It seems like so many of us are stuck in a vicious cycle of burnout and stress with no end in sight. The more we are burned out, the more stress we feel and the more stress we feel, the more we burnout! it’s like a chicken and egg situation where we are unable to understand which was caused first – burnout or stress. As a result, we are unable to identify and implement strategies to manage our stress and burnout because we don’t know where to start!
To better understand stress and burnout we have to first understand what causes us to feel stressed or burned out. If you have ever paid attention to your mind and what thoughts are going through your mind when you are feeling stressed or burned out, you will notice a direct connection between the thoughts your mind is thinking and everything that you are feeling in your body. This is called the mind-body connection which simply put points to the most basic truth about being human – no matter what the external situation, what you feel in your body is your own thinking about the situation and not the situation itself!
Here are some of the biggest reasons why anyone would have negative thoughts which make us experience stress and burnout.
1. We lose perspective and bigger picture while living our daily lives. When we wake up in the morning, instead of smelling the coffee, looking at the beautiful sunrise and appreciating the simple fact that we are so fortunate to be alive, we start our day by staring at our phones which tell us how awful this entire world is and when it may be coming to an end. Then we move on to checking our emails which reminds us of all the personal and work-related things we have to do to get through the day. So, in the first few minutes after waking up, we have already lost our motivation for the day and we just drag ourselves through the remainder of the day doing chores and getting work done just so we can get through this day. By the time we call it a night, we may have experienced so much stress taking care of all the mundane things which we may or may not have needed to do on this very day. And then we wake up the next day and the next and keep doing this thing we call life and feel stressed about doing it all over again!
In living this way we experience stress because living this way makes us lose perspective of all the blessings and beauty that surround us – nature, our relationships, our breath, the abundance which we already have. So, instead, if we can discipline ourselves into creating a morning and bedtime routine and as part of that routine if we can use the first few minutes after waking up and before going to bed to focus on our breathing and looking around with intent on all the people and things that we are grateful for in our lives today, it will help in shifting our perspective from fear to love and change the thoughts from negative to positive. And when we think positive thoughts is when we experience positive emotions!
2. We have bought into the myth that more is better. Not too long ago it seems like life was so much simpler because we didn’t really have a million things we wanted to buy, numerous degrees and titles we wanted to attain, homes and cars we wanted to upgrade to, too many people we wanted to connect with. But then it seems like humanity pressed on fast forward button and here we are struggling to have more and own more to the point of getting stressed and burned out! And we are all blindly chasing after this ‘dream life’ where we will have more because somewhere along the way we bought into a belief which says that the doorway to happiness is to accumulate more of everything! But as long as we continue to create a life based on this belief, we will always fall short of having more and therefore happiness because there is no end to having more!
Although there is nothing wrong with accumulating and acquiring more but the key is to be deeply aware of that fine line which when crossed leads to stress and burnout. To help identify this fine line which may be different for each one of us, one of the practices is to cultivate a habit of doing a deep dive of ‘things to be gained’ and ‘things to be lost’ while starting to work towards a new goal. This practice can help you make decisions which could lead you to align your life with more of what your definition of a successful life is rather than this society’s definition of a successful life.
3. We have been sold a lie that we can have it all the way we want it! In recent years, a belief has taken root in our minds which makes us wishfully think that we can do it all and achieve it all exactly the way we want and desire and there won’t be any implications. What this belief doesn’t want to intentionally consider however is the reality of our lives probably because it wants to give us hope! And even though hope is a beautiful thing and the reason why someone would want to wake up each morning and do this life thing over and over, however, according to the Universal Law of Cause and Effect, every single action in the Universe produces a reaction no matter what. In simple language it means that every single choice we make throughout the course of our lives creates the building blocks of what we call ‘our life’. And these building blocks are directly proportional to the choices we make. For e.g., if you decide to take up that job which you know is going to make you miss your kids’ soccer, recitals, homework and all critical milestones in their lives and you deeply care about being present in your kids’ lives, you can’t just choose to still go for that job opportunity but at the same time continue to hope to not get stressed about missing out on your relationship with your kids.
So, if you ever find yourself getting lost in your wishful thinking and need help, you can use the deep dive to make a list of ‘things to be gained’ and ‘things to be lost’ to find your way back to your reality!
4. We are unable to prioritize because we don’t know what’s important to us. If you are active on social media, by now you may have already realized that one of the most effective tools for avoiding being stressed and burned out is to ruthlessly prioritize. Prioritizing makes you focus on things that are truly important so that you don’t get overwhelmed trying to do it all! However, ours is a generation totally lost in the chaos of wanting to do it all and having it all. As a result, our minds think of everything as important but because our ability to prioritize hinges on our ability to decipher what matters more to us so even though we are well aware that we need to prioritize, we are just not capable. For e.g., this pandemic is a perfect example of times when the need to prioritize is greatest. So, out of all the things that life demands us to do during these times, if you are unable to figure out a way to let go of your fears and stress around how badly your elementary school kids education is going online even though your elementary grader has somehow managed to stay sane after all these months of staying home, chances are you haven’t yet taken the time to figure out what are the most important things for you and your family during these crazy and intense times and therefore have not taken the time to re-prioritize.
One of the most effective ways to help align the chatter of our minds with the whispers of our hearts is to take time for your own self every single day without any guilt. You can call it meditation, prayer, me time or simply being with yourself time. Doesn’t matter what you call it, what matters is that you think of yourself as deserving of your own time because for so many of us, self-care and love could be the biggest guilt traps!