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  • We Can't Avoid Stress: 7 Proven Ways To Release Burnout (It Won't Cost You Anything)

    Two experts explain what happens to your body when you’re burned out and how you can deal with it.
    by Dahl D. Bennett .
We Can't Avoid Stress: 7 Proven Ways To Release Burnout (It Won't Cost You Anything)
PHOTO BY Shutterstock
  • Who here has not felt overwhelmed by our jobs, our emotions, or the many demands of the world from our lives? Most of us, right? And we have managed to cope, but unfortunately, the pandemic is has worsened our anxiety, and it has become tougher to “not let things get to you.”

    Today, burnout and emotional exhaustion are more common than ever. Medical and health frontliners are the most vulnerable to compassion fatigue, but it can happen to any of us because we are constantly worried about our loved ones getting sick.

    So what do you do now when you can’t “clear the cache” as quickly anymore?

    According to an episode of the Dare To Lead podcast titled “Burnout And How To Break The Stress Cycle,” begin by knowing what you are feeling.

    The podcast host Brene Brown, renowned for her research on vulnerability, shame, and empathy, interviewed twin sisters, Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski, authors of the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.

    Feelings are tunnels

    The sisters say there are three components of burnout:

    • Emotional exhaustion or fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long
    • Decreased sense of accomplishment or the unconquerable sense of futility, feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.
    • Depersonalization or the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion

    To understand your emotions, you need to imagine them as tunnels with a beginning, a middle, and an end, the sisters say.

    “The metaphorical version is feelings are tunnels, you have to go all the way through them to get to the light at the end,” says Emily, a sex educator and the author of The New York Times bestseller, Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.

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    Burnout can happen when we find ourselves stuck in the middle of the tunnel that is our emotions.

    “We stay in this state of chronically elevated stress for hours, days, weeks, months, years at a time, and this causes wear and tear on our blood vessels, which causes weak places for plaques to develop, and this is how stress causes heart disease,” says Emily.

    Apart from the nervous system, the endocrine and digestive systems are also affected when under stress.

    “It is so common for stress to show up in people’s digestive systems. Complicated, fascinating things happen where your upper digestive system slows down, but your lower digestive system tract speeds up, and then you get IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome),” they add.

    How do you release burnout?

    The sisters point out that many cultural, societal, and behavioral factors affect how we deal with emotions. The result is that we cannot process the stress or articulate our feelings — we are stuck and can’t reach that end of the tunnel.

    Burnout and how to deal with it  So how do we get to the end of our cycle, so we don’t experience burnout? The Nagoski sisters recommend these seven practical and science-based ways:

    Physical activity

    Any movement will do — walking, dancing, and flopping around are all good. Physical activity will “release the physical-chemical stuff that was happening in your body with the stress,” says Emily.

    Breathing

    Breathing helps regulate your nervous system, says Amelia, a Doctorate of Musical Arts and an associate professor and coordinator of Music at Western New England University.

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    “You can take a slow breath in and especially a slow, long breath out… It is the gentlest way in to completing the stress response cycle.”

    She adds that breathing is a “highly evidence-based strategy for completing the stress response cycle, for down-regulating the nervous system.”

    Positive social interaction

    Having a friend to talk to, a place to hang out in (health protocols permitting), or a loved one ready to comfort you during times of stress to bring you to a safe place.

    “Even if you are not physically in a place that is your actual home, your body can get the feeling of home because it’s with someone who is your home,” says Emily.

    Laughter

    A good laugh always puts people at ease. The quality of laughter, however, makes the difference in releasing stress.

    “It can’t be that fake laughter. It has to be the slightly embarrassing, mouth hanging open, belly jiggling, uncontrolled, ridiculous laughter that really takes over your body, you can’t stop laughing. That laughter will take you all the way through the end of a stress cycle,” shares Amelia.

    Affection

    A warm hug goes a long way, and as written in Nagoskis’ book, “research suggests a 20-second hug can change your hormones, lower your blood pressure and heart rate and improve mood, all of which are reflected in the post-hug increase in the social bonding hormone, oxytocin.”

    Crying

    While it will not eliminate the stressor or solve a problem, it lets “the emotion go all the way to the end, so it’s not getting trapped in your body,” says Amelia.

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    Creative expression

    Creating something is also a process, and in many ways completing a project like painting, yarning, sketching makes one feel good. Amelia says many people go into the arts because they remember how good it felt to create or make something work.

    The sisters advise that it’s okay if you don’t recognize if you’ve completed the cycle. What’s essential is you “feel incrementally better” than you felt before you started.

    The Nagoski sisters add, “You can notice that something in your body has changed, shifted in the direction of peace.”

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