Posts Tagged ‘addictions’

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On Being An Empath (part one)

May 28, 2012

Part One – The Difficulties

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this. – Merriam-Webster dictionary

Most people have the ability to be empathic to some degree. As an empath, however, your capacity for empathy is significantly greater than the average person – in fact, you are probably highly sensitive to the point of appearing to others to have psychic gifts.

The reality is that you have high emotional resonance, rendering you very sensitive to emotional energy. Everything has an energetic vibration which the empath picks up, just like an antenna picks up frequencies. This means you are able to detect and amplify the subtlest of changes which would bypass most people – essentially, you are the person who walks into a room and immediately picks up ‘the vibes’ (vibrations), be they positive or negative.

You will also be able to ‘feel’ the emotions of people around you – and the danger here, if you’re still unaware of your increased empathy, is that you can end up believing that these emotions are your own. Before I recognised this phenomenon, I would actively seek out – or even create – issues, to pin these rogue feelings onto something concrete – “Hmmm, I seem to be feeling a bit low today, I wonder why that is? Maybe I’m unhappy about my relationship/career/friends/family/ cat?”  After all, if you’re feeling so bad, surely there must be a reason? There is, of course, but often the only reason is your high level of empathy.

IT’S NOT EASY BEING EMPATHIC

Your high emotional resonance can also make it difficult for you to spend time in an urban, or indeed any over-populated environment. If you ever find yourself caught up in a crowd, you are likely to be surrounded by emotions such as excitement, confusion, anxiety and anger, resulting in you suddenly expressing these same feelings for no obvious reason. You may also find that the energy which builds up when you’ve spent some time amongst a huge throng of people is so overwhelming that you end up feeling physically ill – headaches, giddiness, nausea and high blood pressure are not unusual symptoms for the empath swamped with excessive emotional energy. This is why many of us prefer to live in a rural environment – the energy in a built-up, heavily populated area is just too much for us.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD…

Because we react so strongly to high-intensity environments, we may find others disparagingly labelling us as ‘oversensitive’. In fact, until you learn how to protect yourself from such bombardment, that’s exactly what you are. However, this is of little comfort when you don’t feel accepted or understood by those you love and who love you, or when people dismiss you as being ‘just too sensitive’. (I heard this everywhere – even one of my school reports remarked that ‘Sharon is sensitive – occasionally overly so’.)

 Those empaths who are lucky enough to have people around them who are aware of their trait will be more likely to have positive self-esteem and accept and express their natural talents and abilities. Their sensitivity will be embraced and as a consequence, these empaths will grow up to use their empathic gifts confidently and wisely. Unfortunately, in our current society the most likely scenario is that the child will be chastised, mocked and exploited for their sensitivity, and bullied and pushed in directions which please others rather than themselves. The inevitable result of this, of course, is chronic low self-esteem. These empaths will then either rebel and become one of society’s drop-outs or misfits – not always a bad thing if this means they stay in touch with their creativity – or over conform and become yet another of society’s depressed drones. I recently had a dream that I was one of the few ‘real’ humans left in a world populated by zombies. As I spent many unhappy years actually being one of the ‘zombies’ myself, doing what was expected of me rather than what was best for me, the dream was much more uplifting than it perhaps sounds.

BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE?

As an empath, adolescence can be a particularly difficult time in your life. Already dealing with your own rollercoaster of emotions, if you attended (or still attend) one of the average high schools within the Western world’s education system, you are also surrounded by anything up to 1500 other young people, all wrestling with over-energised hormones and a maelstrom of unfamiliar feelings. You’re also in for a rude awakening, as you realise through bitter experience that not all people are as thoughtful and well-mannered as you are.

I personally found the first few years at secondary school so traumatic, that to this day I refer to it as ‘doing my time’. I struggled to grasp the social rituals and game playing which occurs in friendships between little girls, and instead naively believed that others valued friendship in the same way I did. I therefore failed to understand that you were meant to switch best friends at least once a week, and was genuinely devastated when the friend of my choice fell out with me in my first year. (The unaware empath is always heartbroken when their friendship is abused or betrayed.)

 My lack of guile seriously affected my friendships for the next three years, and I ended up spending most of that time hiding away in a corner with a book, wistfully escaping into the fantasy worlds of my novels.  Unfortunately, being alone and obviously sensitive also made me an obvious target for bullies as my high sensitivity usually provoked a physical and emotional expression of my pain. I was also less likely to fight back due to a genuine aversion to conflict, particularly of a violent nature, and my natural inclination towards peaceful and harmonious relations.

My daughter is also highly empathic and as soon as she began to have regular social interaction with her peer group, she demonstrated a reluctance to defend herself when other children were mean to her – “I don’t want to hurt their feelings”. Thanks to my own experiences, I’ve had the foresight to teach her basic assertiveness skills from the age of three, the gist of my advice being: “Don’t worry about people liking you – just make sure they respect you.  If people respect you, chances are they’ll also like you, but if for some reason they don’t like you – most probably due to a projection of their own insecurities – if you have their (albeit grudging) respect, then they’ll simply stay out of your way.”

HANDLING SOCIAL INTERACTION

Because of my experiences at school, in my late teens and early twenties I mostly avoided female friendships, preferring to have simpler male friendships minus the bitchiness and games. I was much happier being around people who appreciated me and did not diminish me in any way for who I was. As the years go by, I’ve become even more selective about my friendships – I have a handful of close friends (men and women), and am not afraid to ditch any relationships which are detrimental to my well-being.

The aware empath also learns how to avoid negative people and sniff out those bad apples by following their intuition. Experience has taught me to always go with my first impression – never ignore that gut feeling! If I’ve ever made the mistake of giving the benefit of the doubt to characters who initially strike me as dubious, I’ve always been badly burned as a result.

Another distressing social problem empaths can have is people taking an instant dislike to you, apropos of nothing. This is often because as empaths we have very light energy, which naturally repels those people with darker energy. Until you learn not to take this personally and understand that the problem lies with the other person and not you, it can be very hurtful to be on the receiving end of undeserved contempt. Some people are also intimidated by the intensity involved in a relationship with you as not everyone want to explore their inner self – a natural tendency for you – so this can sometimes frighten people away for what seems like no obvious reason. Ever had a friendship which seemed to be going just fine then suddenly the other person stops returning your calls? Chances are that person just couldn’t handle the manifestations of your gift.

 SEXUAL BOUNDARIES

Dealing with other people’s sexual energy can lead to some serious difficulties for the unaware empath. This can be particularly tough during adolescence as not only are you surrounded by people whose hormones are going crazy, resulting in you being energetically overwhelmed by a multitude of unrestrained libidos, you are likely to still be somewhat unworldly. Your vulnerability and naivety coupled with your compassion and sensitivity can make you an unwitting target for all manner of sexual predators – female empaths in particular can suffer real trauma due to abuse of their sexual boundaries. As unaware empaths are also more likely to use drink or drugs for Dutch courage and to lessen the impact of excessive stimuli in social situations, you can see how the combination of all these factors can be a recipe for disaster.

ENERGY VAMPIRES AND THE ‘LAME DUCK’ SYNDROME

Until you become aware that you are an empath and learn how to protect yourself, you will find yourself being leeched on by energy vampires due to your natural compassion. Even strangers will be drawn to you, as people intuitively feel that you will empathise and offer support without judging them, so seek you out for advice or simply to vent. Equally, you seem to naturally gravitate towards people in pain. Unfortunately this can result in you being a constant victim of the ‘lame duck syndrome’, collecting all manner of troubled folk who you’ve shown some compassion for.

 THE SHY LONER

In an attempt to resolve their social difficulties, some empaths become withdrawn and quiet, in some cases to the point of completely isolating themselves and becoming a loner or a recluse. Others become depressed or anxious, maybe even developing social phobias to (subconsciously) give them a valid excuse for avoiding social activities. I’ve been very shy at certain stages in my life, though only people who genuinely resonate with me recognise this trait in me, as I have learned to disguise it very well – and not always in the healthiest of ways. As I mentioned previously, a number of empaths sadly deal with their shyness by hiding behind drugs or alcohol, which can ultimately create more problems than it actually solves.

POTENTIAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

When you are unaware of your trait, you can become swamped by emotions, mostly those of other people. Society soon makes it clear that expressing emotions is bad, so consequently you have no suitable channel or outlet for the excessive emotional energy you’re carrying. The potential outcome of this blocked energy is that you could become emotionally unstable (acting out past pains over and over with just a change of the central cast now and again, to try and shift the blockage) – or at worst, you could end up having a mental breakdown.  It’s easy to see why an unaware empath, battling their way through life, may be tempted to take an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) such as Prozac, to reduce their arousal levels for a while and give themselves a break. (See Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Survive and Thrive When the World Overwhelms You for more on this – there’s a whole chapter about the pros and cons towards the end).

Medicating yourself works to a point but the downside is that as well as losing the negative aspects of your sensitivity, you also lose some of  the positive ones (which are worth it, believe me). For this reason, I believe it’s best used either as a short-term solution until you come to terms with your trait and learn how to handle it, or as an emergency treatment, for no longer than six months, if life conspires against you and it all becomes too much.

 PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS

Some empaths put on weight to use as a ‘buffer’ between themselves and the world. I found that when I felt depressed and trapped (for example, when in a dull relationship or job)  I put too much weight on, but if under extreme stress – if suddenly thrust into a high-intensity environment or situation, be it personally or professionally – it dropped off me extremely rapidly. This ‘yo-yoing’ of my weight was not good for my health, but ultimately gave me another impetus for learning more about how to handle being an empath. You may also find yourself suffering from other physical manifestations – diseases and disorders – as blocked emotional energy tries to find an outlet through your body. (You can read more about this, and get links to relevant books, in the mind/body connection articles featured in the Empathic Guidance blog).

You are probably more physically sensitive than others too, and may find yourself having allergic reactions to anything and everything – cosmetic products, chemicals in food, detergents, pollen, dust, fur etc – resulting in symptoms such as sneezing, asthma, hives and stomach problems. This physical sensitivity means you may also feel other people’s physical pain, as well as the emotional stuff, particularly if you have a close connection. On more than one occasion, I’ve gone to collect my daughter from somewhere and the minute she is in my presence, I will suddenly get a strange ache in my stomach or my head – only for her to tell me that she’s not been feeling so well and has a stomach/headache.

 THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD

Our empathy is not just limited to those around us – it’s also global. The empath can hardly bear to watch violence and will weep for the pain and suffering in the world. Your high level of compassion means that you probably find it impossible to comprehend the cruelty, ignorance and narrow minded attitudes of others. I remember my dad telling me as a child that Pete Duel, who I loved to watch in the 70s TV show   ‘Alias Smith and Jones’, had killed himself because ‘he took the weight of the world on his shoulders’, and as I grew up I began to realise why I had been strangely drawn to this man, as I too experienced some of the pain Pete must have felt.  (Pete’s story is a tragic testament to the life of an unaware empath – it’s worth checking out if you want to know more about this subject.)

My advice to those of you who also know this feeling only too well is do your best to avoid news programmes until you can handle it – I did this for a while whilst developing my inner strength and now limit myself to a quick scan of the headlines which automatically pop up on my homepage and occasionally reading The Guardian. Even then, I tend to stick to the stories which relate to my work or my life in some way. Empaths also prefer not to watch violent or gory films – though on occasion you may enjoy a psychological thriller. I liked Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ even though it scared me half to death, because (aged 15) I thought the plot twist was clever and weird. Empaths enjoy anything that involves creative or lateral thinking.

 BECOMING AWARE

Fortunately, more and more people are gaining self-awareness about their gift and are learning how to heal their wounds and nurture themselves. The empath often becomes aware after a number of strange experiences, which can suddenly launch them into an awakening period and provide the impetus for a journey of self-discovery. Often this experience can be dramatic, life-altering and very memorable for you throughout your life.

 For me, the turning-point was unexpectedly losing my full-time job (albeit one I was thoroughly miserable in) on 10 April 1995. After the initial ego panic about how I would survive, I decided to take some time out to find out what I really wanted. Following a series of weird but wonderful synchronicities, I realised I had to stop working in meaningless jobs for the sake of earning a living and fulfilling someone else’s work ethic, and find out what really fulfilled me. I began to listen to my inner guidance’s urge to seek awareness, balance and authenticity and thus started my journey on the holistic path. And as I’ve discovered, when you feel centred and whole, you gain the inner freedom to utilise and explore the positive aspects of being an empath.

 In part two, I’ll offer some tips on how to nurture yourself and make the most of your trait for those of you who identify with being an empath, and discuss the delights of being a highly empathic person.

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Burnout Pt.3: Prevention and Cure

December 3, 2010

In the final part of our series on burnout, we explore some of the methods you can employ if you have recognised yourself in parts one and two, and feel that you may be suffering from this syndrome.

In order to recover from burnout, it’s important for you to commit fully to healing. There is no instant cure and you need to be aware that the healing process will take some time, depending on how far down the burnout path you’ve travelled. Clearly, the sooner you are able to spot these symptoms developing, the sooner you can turn your life and your general wellbeing around.

Be selfish!

This is the first and possibly the most important message to take on board if you are suffering from burnout. A good analogy is the advice given to parents during air travel, to put the oxygen mask on themselves first in an emergency so that they are then in the best position to help their child. In the same way, it’s vital for you to realise that you will not be fit to take care of anyone unless you first take care of yourself. So until you have recovered, it’s time to put you first for a change, beginning with your physical wellbeing.

Rest

In our busy and stressful society, so many of us believe it’s acceptable to operate on five or six hours sleep. However, if you are showing early signs of burnout, then it’s important to commit to getting a minimum of eight hours sleep a night and preferably at least 10. Going to bed early may feel like a drag, but is surely preferable to the alternative of running yourself so far into the ground that you’re unable to get out of bed at all.

Relaxation

Though it’s healthy to spend some of your leisure time enjoying your hobbies and pastimes, it’s also vital that you make time to practise specific relaxation techniques, such as meditation. Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated – try this simple breathing exercise. Take long slow breaths in and out, focusing solely on your breathing and saying silently to yourself  ‘in-two-three-four’ on the in breath, and ‘out-two-three-four’ on the out breath.

You could also try this simple relaxation exercise. Work your way down your body from head to toe, focussing on each body part. Tense that part for a few seconds, then release all the tension until it is completely relaxed, before moving onto the next part. You’ll probably be surprised at how much tension you’re already holding in your body.

Complementary therapies can also be very effective – I’ve found reflexology and reiki to be particularly beneficial. Massage of any kind, be it Indian Head massage, Swedish massage or aromatherapy with oils is also a wonderful way to relax and will help release any knots in those tense muscles.

Nourishment

When we’re heading towards burnout, we often find our diet suffers as we snack on fast foods or overdo the stimulants in an attempt to boost our energy levels. However our body is crying out for nourishment, so the best thing you can do for yourself is to give in to its demands. The best nutrition you can give your body at this time is vegetables, protein and unprocessed foods, as well as fibrous foods and healthy carbohydrates such as jacket potatoes, wholemeal bread and pasta and brown rice. Warm foods such as nutritious soups and stews are ideal in the winter months and salads are great for the summer.

You can also supplement your diet with a select range of vitamins and minerals. Particularly good ones are: multivitamins, B vitamins (especially B12), vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium, calcium and zinc. Omega 3, co-enzymes and amino acids such as lysine are also good and a DHEA supplement (DHEA is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands) can also be beneficial. However, if you take prescribed medication, do consult your doctor first before taking any of these supplements.

As well as considering what we do ingest, it’s also worth being more vigilant about what we don’t. Sugar, salt and fats should be limited, and it’s best to avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and recreational drugs whilst suffering from burnout.

Exercise

As mentioned in part two, too much exercise can be counterproductive, particularly if you’re already on the path to burnout. The key is gentle exercise – a short walk everyday or a few light chores would be more than adequate at this stage, beginning with maybe five minutes a day and increasing the time as your energy levels rise.

Back to nature

You can of course combine this with your daily exercise, particularly if you live in a rural area – a walk outside every day will do you the power of good. Alternatively, if you live or work in a more urban setting, a lunchtime stroll through a park can be just as effective.

Being out in the sunshine also helps, though I am aware that we don’t see much of that in the UK! However the best time of day to be outdoors in the colder months is still around midday, so that lunchtime stroll is well worth the effort.

Another positive thing you can do for yourself is to take a break in nature – perhaps an afternoon in the countryside or by the sea, relaxing in the natural world away from the hurly burly of modern life.

Time Management

Burnt out people often have way too much on their plate, so basic time management skills can really make a difference in your life. You could try: making lists to organise your time more effectively; delegating, by passing on some of your tasks to others (too many burnt out people are perfectionists who erroneously believe that no-one else can manage to do the job quite as effectively as they can); and taking regular breaks, e.g. for every hour of work, take a 10-15 minute break.

Eliminate EMFs

As mentioned in part two, and in particular for highly sensitive people, EMFS (as well as other forms of geopathic stress) can be a huge issue when it comes to burn out. If you feel these are affecting your health, try some of the following: turn off and unplug appliances when not in use; minimise computer and mobile phone usage; switch to an analogue phone (cordless ones are available); and if you live near mobile phone masts or pylons, consider moving if at all possible. (You can read more about this and about the effects of geopathic stress in the book You Can Heal Yourself: Bio-Energy and the Power of Self-Healing by Seka Nikolic.)

Find support

As we saw in part two, negative relationships of any kind can contribute to burnout. Shun those energy vampires and naysayers and spend some time with positive and supportive people who appreciate you. It can be tempting to withdraw from others when you’re burnt out, and whilst time spent alone can be beneficial (see my article on solitude), when you’re feeling low, you can easily lose perspective and become overly critical of yourself. Sharing a cuppa with a true friend can help you bring much needed clarity and levity into your life.

Dump your baggage

Whether it’s emotional, psychological, mental or physical baggage, clearing out the stuff in your life which is holding you back and dragging you down is always a positive move and extremely revitalising. For more on this, check out my articles on de-cluttering here and learn how to let go of those unwanted elements which belong firmly in the past.

Personal Development

Burning out can be the precursor to a time of positive transformation in our lives. One of the ways that we can facilitate this is by focussing on our personal development and learning new, more functional ways of being. Perhaps a lack of assertiveness has been an issue for you or maybe you’ve struggled with low self esteem. Take the time to explore who you really are and find out what you need to grow and transform yourself in a positive way. Reading through some of the entries in this blog could be a good place to start and there are many other resources similar to this which can be found across the internet and in libraries.

Learn the lesson

Finally, as I mentioned in part two, look for the lesson which your burnout is trying to teach you. Regaining your physical wellbeing, freeing yourself of your baggage, discovering your authentic self through personal development work and making the most of your supportive friends are all positive steps towards transforming your life by clearing the way for the voice of your intuition. By listening to this voice we can find out what it is our soul really needs and make our way back to our true path and our life purpose.

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Burnout Pt.2: The Causes – and why it may be a blessing in disguise

November 13, 2010

In part one, I described some of the many symptoms of burnout. In the second part of this article, I look at why burnout is not necessarily a bad thing and list some of the causes of this increasingly common syndrome.

Firstly, however, we will briefly discuss the possible physical cause of burnout. It is usually attributed to a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system and the adrenal glands. The autonomic nervous system is a combination of nerves, connections and glands which works in conjunction with practically every other system in our body. All of our body’s regular activities are performed by this system, such as breathing, digestion and so on, and it is this system which acts as the body’s thermostat,  ensuring that it adapts accordingly to external forces – for example, adjusting your breathing and heart rate if you walk up a hill.

Your body can also interpret your external environment using the five senses – sight, sound etc. These perceptions are then transmitted through the brain, which ensures that the appropriate response is activated by the nervous system.

Problems begin when the part of the brain which controls the ‘fight or flight’ stress mechanism starts firing at an abnormally high rate. This can occur when we overanalyse potential danger and perceive threats where in fact there are none, or suffer stressful events which feel like danger because they threaten our sense of self or wellbeing. The adrenal glands begin releasing hormones such as cortisol to deal with the stress, but if this stress is overwhelming then too many of these hormones are produced, swamping the nervous system. This results in autonomic overload, as well as depleting the adrenals, leading to adrenal burnout – and resulting, ultimately, in the symptoms described in part one. (You can read more about this in Coping with a Stressed Nervous System by Dr Kenneth Hambly and Alice Muir.)

Of course, if you are a HSP (highly sensitive person) or an empath, then you will have been born with a nervous system which is already hypersensitive to external stimuli, making you more susceptible to burnout than others with a less sensitive system. This is why HSPs and empaths need to practise self-care a good deal more diligently than most. However, even if you were not born with a sensitive nervous system, you may find yourself becoming increasingly sensitised if you have had a particularly stressful or traumatic life.

As we have seen from the symptoms, burnout can be extremely distressing. However surprisingly, there is a positive aspect to burnout. It can be viewed as a transformative event in our lives – a turning point, a wake-up call and a cry from the soul. Somewhere deep within the heart of us, the barely discernible voice of our intuition is trying to inform us of what our soul really needs and put us in touch with our authentic self. If we listen to this voice then we can transform our lives immeasurably – but if we fail to heed the warning, then the outcome could potentially be fatal. (Viewed in this more positive way, it is also then no coincidence that the symptoms of burnout are so reminiscent of the symptoms of awakening.)

Dr Dina Glouberman talks about this in more detail in her book, The Joy of Burnout: How the End of the World Can Be a New Beginning:

The area in which we eventually burn out, whether at work, with our children or parents, in an intimate partnership, in a social or political group or elsewhere, has two defining characteristics. It is where:

* We invest our creativity, our passion, our heart and/or our ability to contribute.

* We earn a sense of identity, value, belonging, purpose and/or meaning.

As long as the situation we are devoted to is working and our contribution is effective, appreciated or rewarded, we remain wholehearted. Our energy is high and vibrant and our life probably seems positive and successful both to others and to ourselves. But if anything upsets this picture, we become candidates for burnout.

At some point, something changes either in us or in our situation or in the relationship between the two. Our heart goes out of our situation. There is a dawning awareness, often hardly conscious, that there must be another way, that it can’t be right to continue as we are.

Some of us listen to this feeling and make significant changes in our lives – a new job, a new relationship, or a new approach to our old job or relationship. In this way, we stop ourselves from continuing on the burnout trail.

But those of us who keep going, denying everything that contradicts the path we are on, are likely to head for a major burnout. Driven by fear of losing what we had rather than positive intention, we are no longer in a flow with ourselves or with our lives. We cut off from our bodies, our feelings, sometimes our friends and family. We become divided against ourselves. Our head, heart and soul are not in alignment. We operate like a car with the accelerator and the brake working at the same time and the tank down to empty.

 

So what kind of scenarios, experiences, traits and behaviours can lead to burnout? Here are some examples:

Trauma

If you suffer from one or more traumas in your life, then you are increasingly at risk of burnout. Initially we can feel that we have handled the trauma well, but find ourselves burning out further down the line when our life seems to have settled down again, as the effects on our nervous system catch up with us.

 

The ‘drip-drip-drip’ effect

Often it is not one major trauma but a series of minor stresses, disappointments and frustrations which can slowly drive us to burnout. Several years ago, I moved house and for six months, found myself plagued with petty problems which involved me making numerous phone calls to a variety of call centres. Anyone who has ever had to ring one of these places will know how frustrating it can be, particularly when the issue you are trying to resolve requires you to call back again and again and again, due to the company’s incompetence. If you’re a sensitive, you probably also know how difficult it can be to make these calls, particularly when you’re already under stress. Needless to say, after six months of dealing with this on almost a daily basis, I was on the verge of complete burnout.

 

Lifestyle

If your lifestyle leads you to neglect your self-care, and you’re not getting enough sleep, not eating or exercising properly and are using stimulants to keep yourself going, then you’re going to be much less able to cope with the issues life throws at you. Living a fast-paced, high-stress and/or fear-based lifestyle is also a sure recipe for burnout. You can also burn out from too much exercise – after a very stressful period resulting in several warning signs such as fatigue, weight gain and emotional problems, Louise embarked on an intensive training regime to try and boost her health. Unfortunately this was the last straw as far as her body was concerned, and the excessive exertion hastened Louise’s decline into severe burnout.

 

Work issues

Overworking and perfectionism, or alternatively job dissatisfaction and lack of challenge can ultimately lead to burnout symptoms. Everyone has heard of the phenomenon of the business man who, when he finally takes a holiday, immediately falls ill. And working day after day in a job which fails to challenge you in anyway is simply soul destroying. Our society is increasingly economically focussed, and sadly this seems to be at the expense of our wellbeing. If you don’t have a sensible work-rest balance or if you are doing a job you hate simply for the money, then you’re a high-risk candidate for burnout.

 

Feeling unappreciated or unrecognised for your efforts

This can be in any relationship, whether business or personal. Joanne is a busy mum of four, who also runs her own business and is studying at college. Already finding herself feeling increasingly tearful, she finally broke down when faced with her teenage daughters’ filthy bedroom. Her frustration and disappointment at the constant lack of respect and appreciation shown by her family for her efforts at keeping the home and family life running smoothly became too overwhelming and Joanne was in great danger of burning out.

 

Lack of social support

Even when we lead busy lives and are constantly surrounded by people, we can feel unsupported and isolated. On the path to burnout, it can feel as if no-one understands us, has time for us or truly cares for our wellbeing.

 

Negative relationships

Nothing will drain your energy more than being around negative people. Abusive and/or violent people, energy vampires, people who are critical or contemptuous towards you, or people who constantly fight or bicker with you are the kind of people who will slowly but surely drive you towards burnout.

 

Lack of confidence

If you lack confidence in yourself, then you will find most situations outside of your usual comfort zone difficult. Being crippled with self-consciousness makes events which would be a breeze for most people a total nightmare. Some people are born with this lack of confidence but others lose their self-confidence later in life, perhaps due to a difficult experience or a health problem.

 

Lack of assertiveness

At work and in your relationships, a lack of assertiveness can create difficult situations for you, as you fail to communicate to others your wishes and needs. Constantly sacrificing your own needs and being unable to say no to the needs of others will inevitably lead to feelings of disappointment and frustration, and to feeling unappreciated and unrecognised, the forerunners of burnout.

 

Unhealthy responses to stress

If you have ineffective coping strategies, you will be more prone to burnout, for example if you have a tendency to worry, get angry or anxious, or if you try and avoid potentially stressful situations.

 

Unhealthy attitudes and thinking habits

The way you think about life, people and the world in general can affect how likely you are to burn out. Are you overly hostile, aggressive, or suspicious? Are you pessimistic, withdrawn, or negative? Or perhaps you have too high expectations, of yourself and of others. All these attitudes are liable to increase your chances of becoming overloaded.

 

Unresolved emotional issues

To prevent yourself suffering from burnout due to accumulated emotional baggage which, as we have seen, can make your nervous system hypersensitive, it’s important to spend some time dealing with this and resolving any remaining issues you may have from the past. Living constantly with feelings of rage, bitterness, resentment, hatred and fear will in time almost certainly result in chronic burnout.

 

People who give too much

This is particularly an issue for empaths and others who work in caring professions or roles, particularly if part of the reason for us giving is the need for appreciation. We can find ourselves becoming over emotionally invested in people – friends, family or clients – which can lead to disappointment when the person fails to appreciate our efforts or respond to our help in what we feel is an appropriate way. We can also find ourselves suffering from ‘compassion fatigue’  if we are working regularly with traumatised clients or are spending time with anyone suffering from trauma, be it physical or emotional.

 

These, then, are just some of the ways in which burnout can creep up upon us. If we are willing to take the time to heal, however, we can turn our experience into a positive one by using it to increase our knowledge of our inner selves and find the way to our true path. In part three, we’ll look at how we can heal ourselves when suffering from burnout and explore how we can prevent it from happening to us now or in the future.

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Burnout Pt.1: The Symptoms

November 3, 2010

In my article ‘On Being An Empath‘, I emphasise the importance of self care. Today we’re going to look at what can happen if you fail to take care of yourself – or if life simply makes that impossible to do and overwhelms you.

In our technological, fast-moving society, with its plethora of loud noises and bright lights, toxic chemicals and preservatives, pollution and EMFs,  and its emphasis on money and material acquisition above compassion and empathy for our fellow man, it’s hardly surprising that burnout has become so prevalent. And sadly, if you are an empath or HSP, or spend much of your time healing, helping or caring, you are even more susceptible to this syndrome.

There are many symptoms of burn out, and in part one today, we’ll take a closer look at them. Though this is quite a comprehensive list, it is by no means exhaustive as burnout can affect everyone in very different ways.

Physical symptoms

* Fatigue – one of the main symptoms which is likely to affect everyone is exhaustion (emotional and mental as well as physical) which is not alleviated by sleep or rest. The outcome of this, should it continue, could be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as ME.

* Sleep disturbances – you may find you are no longer able to drop off at bedtime like you used to, or perhaps you are waking up in the night, once or several times, and are unable to get back to sleep.

* Vivid, disturbing dreams – if you do manage to sleep, you may wake up feeling like you’ve run a marathon, after a night of overactive dreaming.

* Inability to relax – when at leisure

* Aches and pains – back pains, stiff neck, frozen shoulder, head aches and chest pains (including tightness in the chest) are all potentially symptomatic of burn out. You could also have severe joint or muscle aches, which could develop into fibromyalgia.

* Physical weakness – due to low energy and weakened muscles. Even climbing the stairs can feel like an ordeal.

* Numbness, tingling, pins and needles – particularly in your arms and legs, and hands and feet.

* Digestive problems – you could suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or other gastro-intestinal disturbances.

* Loss of appetite – resulting in extreme weight loss.

* Food cravings –  in particular sugar or carbohydrates, due to low blood sugar levels. This could result in significant weight gain, which you find impossible to shift.

* Operating on ‘low’ – like a weak battery, all your body’s systems could be running low. As well as low energy and low blood sugar, you could also be suffering from low temperature and low hormone levels, including low cortisol (stress hormone).  Low cortisol is also another cause of weight gain around the stomach area.

* Faulty thermostat – you could find yourself always feeling cold and suffering from chills and/or overheating and suffering from hot flushes.

* Lowered immune system – suffering from chronic and/or recurring low grade infections.

* Allergies – skin rashes, chemical sensitivities, respiratory difficulties and sinus problems, such as rhinitis.

* Toxic build-up in the body

* Pre-menstrual problems and period pains

* Decreased libido

* Fertility problems

* Sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights

* Tinnitus

* Sore throat

* Swollen glands

* Bladder problems

* Tremor or general feeling of shakiness

* Excessive yawning or sighing


Emotional and psychological symptoms

* Depression, despair, suicidal tendencies

* Lethargy, apathy, inertia

* Anger, irritability, resentment

* Anxiety, fear, worrying

* Guilt, shame, nervousness, apprehension

* Feeling helpless and hopeless

 

* Emotional deadness

 

* Mood swings

 

* Low self-esteem

 

* High self-criticism

 

* Overly introspective

* Compulsive and obsessive-compulsive tendencies

* Addiction – to over-stimulating substances such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, or activities such as excessive exercise, sex, loud music or other forms of excitement, in an attempt to stimulate the adrenal glands.

* Cognitive difficulties –  Memory loss, confused thinking, inability to concentrate. One of the scariest symptoms of this kind is ‘brain fog’, when you find yourself unable to remember something which you should easily be able to recall, for example, where you live or what your home looks like, or the name of an immediate family member

* Increasing sense of being cut off from ourselves and other people – feeling trapped, distant and disillusioned.

* Negative attitudes towards others, self and life in general – losing your sense of humour

* Defensiveness, pessimism, cynicism and/or intolerance towards others.

* Loss of interest in friends and family – withdrawal from others. You may find yourself using avoidance tactics when it comes to socialising, as you prefer to engage in solitary – and not necessarily healthy – activities such as isolative substance abuse, watching too much TV or spending an inordinate amount of time on the Internet.

* Feeling that the world is an evil place and losing faith in humanity

* Where work is concerned, you may find yourself losing interest with the result being that your performance suffers, you are frequently absent or late, and you participate in negative activities such as gossiping.

* Decreasing ability to be effective at doing what we have always done, either at work or at home

* Poor attention – speeding up without increased effectiveness

* Lack of assertiveness

* Indecisiveness

Do you recognise yourself  or someone you love in any of those symptoms? If so, in part two, we’ll be exploring the possible causes of burnout.

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