“Burnout is a sign that something needs to change.” ~Sarah Forgrave
My doctor told me 15 years ago that I was experiencing adrenal exhaustion. She warned me that my adrenals could not recover if they didn’t get rid of the stress. It was painful to hear but I had to admit that healthy eating, regular exercise and being informed about the latest wellness trends were not enough.
The day came when I was forced to answer a fundamental question about myself: Are you ready to get down with the ship?”
My wellness studio was offering an average of 14 classes per week. For so long, I was exceeding my threshold that I felt pain in every muscle and joint of my body. Physically, emotionally and mentally I was exhausted. It was impossible to slow down or cut back.
Or so I believed.
The problem was that every time I would even begin to consider addressing the reality of my situation, my head would instantly fill with all the reasons I couldn’t possibly stop.
There was the dream for a business I couldn’t imagine giving up. It was the huge amount of money and time I spent in achieving that dream. And most of all, there were the clients I was serving, a community of amazing women I loved working with and didn’t want to let go.
My 30-year-old marriage to a man suffering from an addiction to opioids was on the verge of ending. My children were in distress. My body was completely breaking down, and my life had become a tangled mess of fears, conflicted feelings, and obligations I just didn’t have the heart for anymore.
My anxiety increased as I felt more pressured to fix my situation. This is what you call a pressure cooker.
I couldn’t even imagine the courage I would need to tell my husband I wanted a divorce. My mind was filled with fear and anxiety every time I tried to summon the courage.
What would you do?
It would affect me and my children.
Which place would you like to live?
What would you do to rebuild your life?
It was as though I was going to be buried under an ever-growing mountain of complexity, with no escape. The pain got worse and I continued walking, hoping that nothing would happen. In some wayIt would all be fine (without any changes to my lifestyle).
As a child, I learned how to be assertive and overcome obstacles. As someone capable of doing anything, I have always considered myself to be one. Now I found myself stuck between the person who thought she was responsible for everyone’s experience but her own, and the person I might actually become if I started making self-valuing, authentic choices.
The dam finally burst one morning.
Walking up to my studio door to give the class at 6:00 am, I began to wonder how I was going through the day, despite all the pain.
As I turned the key in the lock of the business I had dreamed of creating for over a decade—the business I had built out of everything I believed in and everything I knew I wanted to offer to the world—I could see the consequences of my resistance to change about to swallow me whole. My fear of change had completely blocked my ability to see beyond that.
And suddenly… everything went quiet. Everything that used to overwhelm my head about not stopping just vanished.
That moment, my only thought was: The way you stop… is you stop.
I didn’t just hear these words; I felt an absolute acceptance of them. I felt it impossible to stop one minute, and the next day it seemed like the most simple thing in the universe.
The silence of that moment made me so conscious of my breath, it was felt all over my body. It was the first time I had felt my own breath in as many years as I can remember. stopped. AAnd when I did I had the strength to hear my heart.
It was a deep longing that I could not contain. As I stood still, I breathed deeply and accepted the truth of it all. EverythingI felt the waves of it all wash over me. It was all gone.
It was like a miracle. My mind and body were clear and calm even though I had to face the exact same circumstances as before, without the need for all of the excuses or stories that would overwhelm me. It felt like a miracle.
My studio door, which I had been passing through for years, suddenly felt like the entrance to a new world. The profound stillness of the moment brought me a new sense to possibility.
When I was getting ready for class at 6:00 am, my focus was on my breath and I continued listening to my body. It became clear to me that when I wasn’t being honest with myself, my body responded by restricting my breath. It was easy to notice how years of tension had been manifesting itself as increasing physical pain.
We are moving in a new direction
That morning, I didn’t just take a first step toward interrupting the old way. I started moving in a different direction.
It took me over a year to end my obligations and get out of the studio. This was a massive transformation involving every aspect of my life, but it began with just one step—Recognizing that the old ways were broken. After accepting this, I was ready to move on to the next stage.
A friend of mine had recently moved back to her hometown to care for her mother. My studio was the perfect place for her to start her own yoga school. She had been taking a few classes per week while looking for somewhere more permanent. That pivotal morning after teaching the 6:05 a.m. yoga class, my friend called me and informed her that I was leaving and that she would still be able to teach all of her classes in her studio.
I continued to pull back, one step at a time, constantly asking myself, “What can I let go of today?” (One day, the answer to this question was “my hair”!) My lease was eventually terminated by my friend, who took full control.
It isn’t that this meant I didn’t continue struggling with self-doubt. However, my goal to slow down and not ignore my tension became my guide point.
This compass helped me to understand the mind-body connection better and to be happier. The simple mindfulness practice that I used was to pay attention to my posture and breath, whether it was restricted or free, was my primary tool. In the practice and study of Qigong Tai Chi and Continuum, I felt a strong sense of community.
It became apparent to me over time that I needed to slow down and relax in order to gain the wisdom inside. This gave me the opportunity to face the guilt and shame that was building up around the desire to do things that were not in my heart. It also allowed me the ability to see the emotional reasons for holding on to them.
We all come to thresholds in our lives, times when we’re faced with tremendous pressure to change (or go down with the ship). When we refuse to change, the only other option is to increase our tolerance for suffering While convincing ourselves that it’s not affecting us as much as it really is. In this fantasy we tell ourselves we’ll make it (somehow) if we just keep powering through.
I’ve come to realize that it’s not about avoiding stress. It’s about increasing your ability to remain present and functional whileThese are stressful times. The calmer you can be in the face of stress, the more resilient you’ll be and the less likely you’ll be to end up teetering on the edge of complete burnout like I was.
When we practice being present, we’re able to make more accurate moment-to-moment choices. We’re able to slow down and take an honest look at what needs to change. Which isn’t to say that it’s going to change in a minute, or a day, or a week, or even a year. In reality, lasting change is often slow and gradual.
What to do?
It was possible to put an end to the constant rushing by setting new priorities. It was important to take a step back, relax, and be open about the things I couldn’t eliminate. I followed the following steps:
1. Stop.At the moment. Recognize that you must first find a way before any new path can appear. Stop It was the traditional way.
2. Recognize the pain that you feel—emotional and physical.
3. Find out what you are willing to let go nowAnd in the very near future. (If the answer is “nothing,” then ask again.)
4. With “something has to give” as your mantra, what can you let go of next?
- Take a look at what you can do right now, both mentally and physically. (If the answer is “everything, if I push myself” then ask again.)
- Take a look at your priorities in life and decide what you should make space for.
- Think about what you do not have a heart or a desire for.
- You might find that the things you hold on to most are not what you need. You can let go of small things often first to loosen your grip on your most powerful (and often unhealthy!) attachments.
5. When the “yes, but…” voice shows up, be aware of it and do your best not to listen or take action based on what this voice says.It’s your attachment to maintaining an unsustainable life support system. It’s fueled by your fear of uncertainty because if you stop what you’re doing, you’re not sure what will happen (and your “yes, but…” voice is certain it will be awful!).
6. Get tools that will help you disconnect EnoughThis voice can help you accept reality.Make the necessary changes to lead a happier, more fulfilling life. The Serenity Prayer can be a great one.
7. Keep in mind that changes are a process and not an event.You can start small but then you will be able to move onto bigger and more important things.
I hope you’ll continue to play with the concept of stopping (the old way) to start (a better way). The ability to change the pattern is the key to making meaningful changes. You’ll learn to rely on this ability the more you practice using it.
Also keep in mind that you won’t necessarily know anything about the new way when you stop the old one. It is not easy to change, so it’s important that you have patience.
We wish you all the best and please feel free to ask any questions.
Meg Coyle has been a leader in body-centered meditation. She offers tools, wisdom and practices that can help midlife women restore their inner peace and confidence. The Inner Peace Blueprint, her signature program, alters the brain and emotions and offers women new responses to stress. This system is able to support emotional clarity and calm no matter the circumstances. Access her free stress-mastery class at onebodyinc.com/courses-programs/
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Feeling burnt out? Tiny Buddha’s first post was How to Slow Down And Reclaim Your Peace