April 18, 2019
by Stephen Bryant Walker
Melanie Noel Light
Burnout: A Life Force Exhausted
“[W]e’re sometimes forced to free ourselves from the traps of these societal expectations of productivity and busyness.”
Why do we push ourselves to the point of detrimental consequences such as fatigue or exhaustion,
anxiety or stress, depression or isolation…? Do we feel the expectation to act a certain way coming
from society, family and friends, work associates, or ourselves?
We aren’t born this way, but it becomes ingrained in our psyche. How many of us stop to question
it? Often, it’s an illness or traumatic life event that wakes us up to wondering why we’re accepting a life
of stress or exhaustion, rather than serenity or fulfillment. In a sense, we’re sometimes forced to free
ourselves from the traps of these societal expectations of productivity and busyness.
“Where had the wonder gone?”
In my 20’s I accepted the “fact” that adult life was going to be fairly cold and hard. My main goal was
supposed to be making a living for myself. I was financially scared into thinking that should be first and foremost. But a little voice inside of me asked, “Where had the wonder gone?”
As I befriended that voice and she helped me hone a vision and gain courage over the years, the tides
began turning. There came a point when I knew I would have to do something radical – and somewhat
socially unacceptable at my age – which was quit my job, move to Maine and work in a national park for
a summer. What was going to happen afterward? I didn’t know the details; I just knew it was going to be
a fresh start based on MY terms and conditions.
Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Self Care as Remedy
“Burnout” is also known as Compassion Fatigue for those who make a living helping others. Stephen
Walker’s advice is not to give more than 49%. “Know when, and how much, to let go,” he says. (Perhaps
we could all benefit from hearing more from him on this).
“Self Care is important as a remedy,” he also says, “but often there’s a control issue (believing you’re
supposed to give 100%, be in control at all times, and be responsible for it all). There’s ego behind things too, tying you to these expectations, but it’s also the work culture in America.”
“Not all burnout is the same.”
Then there’s the Retirement Mentality, when you work until you hit the wall, then have to collapse
instead of relaxing. Stephen’s advice: “Don’t take it to the limit because it’s just not sustainable.”
Not all burnout is the same. We each have our own “brand” of burnout depending on our lifestyle. Some
of us feel overworked or overly stressed, while others feel underwhelmed or uninspired. Like depression
and anxiety, they are two sides of the same coin. In fact, it is actually difficult for me to talk about
burnout right now because what I am feeling is more like the former: Intermittent bouts of depression
and anxiety. It feels more like a societal-lifestyle burnout in that I feel disconnected from the most basic
joys of making a life rather than making a living.
For instance, my awareness is extremely heightened about the carbon footprint I am leaving behind.What matters most to me – aside from kindred family and friends – is recycling more and consuming less, growing my own food and making my own herbs, saving the bees and other endangered species, investing locally and conscientiously, stopping to smell the rosemary each and every day… Basically, living closer to the land while caring deeply for it, not just taking from it. This way of life takes me back to the basics of life. And while it may seem survivalist, it feels more along the lines of thriving to me. Even perhaps, thriving from the surviving. Because what do all those societal expectations mean or lead to, anyway? A distraction from our own empowerment? A distraction from the wonders of caring for our own needs? A false belief that a busy life is a truly fulfilling one?
“[T]he more you get to know [what your burnout looks like], the more you get to know yourself and what matters most.”
Again, my current burnout may look and feel quite different from yours. But the more you get to know
it, the more you get to know yourself and what matters most. Thus, the more you can alter the
details/circumstances of your life based on your heart/soul/spirit’s truest longings. A significant door
may close behind you, but the views from that newly opened window may be mightily majestic.
Looking for a therapist who specializes in issues related to burnout and stress? Check out our listings for Sacramento area therapists on SacWellness.com.
About the Authors
Mr. Walker is a licensed psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher (Lama Yeshe Jinpa) who provides his clients with compassionate support and encourages them to bring mindfulness and kindness to their problems, issues and life goals. He blends traditional psychotherapy with alternative meditative traditions to emphasize non-judgmental awareness, energy and the cultivation of loving kindness.
Mr. Walker graduated from the Professional School of Psychology in 1989. He has had specialized training in Buddhist Psychology, Gestalt, EMDR, Hypnotherapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Narrative Therapy. He teaches core mindfulness skills and meditation in daily life.
My name is Melanie and I am a Visionary Coach, Stylist & Interior Decorator with Dream Life Designing, I direct people toward mindful, physical and/or spiritual healing. I also help them enhance the quality and enjoyment of their lives while pursuing their greatest desires, dreams, wishes and visions.