How I Survived Burnout — at Age 28
My boss told me to leave the office. Not because I was being fired but because she was worried for my health, as I had just admitted to her that I was having chest pain. She sent me off to the doctor even though I was confident it would go away on its own.
But as soon as the doctor saw me I was told to take off my top and lie down whereupon I was hooked up to an EKG machine to see if I was having a heart attack! Anyone would freak out if a doctor suggested they might be having a heart attack. As an ex-nurse, I was petrified! To have a heart attack at 28 seemed impossible.
When the EKG results came back normal the doctor sat me down and said, “You aren’t having a heart attack, you’re having heart palpitations. This tells me that you’re stressed.”
I told her I didn’t feel stressed. She stared at me incredulously and then worked hard at getting me to talk. I started to explain my work situation and how I was feeling. It was then that I came to the realization that my heart palpitations were just the icing on the cake. And that despite having a background in nursing and public health, I couldn’t even recognize my own stress symptoms!
I was tired. I couldn’t sleep properly. My energy was low even though I was eating well and exercising nearly every day. I felt anxious and overwhelmed about work. I was struggling to stay motivated about my studies even though I was only months away from completing my masters. I had headaches, jaw pain, neck pain and back pain. I was constantly worried, feeling on edge and irritable. This was not how a healthy 28 year old should feel. And definitely not a newlywed!
But here’s the thing. Everyone experiences stress differently. And it can be difficult to recognize when you’re stressed if you don’t know what symptoms to look out for, or what might be triggering your stress response.
I sat with the doctor as we went through my stress symptoms. The doctor also asked me to complete a questionnaire so she could screen for depression. She told me that if I were to continue doing what I was doing, my chronic stress could result in me sliding into depression. And that I needed to address my burnout now!
My husband suggested I quit my job, rest, and focus on finishing my masters. And only when I felt ready should I apply for another job. Despite this amazing support from my husband, I reluctantly resigned the week before an important event I was running. The perfectionist in me was devastated. I felt like I had let a lot of people down. And I felt incredibly disappointed in myself for ‘not being strong enough’.
My burnout took me to a dark, isolating and numb place. And despite the support of my husband I felt like I was never going to crawl out of the despair and exhaustion. It took me until the end of that year to work up the courage to apply for another job. A general unhappiness and lack of motivation surrounded me and suffocated me. I was not myself.
But what I did do was force myself to exercise every day. More specifically, to go to a yoga class every day. And soon I was going twice a day. And that’s when I really started getting stuck into meditation. Just like people often turn to practice yoga because of an injury, many people like myself turn to meditation to help with stress and burnout. For me, meditation was the key to surviving burnout. I know personally that meditation is effective for stress and there’s the research to prove it!
Of course it’d be amazing if we could prevent stress and burnout from occurring in the first place. And given my nursing background I love the mantra ‘prevention is better than cure’! There are a number of ways to manage stress. And having an idea of what your stress symptoms are is also beneficial so you know what to look out for! As is getting a sense of what your stress triggers are so you can reassess the situation when you feel stressed out.
When you’re experiencing burnout everything and anything can be exhausting. So take things slowly and be kind to yourself (and I know this can be difficult to do). Personally, rest, yoga and meditation were essential tools to my recovery. As was a healthy diet and support both professionally and personally. Funnily enough, this is actually what the research suggests you do if you’re stressed!
Not only were these tools critical to my recovery, they are now part of my life as ways to cope with change, de-escalate stressful experiences, and feel more energized and content with my life.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.