Resilience is not a solo mission

So, I spent the summer trying to grow my resilience.

(Or maybe, I was trying to drop the workload/expectations by about 100%, and let my Resilience Button take a nap, given I had broken the glass and pressed that thing so often through the course of the year that the letters printed on top were beginning to fade.)

I wouldn’t have used the word “burnout” to describe what I was feeling…

until I listened to this podcast, from Brene Brown, interviewing Emily and Amelia Nagoski, on their book.

(The fact that it was shared with me by a work colleague, and that several people I shared it with registered relief and deep recognition, nudged me to keep paying it forward and share it here.)

Put it in your listening line-up – do! It’s so helpful – in normalizing feelings of overwhelm, and explaining the practical ways we can “complete the stress cycle”, so we don’t stay in a state of chronic stress/agitation. The sisters are candid and whipsmart and wonderfully funny – so relatable – they’re not talking down when they share what they’ve learned. They’re so energized by the idea of sharing things that they learned the hard way, and know that we need, because they needed the knowledge too.

So, the 3 components of burnout are:

  • emotional exhaustion (fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long – particularly prevalent for women)
  • a decreased sense of accomplishment (unconquerable sense of futility, feeling that nothing you do makes a difference)
  • depersonalization (depletion of empathy, caring and compassion).

Any of these sound familiar?

The simple tools for completing the stress cycle:

Breathe. Exercise/move the body. Creative expression. Cry. Laugh. Be somewhere safe among your people. 

Stress, they explain in the book, and the podcast, is connected to your feelings. You know those things we’re not really meant to have too much of, or to let run rampant, that we’re meant to really keep in check? Yeah, so turns out that kind of thinking is just more toxic mind-poison and not even vaguely scientifically realistic.

Feelings are wisdom and they live in (and through) the body.

They’re not gauzy, air-fairy options that are permitted in very small children, and maybe artists, at peril of their mental stability. No. Nor are we cognitive rational beings who, on occasion, feel. We are, in fact, emotional beings, who on occasion, think.

Emotions, as explained, are:

“cycles that happen in your body. They are neurological events, and when I say neurological, I mean not just happening in your brain but your whole nervous system, the intelligence of your body extends to your nervous system from the top of your head to the tip of your toes and also beyond your skin. Emotions are an involuntary neurological response. They have a beginning, a middle and an end.”

You can think of them as tunnels, and you have to go all the way through them, to get to the light at the end.

Exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion.

We are living in a world that tends to play several songs over and over – media that triggers despair and outrage, and systems that keep trying to disempower us, tell us we can’t do anything to change any of it, except possibly buy/shop/consume/demand better service/prices/more stuff. And that needs us to be productive little units of labour, doing more more more more more.

So it’s easy to get stuck. On. repeat. And never feel the light.

Which is where the recipe for self-care, or, more tangibly, “completing the stress cycle”, becomes so helpful. Just identifying these methods, I found, is helpful.

Now I say it all the time in my family and it drives them nuts: “You might want to put your hand on your heart and take a deep breath.” “Don’t tell me that weird stuff, that’s your weird meditation stuff, I’d rather kick something,” my beloved child will say. So I guess something is sticking, haha. “Well, that is one way of discharging the emotion, but it might not be the most helpful, cos you know, you might break something or your toe… Probably no-one is going to end up in the clinic if you try the breathing thing… Just saying.” (I’m the mom. I always want to have the last word.)

But he is right. Physical activity is the first way to complete the stress cycle. (If we can divert it away from violence/destruction… but hey, is this not pretty live in the world right now? Huh. Is all that rage just a massive build-up of uncompleted stress and unfelt/expressed feelings, that only know one outlet – kick and smash – and never had the opportunity to learn or practice the others – breathe, sing, hug, cry. Thanks toxic masculinity for literally helping NOONE.)

So, that’s what is so cool – there are a range of tools shared… so everyone can pick the ones that suit their temperament, their story, their circumstance at the time.

“Breathing down-regulates your nervous system, especially when you can take a slow breath in and especially a slow, long breath out. All the way to the ends of your abdominal muscles contract. That’s how you know you’re engaging the parasympathetic nervous system to down regulate the central nervous system. It is the gentlest way in to completing the stress response cycle, so if you’re a person who has survived trauma, neglect, abuse, you have a significant history of adverse childhood experiences, a great place to start so that you don’t get overwhelmed, is just with tuning into your breath, like a minute and a half worth of like breathing in and letting your breath go out.”

But ultimately, this isn’t an article about the top 5 self-care tips you can use… because, as the Nagoskis wonderfully say:

the cure for burnout isn’t and can’t be self-care, it has to be all of us caring for each other.

Sleep, physical activity, all the tools won’t work if “you live in a household where you’re the only person who prioritizes your well-being. It requires everybody in the household agreeing that your eight hours of sleep is a priority, and we are going to cordon off that time and space and protect it, so that you can have that time. Self-care requires a bubble of protection of other people who value your well-being at least as highly as you do. So the cure for burnout must ultimately be all of us caring for each other, and right now more than any other.”

So, maybe, the better question than: “what have you done to prioritise your self-care this week/summer/year?”, or “what you done to support someone else’s self-care”, is :

“what support have you allowed yourself to receive?”

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