How To Deal With Physical & Emotional Burnout

Dr. Will Horton Trauma and Addiction Recovery Expert

Whether you call it grind culture or hustle culture or burnout culture, this working ourselves into collapse is dying. The recent Covid shutdowns exposed this situation in new ways. And today I want to talk about why that’s absolutely imperative for our healing, both individually and collectively. Before we dive into today’s topic, I want to give a shout out to Amanda Sutter, who left me this beautiful comment. She says “So helpful! I’m finding a lot of alignment and other mindfulness based approaches, and the need for mind body spirit balancing in all things! The body too often gets neglected other than for things performance focused. I like the analogy of us as zombies, I’ve definitely spent periods as a disembodied head!” So common, I’ve worked with lots of people in the same state and that’s a perfect lead in to what we’re going to talk about today with burnout culture.

Okay, so first of all, can we talk about what burnout actually is and what it feels like? Burnout is actually a trauma state. This is neurological fact. So when scientists and researchers look at your brain in neuro imaging, they see activation in the same parts of the brain that would be active in people who had childhood trauma. So burnout actually has physiological effects on your brain and your body that would mirror the effects of a traumatic past. And this is really what I want to talk about today is this concept of burnout being something that is a mental or emotional state and not related to other issues in our lives at all.

So I’ve spent a long time working with people who are in pain and my experience with that is that the health industry treats pain as something that is completely disembodied in a funny way Haha, no pun intended from the rest of your life. So in general, when it comes to pain therapy, the vast majority of treatments are looking at structural problems and structural solutions. They are looking to see what muscles are tight, what muscles are weak, if you have a bulging and herniated disk, if you have something broken or ruptured, or injured in some way. Very important things to look at, I’m not negating that at all. But that’s only a certain percentage of what’s going on because pain is actually a brain state, not a body state.

So here’s what I mean by that. Pain is a sensation that is generated by your brain. That means that your body is actually sending signals to your brain, then your brain interprets those signals and says, okay, there’s something wrong in that area, I’m going to sound the alarm and that alarm is pain. So the pain doesn’t originate in your body, although the sensory stimulation for the pain originates in your body. So I want to be really clear that this isn’t about pain being all in your head, made up or imaginary. But I want you to understand how pain actually works on a neurological level in your body.

So here’s the thing, when you are in a threat or a trauma or survival state, meaning your nervous system is highly active, you are much more sensitized to sensory stimulus, meaning that the smallest stimulus can cause a painful reaction in your brain because the data being sent is so much louder and your brain sort of freaks out and goes, Oh my gosh, we’re in trouble here and we’re going to be in a lot of pain.

So now you can start to understand that there would be a link between burnout and physical pain and why as someone who has looked at pain for a really long time and worked with people where that’s basically usually the primary complaint or the reason that I would see someone is that they were uncomfortable in some way, whether it was severe or mild, there was discomfort, tension, and lack of flexibility and mobility, things like that. Those are usually treated like I said, as body problems but when you start to understand this pain connection to the brain, it makes sense that your stress levels and your levels of burnout would be related to any pain that you are experiencing.

So remember at the beginning of this video, I mentioned that burnout culture dying is absolutely imperative for us to heal as individuals and also as a collective. So what I wanted to bring up about that is that our culture at the moment treats us as though your mind is over here, your body’s over here and you’re going to get this treatment for pain and nothing in your life is addressed. I swear to you if my clients, I don’t mean anything by this. This is just our conditioning. But my clients if they could drop their bodies off to be like fixed or corrected while they go do something else, and their brain is like off having coffee or whatever, I’m sure they would.

And I completely understand where this is coming from because we are conditioned to believe, like I said, that our body has nothing to do with the rest of what’s going on with us. The problem with that, from a medical perspective is that if we continue to treat pain in this way, while not addressing the cultural ramifications of a grind or hustle culture, or burnout culture that is driving us constantly to be constantly productive, to be constantly on and only allotting us downtime, every so often, then, we are going to be struggling on an uphill battle to deal with not only chronic pain, but other issues as well.

So being in burnout actually can increase your risk of cardiac arrest by as much as 79%. So that’s almost an 80% increase in your risk of having a heart attack. So we are busily addressing all of the issues at the individual body level, in when it comes to health and when it comes to pain when it comes to things like heart disease, we’re not addressing these systemic issues. And it’s absolutely imperative for burnout culture to go away so that we are not being driven in this way. Because the reality is, you are not a machine and your body is not a machine.

Thinking of ourselves like a machine is actually a holdover from the Industrial Revolution. At the time where machines were crazy good. They were changing everything and making everything so much easier for people, that became the dominant model for things and people started thinking about the body in this mechanized way. You could say that it’s a bit like a car and a driver, where the car is your body, and the driver would be your brain, right. So the driver is the one like managing things and directing and doing all the stuff and your body’s just carrying, or the car is just carrying the driver around.

That’s not a good analogy for how your brain and body interact. Your brain and body are much more like this. And in fact, you have 80% of your sensory nerves or excuse me, 80% of your nerve fibers are sensory. They’re sending information upward to your brain. So your brain is getting a lot more data from your body than the other way around. So the idea that your body is just a sort of primitive machine that carries around the supercomputer of your brain, it’s outdated, it’s not accurate, and it’s what’s keeping our health stuck. And it’s what’s keeping a lot of our health care stuck is treating people in this disembodied way.

It’s also perpetuating trauma because burnout is a trauma state, right. And when we have burnout culture, what we’re asking is for our leaders, our entrepreneurs, our executives, our creative thought leaders, the people who are basically driving culture, we’re putting them in a trauma state and then we’re asking them to lead people. Here is what I know irrefutably. Leadership is about cultivating trust and safety. It’s not about getting people to do what you want. That comes after you cultivate trust and safety.

If you are in a biological state of dysregulation because you’re in burnout, and in the trauma state and feel like you can’t let down ever, you are not able physiologically, biologically, I don’t mean you’re not mentally able, I mean on a physiological level, you cannot cultivate safety because of something called co-regulation. People can tell.

On a basic level people know when you’re in this state, and it affects their own nervous systems and you feel unsafe to them. So you are not going to ever be able to cultivate the kind of foundation that you need in order to get people to do what you want without a lot of struggle and strife. So we are in a sense, stuck in this awkward loop where we because of our mind body dualism and because of our culture that drives trauma states, we are perpetuating burnout culture. But here’s also what I know. Burnout culture is dying. People are waking up to the fact that this is not sustainable, it’s not humane and it’s not what we want. And we are ready for a change. We’re ready for change.

Personally, I know I don’t want to live in pain, I don’t want to accept the idea that my body is just going to break down as I get older, which by the way, a lot of what we call aging is burnout. It’s trauma. It’s stress states in your body. I have seen way too many people at advanced ages become much more mobile and flexible than people who are in their 20s and 30s to buy the story that we just break down and become less capable as we get older. And I think that people are starting to understand that as well that we don’t have to accept that, that we can actually thrive throughout our lives and we can experience joy and connection and fulfillment and inner peace.

And I see that this is what’s driving us now, far more than consumerism, far more than getting the big house or any kind of accolades of that sort, that we’re really as a culture shifting towards being driven by fulfillment and by connection, which is going to heal our trauma, because the more connected we can be, the more we can co-regulate and the more healthy nervous systems we have, the more we will hold space for that.

This is the work that I am doing in the world. I really wanted to share this expanded perspective about burnout culture and our culture of extremity and all things and how we really drive ourselves and really bring awareness to the water or the ether that we’re all in. Because I think it can be very difficult to see it. Although with the current events going on and having our culture completely stopped for a while, a lot of people became really present to the fact that we have been not present, that we have been just running from thing to thing to thing.

A lot of people are saying things like, if I had a spare hour, like I don’t even know what I would do with it because we’re just so driven and so busy. And that is in essence being in fight or flight all the time. You’re always running from thing to thing to thing and if you stop, there’s no ability to rest and feel safe and secure. There’s a lack of safety there.

And so this is the work that I’m doing, this is my vision for the work that I’m doing is to create these biological levels of safety, to not only heal the pain and discomfort that you individually may be feeling in your specific body and to give you back that sense of inner peace and fulfillment in your life but I really also want to see this cultural shift because I have seen over the years of working with people how getting somebody to a really great centered state is wonderful and it’s healing for that individual, but then just sending them back into the toxic culture that created those symptoms in the first place is ultimately futile.

So we need a much more scalable global change. And this is the change that I would like to see in the world. So if you want to connect with me further, I totally invite you to do that. You can find my links in the description box below. You can come and hang out with me on Instagram. I’m @sukiebaxter there. Definitely make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel. I’m going to keep sharing the tools and the strategies and the insights that I have in this regard because I want to create a community who is seeing things in the same way that I’m seeing them. They’re seeing this change that is really possible.