Burnout & Mental Wellness

A pattern that I have noticed is that “Bad managers fuel Burnout!” it is showing up everywhere and Managers and Leaders need to change their style or the high attrition rate will continue

I am not a medical professional and can only write this article from what I personally have experienced and from what many of my clients, family, and friends, have experienced.

The intention of this article is to help you prevent burnout or help you deal with burnout

It helps to understand the role of the Limbic system in our brain.

The Limbic System of our brain is the part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses. I recently learnt from Lori Shook in her course Rewired to Relate, that “memories are stored with emotions. Good memories will have good emotions and bad memories bad emotions”.

The Limbic system is there to protect us, using fight, flight or freeze; to deal with fears, rejection, stress etc….

Think of the Limbic System as your private army on call. Anytime you experience a bad emotion, stress, trouble or fear, your private army comes charging, releasing chemicals into the brain called Adrenaline and Cortisol. This is often referred to a flooding. Think of a flood gate of a dam opening. The two chemicals we should know about for this article are Cortisol and Adrenaline:

    1. High Cortisol:

      • It is worth noting that high cortisol causes your body to store fat.
      • High cortisol also keeps you awake at night. You might find that if you wake up at midnight or 2:00am, you battle to get back to sleep. This can be due to high levels of cortisol. There was a period in my life when I averaged 2-3 hrs of sleep. I felt like I was constantly “buzzing”.
      • High Cortisol impacts the physical body by causing: Headaches, Digestive complications, Muscle tension and high blood pressure
    1. Adrenaline:

      • You will know what an “adrenaline rush” feels like – in an instant you are on high alert and will even feel tingling in your fingertips. Try to remember when somebody gave you a fright or you slammed on breaks in your car to avoid an accident. You gasp, and in that same instance you are flooded with adrenaline.
      • Your heart rate is elevated
      • When the adrenaline subsides, some people go into “shock” and start trembling and often their sugar levels have dropped. When my sugar levels drop, my BP goes up fast to help my body cope. To learn about my own body, I have taken my BP and sugar immediately after an adrenaline rush and have noticed a considerable difference. Dr’s have told me this is normal, your BP must go up, to prepare you for fight or flight.
      • I am not sure if everyone’s sugar drops, but I know for sure that mine does

Every little stress, every disappointment or rejection, every deadline, constant worrying, fear, or anxiety, will have a domino effect of constantly having your private army on high alert and continuous flooding of cortisol and/or adrenaline, the fight or flight chemicals.

You might be thinking now that this is uncontrollable. I agree, but we need to choose if we will allow the flooding to continue or if we will be proactive and stop the flooding….

Before we get into dealing with flooding, lets first look at the symptoms of burnout and what does burnout feel like:

    • Always feeling tired. When you rest, you are not resting because you are too wound up. So often you come back from a break away and you feel like you need a holiday.
    • You lack creativity and purpose, which means you lack motivation, and it is hard to find motivation
    • Some people experience emotional numbness and stop caring
    • Being on edge from time to time is elevated to constant anxiety
    • Sleeping badly – the few hours of sleep you get are not quality because you never get into REM
    • Short fuse, irritable, cynical and generally negative
    • Everything is an effort
    • You make mountains out of molehills for everything
    • The constant need for “comfort food”
    • Excessive use of substances, including alcohol, drugs and prescription drugs. Trying to escape.
    • Constant feeling of mental overwhelm and chronic fatigue.
    • Moodiness and irritability.
    • Inability to make decisions.
    • Loss of motivation, just not interested.
    • Suicidal thoughts.
    • Isolating – withdrawing from support systems, family gathering and becoming a recluse.
    • Despair and hopelessness.

“People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you’re drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up.” ~ unknown

Getting back to stopping the flooding:

If you continue in this mode for a prolonged period of time, you get stuck in this “war-like” loop and it is extremely exhausting and detrimental to you physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being.

Thinking about what Lori Shook said that “memories are stored with emotions”. We have access to our memories and that means we can access good memories and tap into the good emotions again, just by remembering. Remember that good emotions cause good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin to be released in the brain. A good type of flooding. Many people think they have to go to the gym and work out like mad to get these feel good chemicals. What they don’t realise is that when your heart rate is elevated for too long, it can cause a cortisol release….

We can stop the flooding of cortisol and adrenaline by deliberately crating a flood of good chemicals.

To do this we need to be able to be AWARE of what is happening, the instant it starts to happen, and then have the DESIRE to choose to do something about it and be proactive, rather than reactive.

The Change Cycle Coaching model that I use has 5 steps to it. The first two steps are AWARENESS and DEISIRE. Most coaches only work with awareness, and this does not bring enough permanent change, so you are always working on it. Besides this, in some cultures, people don’t like to talk about the “touchy feely” stuff as they perceive that as weakness…. We need to cycle through all 5 steps and sometimes repeat the cycle with every bit of growth or positive shift, until we achieve a sustainable solution or permanent change.

Let me explain AWARENESS & DESIRE using this example. Let’s say you have a problem with breaking out in Hives, (extremely itchy bumps), so you visit your doctor to do allergy tests. You discover you are allergic to eggs and every time you eat eggs (yolk or white) you get a bad breakout of hives. So now you are AWARE. You know what is causing it.

AWARENESS is about:

    • What are you feeling?
    • Where are you feeling it?
    • Become sensitive to when it starts happening – triggers
    • Realising “I need to” do something

Being aware of your allergy has not brought the change you seek being the removal of the hives. You just have knowledge about what is causing it. Knowledge is very important but without using it, you are rendering yourself useless. (Like getting a degree and never using what you learnt).

You might be thinking that awareness and desire are very similar, and I am splitting hairs here, but having the AWARENESS of what is triggering your hives and having the DESIRE to stop the discomfort of the hives and to take action are two different things.

DESIRE is about:

    • I can’t continue like this – I really want a different outcome!
    • The pain or discomfort becomes bigger than the effort required to do something (you might have noticed that some people continue to so things that they know is not good for them, because they choose to do so.)
    • I know that there must be an alternative!
    • I am prepared to do whatever it takes!
    • I know that “I want to” change, or take action!

Desire is almost like a positive form of desperation that you are energised towards doing whatever it takes!

Being aware and having the desire to do something are different, but they work together!


So how does this connect to Burnout?

You must become aware of causes, triggers, and choices using AWARENESS and DESIRE. Using the few questions and statements identified in Awareness and Desire earlier, lets expand them:

      • What are you feeling & being sensitive to and how does it start:
        • What are you are doing when you start to feel overwhelmed, stressed or anxious
        • What are you allowing people to do to you, overload you (force you to do)
        • Unrealistic deadline suddenly given and you instantly feel that flood of “anxiety” or “overwhelm”
        • Headaches, gut pain, ulcer plays up, irritable bowel, nausea…
        • Triggers:
          • when she does that….
          • When he says that…..
          • Underlying subconscious past emotional trauma, disappointments or failures causing fear
      • Where are you feeling it:
        • Does your heart start racing as adrenaline is flooding
        • Some people feel a “swoosh” of momentary dizziness
        • What are your triggers and tolerances – do you go into fight, flight or freeze
        • Are your Personal Core values being disrespected, crushed or suffocated
      • You realise “I need to do something” = AWARENESS
        • The flooding has just started happening
        • I am feeling it
        • I am now AWARE of it


      • I can’t continue like this
        • this is going to cause me to spiral
        • I need to protect my health and wellness
        • My focus, performance is affected. This causes me to underperform and then I feel like a failure
        • I want to work smarter, no harder
      • The pain and discomfort of health issues, becomes bigger than the effort required to do something:
        • Desire to stop the flooding which causes spiralling
        • Desire to put yourself first and care for yourself, so you have greatness to give
        • Desire to choose quality of life. Without your health, you won’t have quality of life
        • Desire to work smarter and not harder
        • Desire to not take it out on your family, loved ones
        • Desire to stop being grumpy
      • I know that there must be an alternative:
        • I will seek ways and solutions, but something must change
        • I am prepared to do whatever it takes
      • Knowing that “I want to” change = DESIRE
        • I now have the desire to do whatever is necessary

The short and sweet of it.

When you have awareness and desire, one thing you can do to help yourself stop the flooding, is to force yourself to down calmly, close yoru eyes and engage (remember) one very good memory for 5 minutes. This causes the brain to release the “happy” chemicals. This provides the chemicals needed to start coping. Remember memories are stored with emotions and emotions trigger chemicals in the brain – you get to choose and take back control!

If this is a challenge to do on your own, reach out to me. Together we can move you from burnout to:

    • having the ability to choose what to flood your brain with,
    • Being engaged at the office and with family time
    • Start experiencing delight again
    • Start feeling like a winner again personally and professionally 
    • Most of all, helping you live your best life ever!
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