Author: Lorraine Collins
Burnout is a hot topic these days and with good reason. In a culture that encourages us to do more, it’s easy to veer into “too much,” especially if you mean well. This is what happened to me. I recently received a diagnosis of osteoarthritis and had an inflammation flare-up I’m convinced was caused by stress and being on the brink of burnout.
This feels uncomfortable to admit as a registered therapist and someone with time and experience under her belt, but it just goes to show the subtle ways burnout can occur. In my mind, I was doing all the things I knew were good for me: going to the gym, walking as much as possible, and eating reasonably well (although looking back, my intake of refined sugar would go up whenever I became overly tired. You don’t have to be a clinical psychologist to work out why I would immediately reach for lollipops). But was I doing what I really needed to do? Was I resting?
It’s easy to talk about rest when there are no kids, elderly parents, bills to pay, or other external things making a grab for our attention. But what about when those things are present? How can rest be achieved so we intentionally power down and not power up? The simple, but not easy, answer is with practice and boundary setting. In my profession, I encourage clients to place their energy on the things that facilitate their healing. For them (and me), it means resting.
Tricia Hersey, the founder of The Nap Ministry, has a poem about all the things rest can be: “rest being real-life conversations, rest is a meeting with self”. When you meet yourself, you learn more about who you are, what you need, and what you value. The root cause of burnout is valuing who others need or want us to be. It’s overextending ourselves to prove our worth and value in society. But what’s really called for is rest.
Our need for rest is part of the human condition and it’s crucial for survival. The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is that mental health is a universal birthright. But rest is a universal birthright too. It’s more than clickbait and hashtags. Rest is putting something into practice that can be quite challenging as it’s more than taking a nap or doing yoga. And the tricky thing is rest means different things to different people.
During this time of learning what rest means for me, I’ve circled back to one of my favourite prayers, the serenity prayer, which states, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” What I can change is being busy and constantly on the go.
I’ve seen in myself and my clients that busyness is often a defence mechanism to help us avoid what’s going on in other areas of our lives. “Busy” is socially acceptable and of course useful. But if taken too far, it can be damaging not only because it can lead to burnout but also because it can seriously affect your physical health.
What keeps us from resting is the feeling of shame. There’s a belief there’s something wrong with you if you need to change gears into rest mode. But there’s not. It’s normal, natural, and universal. And it’s a gift we give that not only helps us but our wider community. As someone in a helping profession, I know it’s tempting to overextend yourself for the sake of someone else but keep in mind this mantra: “It’s the community that holds us when westruggle to hold ourselves”. In other words, you don’t have to do everything, all at once, all by yourself. We are all here to hold each other, to take turns being the one who needs help.
What I’ve learned about burnout as a therapist? That change begins with re-writing the narrative around the “booked and busy” culture that seems to be galloping across the social discourse. When we prioritize “booked and busy”, we run the risk of booking ourselves into burnout. With Mental Health World Day approaching, let’s make rest a priority without shame.