3 Keys to Avoid Burnout & Release Stress
Lessons my mother taught me by her fierce example of what it really means to be a woman
Authentic leadership starts within our own lives.
Women are the leaders of the household. We drive most healthcare and household buying decisions. We set the bar for what is right and reasonable for our children. And many of us are recognizing that there is an incredible opportunity to change and improve our view of work-life integration. And this has the potential for preventing burnout and breakdowns while teaching our children and colleagues about true resilience.
Resilience Predictors: Why do some breakdown & burnout while others thrive despite stressful lives?
My mother is Guyanese and immigrated to the United States in the 50’s. Quite the rebel spirit, she had already made history in her family by going against her brother’s wishes to move to England for nursing school. As a child, mom watched her mother die a slow, painful death due to type II diabetes, and she wanted to help others.
At that time nursing was the most popular healthcare position for women, and certainly women of color. A few years after moving the US with her first husband she was shocked to hear how the physicians, mostly males, spoke in such a condescending way to nurses. My mother is quite a feisty 5 foot 2 lady. And being spoken down to didn’t sit well with her.
So, with three small children at home, she applied for medical school, and got in. Despite her age (she was in her mid thirties by then) and despite being recently divorced she decided to stand up to the patriarchal medical system to demonstrate how a physician could be compassionate and not arrogant.
I admired the way my pint-sized mother commanded the attention of prominent social and medical personnel along her career, all while being the compassionate, health advocate for her patients. Her grace and intelligence inspired me to follow in her footsteps. I wanted to impact people’s lives with similar grace.
Being a woman of color in the medical profession required that she stand her ground on a number of occasions, to get the same privileges her white male counterparts received. She was driven and dedicated. And during that period of time it is safe to say that she dealt with stress on a constant basis.
Though her drive and being a single mother meant that she would be working outside of our home 5 days a week and some weekends, she also taught me the importance of rest, self-care and play. Her West Indian roots were made visible through the reggae and soca music playing in our home and in her dancing. (Or, winding her tail, as she called it. 😄)
Mom loved to travel, read romance novels, go out dancing, host barbecues and Super Bowl parties. She made time to attend all of my school plays and music recitals. She regularly got her hair and nails done, and curled up on the couch with chocolate and ‘Murder She Wrote’ to unwind.
To my surprise, when I entered the medical profession twenty years ago I did not see the same self-care routines among my teachers. I’m grateful to have had a role model like my mother to show me a more holistic idea of work-life integration. She knew how to party, play and still provide high quality healthcare to her patients and the hospital she worked for. She frequently explained that Mother Superior had always said, “the sin is in the overdoing, not in the doing.” Mom believed in living life fully and engaging in most activities with moderation.
When her female patients complained that they felt guilty for taking time off for themselves my mother would sternly remind them that if they had a breakdown or became ill there would be no one to take care of the children, dog, household, husband and all of the other things they juggled non-stop.
One of mom’s famous sayings, in her Guyanese accent was,
“an empty barrel can’t give no watah.”
Reclaim Your Femininity!
Whether running a business or a household, this is a concept that today’s woman could take to heart. Especially since over the last few decades more and more women have taken on high powered positions in corporations while still having families. Many of the women to whom I provided burnout recovery programs also demonstrated a tendency to have an abundance (some might say excess) of masculine energy.
In an effort to ‘prove’ they are as capable, smart, and as powerful as men, some women have become what I call Alpha B’s — you can choose to call them Alpha Bosses while others call them Alpha Bitches. They summoned up their masculine yang energies to lead their pack in the business world. Unfortunately, some of these women became so attached to and dependent upon expressing their more aggressive energy that they forgot how to ‘be the woman’ at home. The consequences are that some of them find that they don’t enjoy lasting relationships with men, as some men find their male-like drive a bit emasculating.
Naturally, not every woman who is holding it down in the C-suite or running her own company is wielding her Alpha B status to the detriment of her relationships, but many of them are finding it hard to switch off, wind down and recharge.
My mother also introduced me to Chinese medicine and acupuncture while I was in medical school. The beauty and elegance of the Chinese medical philosophy pointed to how we each can enjoy ageless vitality and optimal wellbeing. It’s about allowing for and optimizing our life to return harmony to our energies.
All women and men have a mix of yin and yang energy. We are made with this fundamental polarity between receptive and aggressive flow. An excess of one or the other is what can lead to dis-ease. When we recognize that the human body is meant to return to a state of wholeness and vitality it becomes imperative that we consider the many ways that we block our natural inclination for repair and rejuvenation.
At a cellular level, right down to our DNA, we can impact our physical and emotional health as well as our ability to recover from stress, illness and injury. We impact our own wellbeing by honoring our own energy needs, respecting the cycles of life and the rhythms of the seasons and days.
Rather than trying to force ourselves to live up to some external standard, which is often an unrealistic and unhealthy concept, we can learn more about our inherent energy, what allows us to refuel and recharge and ensuring that we take part in activities that engage a deeper sense of our being.
While there is so much more I could say about how women could embrace their femininity again, so that they could be more fully themselves, I will summarize here three elements which can start us off on the road to true resilience.
- Know your elemental energy type
- Release, refuel, refocus
- Tap into your soul or spirit daily
I’m sad to admit that I’ve experienced burnout twice in my life. Driving myself to achieve I burned the candle from both ends to the point of exhaustion. That period was accented by a painful resurgence of a history of depression. By living on a hamster wheel of seeking approval and acceptance from external sources I found myself living a life full of stress and commitments to keep it going — no matter what. And it nearly broke me.
☞Watch the TEDx where I shared how depression led me to give up on life and how a spiritual awakening set me free
Know your elemental energy type
According to traditional Chinese medical philosophy, when we understand how the 5 elements influence us to make us naturally gifted but also susceptible to stress or illness, we can craft our lives in such a way that we don’t have to burnout or break down. And if we do, we can easily rebound and recover.
Our own resilience is something we each can enhance, starting with understanding more about ourselves. I encourage you to find out how much fire, water, earth, metal and wood influence you. Visit www.TheVitalityTest.com to take a free online assessment to find out your type.
Despite my mother having three children, dealing with sexism and racism in the early part of her medical career, she worked really hard but I never saw her drop from exhaustion nor suffer from burnout. Looking back I can see that all of her self-care routines, dancing, listening to the music of her homeland and gardening were her ways of honoring her own energy type.
Meanwhile I strove to fit into the mold that the media and medical society put me into, without respect for my innate nature nearly drove me into the ground.
My second experience with burnout came while I took over full-time care of my mother as she has succumbed to dementia. I found that I dove headlong into a rescuer-type of role, and once again, neglected my body’s warning signs. Fortunately, I bounced back quickly through practicing meditation and learning to release the daily stress of seeing mom’s deteriorated status. Self-care must remain our default mode!
Stimulants, chill-pills and sleep
Each of us reacts to sleep deprivation, dietary restrictions, uppers and downers in different ways. So respecting your human engine should also be part of your resilience regimen.
As it pertains to your fuel and energy sources, be mindful of how your body reacts to the amount of sleep you get each night. Most nights it is ideal to get between 7 and 9 hours. I have rarely been able to sleep more than 8 hours and I function like an energized bunny. That’s just my nature. I rebound quickly after periods of stress and extreme activity. In fact, I never needed stimulants or caffeine until I went to medical school where I finally developed an affinity for coffee — but it always took lots of milk, sugar and vanilla powder to make it palatable.
When I changed to a vegan plant-based lifestyle I stopped drinking coffee altogether. I don’t like feeling dependent on a substance and hated the withdrawal headaches. (Read on for my new energy boosting routine.)
Whether you drink a lot of coffee or caffeinated beverages, also take into account how easily you can relax and calm down. Do you use alcohol or some sort of downer to unwind? While many claim the health benefits of coffee and red wine, it’s helpful to be honest about the downside of using them to rev up or wind down. Is the potential for abuse, dependence or addiction worth it?
Consider using natural products to provide your energy boost and mental focus when needed. I’ve replaced coffee with my daily cocktail of matcha, maca root, guarana powder mixed with turmeric, cayenne pepper and vitamin C salts.
I’ve also decided to take a personalized formula of amino acid supplements which are known to promote vitality, reduce inflammation and boost energy which include. (I’ll share more about this in an upcoming post.) The antioxidant, mental concentration and immune boosting properties of this new daily regimen keeps me going and helps my body rebound from stressful periods.
Release, refuel, refocus
How do you release the stress and tension you experience every day? Letting go of the pressure to perform and deliver should be a regular part of your day to day existence. Just because we can take on the problems of the world doesn’t mean we should. At least not all of the time.
My mother released stress through gardening, while reading her steamy romance novels, and reveling in the pleasures of human life — such as ice cream, chocolate and dancing. She got recharged by letting go of work when she handed over the patient list to her colleagues, not taking by taking it home and ruminating over it constantly.
I actually release stress through vigorous exercise. I love brisk walking with hip-hop music in my ears and as I wrote about in a blog and in my new book, when I discovered the mind-body benefits of hot yoga last year, I became a new fan. Exercise not only gives me a brain boost of feel-good endorphins, it also allows me to leave the stress of the day behind me.
When we allow ourselves the space and time to release the worries, tension and stress of our day we can refocus on what really matters. It is in the times that I’ve let go of the need to do, do and do that I have had epiphanies about how many things I’ve said yes to that were not even in alignment with my values and vision for my life! And this awareness allows us to take a bold step toward reclaiming our time, power and our voice to express what we really want in life and what we will no longer tolerate. It also prevents us from using and abusing food, drugs, sex, alcohol or mindless TV watching and Internet surfing to numb ourselves.
Self-care is not selfish
Self-care is about self-preservation
Self-care is not a luxury, it’s a necessity
Make a commitment to prioritize the activities that allow you to release tension, recharge your batteries and refocus on the way you really want to live your life. Whether through meditation, yoga, walking, gardening, journaling or pampering with massage or spa treatments, you owe it to yourself. And while you get used to making yourself a priority, bear in mind that caring for yourself will allow you to care even more deeply and genuinely for those you love.
I’m grateful for the example I had in my fierce and feisty mother. She modeled for me the benefits and healthy normality of caring for, honoring and nurturing oneself, which allows us to be fully present and truly of benefit to those we care about. I’m certain that the way she personalized her own self-care routine allowed her to maintain her health and vitality in defiance of her genes.
Beside her mother, who I mentioned died of type II diabetes complications when my mother was 11 years old, many of her family members have also succumbed to the disease. In addition, all of my mother’s 4 siblings and most of her cousins have also been struck by early onset of dementia.
I’ve written elsewhere about how painful it has been to witness this proud woman lose her memory to Alzheimer’s and how I nearly burnt out again while caring for her full time. While others in her family had such severe dementia that they required full-time care as early as their forties, my mother didn’t show signs of a waning memory until her 70’s. And now at 84 she has only distant memories and forgets what’s happening in the here and now within minutes. But she still loves to dance!
Tap into your spiritual source daily, and live your soul’s purpose
I am certain that my mother was able to avoid diabetes and stave off Alzheimer’s for decades because she was so fully engaged in what she believes is her purpose in life. Indeed, she suffered the most when she found that she couldn’t maintain her counseling practice, she felt so deeply the need to help others.
Before her memory was as fragile as it is now, I shared with her the video from my first TEDx, I saw a beautiful twinkle of pride in her eyes, and she said something to me that to this day makes me cry. Mom said, “Keep up the good work. I can tell you’re living your purpose.”
And she went on to say, “that is what has kept me going all of these years. I feel that when I ‘cock up my toes’ and meet my maker, he will say ‘Job well done’. I have no regrets, I’ve done my Master’s work.”
We didn’t grow up in a religious household, though mom often recounted hilarious stories about how she drove Mother Superior crazy at her Catholic school growing up. But my mother always had a deep sense of connection to what she felt was God and her spirit. And while other doctors handed out prescriptions for medical conditions, including stress and anxiety, my mom would regularly ask her clients if they were dialed into their higher power.
Today I am very conscious of how and why I ended up with the dark depression that followed me like a dark cloud for most of my life. Not living in alignment with my spiritual purpose created a soul ache and a painful longing for living as my Authentic Self. I’m so grateful that today I have lined up every area of my life in such a way that I honor my soul’s purpose in addition to respecting my earthly vessel.
I am now leading the new #RealSelfLove Movement to inspire and mentor people dealing with finding and liberating their Authentic Self and finding real self love is the main passion project. (More details are at www.RealSelf.love )
Be conscious and deliberate with living your purpose!
By aligning with my values, vision and life purpose I have consciously architected what I call my own Diamond Life of no regrets, and I can thank my mother for that. I am on a mission to help all of my clients and anyone who cares to explore the tools that set me free and keep me resilient despite running a global business, being full-time mom to a 12-year old and living on multiple continents. I’m now doing what my soul was pointing to all along, and I’m living in alignment with my core values, which I believe sets the example for my daughter to do the same.
Even if you can’t or don’t want to change your work or living space to be 100% dedicated to following a passion project, you can still tap into your spiritual source on a daily basis for inspiration. Instead of taking on yet another heartless commitment, you can volunteer your time or get involved in some sort of charitable project that brings peace to your soul.
There is certainly much more that I could say about how women could embrace a lifestyle that promotes resilience and prevents burnout, for now, I invite you to consider that giving yourself permission to pause, relax and reflect will bring you back into harmony with your own creative power. And since our creativity is how we solve problems best, enjoy a cuppa tea or a vegan smoothie and some quiet time.
And if you feel guilt-ridden due to an inner voice that nags at you or suggests that taking ‘me time’ is selfish, just tell her you got a prescription from Dr. Andrea to chillax.
To actively take steps to build resilience and develop a stress-resistant personality, download this e-book here.
Originally published at www.andreapennington.com on March 4, 2018.