you can help others because of, not in spite of your experiences.
- Our experiences are not shameful. We are worthy and perfectly imperfect.
While I have taken on additional/different roles with Serenity Now Wellness, I am happy to be back seeing clients part-time.
If you are experiencing anxiety, chronic stress or believe you are on the road to, or fully experiencing burnout, we are here to help you take care of you.
Jennifer Mitchell, PhD