Courtesy of Dr. Marnie Loomis, at NCNM, I learned a lot about burnout today. And as suspected, I score very high on the I-have-it scale!
What are the stages of burnout, you might ask.
1) Emotional and/or physical exhaustion. This might characterized by fatigue and cognitive weariness.
2) Depersonalization (cynicism). Symptoms include lack of empathy, mocking others, and loss of altruistic feeling.
3) Low sense of personal accomplishment. This may include a sense that you can’t do anything right, and worthlessness.
“But Ash, isn’t it a little early in your schooling to get burnout?” you might say. Yes, I think so. But the trouble is, I started this way.
Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing summer! Whales and mountain goats and bears, oh my! But transitioning from farm life on an island where my favorite thing was watching lambs play, to a summer on a small boat with 10 new people per week that it was my job to entertain and serve all of my waking hours… well folks, that just aint easy. Naturopathically speaking, it would’ve behooved me to bring along some sort of adaptogen or other support product, as well as cultivate emotional and mental sanity in my minuscule time off. Hindsight, 20/20, and all that.
Stress does more than cause tension. According to Dr. Loomis, you are literally more brittle under stress. This is because each day your body is replacing and rebuilding cells and tissues. Stress changes the chemistry of your body, and each day you rebuild in stress-conditions is another day of reduced flexibility and less-than-optimum building conditions. So while fight or flight is an appropriate response when a herd of wooly mammoths is stampeding through, it is less than idea in a long-term stress situation. Like medical school!
So what can we do about this? Many things! Depending on how far down the 3-stage pathway we find ourselves, this might vary. For instance, I find myself between a 2 & 3, so my first step was to seek out available resources for assistance. On campus at NCNM these include the student association and student life departments, student counseling center, tutors, student mentors, faculty mentors, and a program called Careteam, where we can actually seek help for classmates we are concerned for as well. Amazing.
If you’re not so far down the continuum and/or are more of a help-yourself type, other suggestions include:
Personal quiet time
Spend time with family/friends
Spend time in nature, or if you can’t, with plants!
(seriously. an office study showed people around plants were 30% happier)
Get more (better) sleep
Eat regular meals
Start a mindfulness practice
And many more…
Things to avoid, that may contribute to burnout include:
Alcohol or drug use
In the 6 hours since this presentation I have done these things to help myself:
Went to yoga (love Friday night yoga!)
Planned 2 study sessions with classmates
Planned a night of dancing to move my body and relax my mind
Spent time talking to friends about topics other than school!
I have a ways to go, friends, but I am paying attention to where I’m at and taking steps to improve. Other things I have in the works are: cooking at home, seeing a counselor, establishing care with a naturopath, taking adaptogen supplements (Gaba, Opolopanax, and kali-phos), and cultivating a mindfulness practice. I will report back on progress.
If you are feeling signs of burnout, I urge you to take steps to reduce/eliminate stress and cultivate a stable state. Find resources, talk to family and friends, and direct your energy to things that will support your sanity and your health! We don’t have to correct everything at once. Promise yourself you’ll try something new for a week, and at the end of that week check in and see how you feel. Was it beneficial? Do you feel any better? Do you want to continue or try something else? Listen to your body and trust your intuition.
I’m going through this now, and if you are too, feel free to comment, and we can share difficulties and successes. I’m so glad I went to that talk to, this week has been a huge shift into gears for my self-care! I hope you can help yourself too.