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Why A Self-Care Programme Might Not Be The Answer To Burnout

We seem to be living through an epidemic of stress and burnout. Three quarters of UK adults in the last year have apparently felt stressed and overwhelmed. 12 years ago I was one of them. 

Two incidents occurred one Monday in the school holidays. A pushy dad tried to jump the queue to sign our kids into holiday camp, and I really snapped at him. Later, after a difficult day wrestling with impenetrable legislation at work, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably in my office. They were not the most extreme examples of overwhelm yet I knew something was wrong. 

The next day I went to see my doctor who was great. He shared that he had gone through something similar. He explained that I had obviously been running on cortisol for far too long – stressed single mother, juggling work – and that my endocrine system had just said ‘enough’. He reassured me that there was a solution and it didn’t even necessarily involve drugs. 

He also suggested that I try some of the things that had worked for him such as more vigorous exercise, HIIT and changing habits, such as taking up a new hobby and buying a different paper. This is what I would call a self-care programme. And I have no doubt that these steps had been very effective for him. 

However what had been far more helpful for me was the more general part. His sharing his own experience helped me feel connected not mad. His confirmation that my endocrine system was all over the place, was affirming of my decision to consult my GP. [My self-critical voice was saying, ‘Don’t be a drama queen; just get over it!’] His prognosis that it could be sorted gave me hope and comfort. He also prompted me to take space to recover, which I did.

In that space I was able to follow the promptings of my inner voice to simply lie on the grass in the Botanics, whenever I could. [It was a warm spell during the summer.] Taking more vigorous exercise seemed unhelpful – I was already walking several miles a day and practising yoga. [In fact I already had so many ‘self-help’ techniques going on that I couldn’t keep up with them!] I found there were only a couple of friends I wanted to speak to about what was going on, and I trusted that instinct. The point is not so much what I did, as the fact that my innate wisdom guided me towards what I needed. After a couple of weeks I took the decision to reduce my hours at work. 

All this occurred shortly before I discovered the work I do now. That work is sometimes described as subtractive psychology. It is also known as innate health. What occurred for me instinctively, to follow my inner promptings, was what restored me to equilibrium. Today I know that each of us has a wellspring of wisdom within, although we don’t all realise that. 

For a long time prior to that summer crisis I had been ignoring my own inner voice. Each of us tends to hear it in different ways at different times. Today for me it is often most clear first thing in the morning before I get out of bed. New ideas occur, fresh thinking and different perspectives. It often happens when I’m walking too. When are you most likely to hear you inner voice? 

What my doctor had put in place for himself came from his inner promptings. What has been created by one person – his own, effective, self-care programme – is not necessarily the answer for another. However if we look to the part that does the creating, rather than that which has been created, we are more likely to find peace and wellbeing. 

If you are struggling with stress and burnout please do get in touch if you would like a personal conversation about it. 

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