Experiencing burnout? If the return to in-person events, busy offices and a hectic social calendar of catch-ups is getting too much, allowing time to switch off could be the best thing for you
Relaxing should be simple and straight-forward. And yet in modern life it is anything but. For most, we spend our days on a treadmill of working, caring, cooking and consuming the news, only to fall into bed exhausted and wake up still bleary-eyed. Why is rest not working for us? Because biologically, when under constant stress, our bodies are poised and ready for action. A squeezed-in nap or mindless scrolling is not enough to soothe that response.
Living life at this pace is hard on our bodies and minds. In their bestselling book, Burnout: Solve Your Stress Cycle, authors Emily and Amelia Nagoski explain that women experience burnout differently to men, and if we don’t make time to truly relax, our bodies remain in a constant stress state.
The body is supposed to get stressed — this goes right back to our hunter-gatherer days, when we had to be ready to fight or flee from danger — but that surge of adrenaline and cortisol is hard on the body when chronically activated. This could explain why so many of us experience difficulties with digestion and high blood pressure. Instead of pushing ourselves to our limit all the time, and wondering why we’re frazzled and exhausted, we need to let our stressed mind and body know that its work is done, it’s safe from danger.
This is what is known as completing the biological stress cycle, signalling to your mind and body that the pressure is off. That is the key to actually reaping the benefits from your downtime.
How do we complete the stress cycle? Here are some key steps.
That energy has to go somewhere. Imagine if you are in the wild and suddenly spot a predator. Your stress signals kick in, releasing adrenaline and costisol to fuel your body to sprint away. Once you’ve escaped, your body can calm down. But if you’re stressed at work, sit into your car and drive home and flop down on the couch, that stress hasn’t gone anywhere. Instead, exercise should be your first course of action to close the stress cycle. Try running, dancing or swimming, even just for 20 minutes.
Slow, deep breaths — when you exhale so completely that your tummy contracts — can slow the stress response. If you’ve struggled to be consistent with meditation and breathing exercises before, keep it simple so that it will become a habit you will keep up.
This may seem like a no brainer, but ask yourself, are you the type of person who withdraws when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Resist the urge to stew on your feelings and even if you don’t want to talk about what’s bothering you at that moment in time, just chatting is enough to help you relax. Having comfortable, casual and friendly interactions with those around you signals to your brain that you are safe. Have a chat with colleagues before you leave for the day, and sit down with a cup of tea with your loved ones when you arrive home. When something is really weighing on your mind, then it’s time to have a deeper conversation, and take that weight off your shoulders.
We’re not talking about a polite chuckle, we mean true, genuine belly-aching laughter. Laughter is a natural stress-reliever, and that high followed by a low as you erupt into laughter and then calm down is what you’re trying to replicate when completing the stress cycle.
When is the last time you let go with some colours, played an instrument or just put pen to paper? Creativity is a known stress-reliever, and getting into that mental headspace and finding flow is a great way to ease the signs of stress.