Our body and mind are constantly adapting to the demands placed upon them. When we have adequate time, energy, and emotional resources to meet those requirements, we experience a state of balance. If our ability to fulfill responsibilities runs low, we encounter stress. When we no longer have the physical or emotional bandwidth to meet life's demands, we encounter burnout.
Though the state of burnout is not technically a medical condition, the World Health Organization recognizes it as an occupational phenomenon. Regardless of classification, the amplified stress response associated with burnout can have deleterious effects. From an Ayurvedic perspective, burnout causes Pitta constitutions to become irritated or inflamed, Vata natures to move into restlessness or anxiety, and Kapha types to settle into lethargy or withdrawal.
Each of these imbalances has a unique hormonal profile that adversely impacts well-being. Fortunately, Ayurveda offers a pragmatic approach to refueling our physical and emotional energies, thus, restoring balance to life.
Simplify Your Commitments
While we ultimately need to assess how large commitments such as work, relationships, and finances contribute to physical and emotional exhaustion, we can begin to simplify life by limiting discretionary commitments. Activities that leave us feeling drained should be temporarily suspended. This does not suggest that we will never engage in such pursuits again. It simply means that in order to regain balance, we need to prioritize activities that fuel our energy.
While it may be difficult to let go of a book club, friend’s night out, or volunteer position, compromising personal well-being ensures that we have less to give in the long run. For a period of at least three months eliminate nonessential extracurriculars in favor of nourishing self-care rituals. When the next quarter rolls around, you can assess which activities you are ready to reincorporate into your routine.
Take Frequent Pranayama Breaks
Pranayama is the practice of life-force control. Prana, the unseen energy that keeps the body and mind charged with life energy, is most often regulated through the breath. A 2013 study found that pranayama breathing exercises reduced perceived stress in healthy adults.
Every 90 minutes throughout the day, pause for two to five minutes to consciously breathe. There are numerous pranayama techniques and all are effective at relaxing the body, clearing the mind, and calming the nervous system. The instructions for one simple technique, known as square breathing, follow:
1. Sit with your spine straight and shoulders relaxed. Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose to a count of five.
2. Retain the breath for a count of five.
3. Exhale slowly through the nose to a count of five.
4. Remain without breath for a count of five.
The count of five can be modified to meet your personal breath capacity. Just remember to keep the number the same in each of the four steps. Practicing this technique encourages us to become aware of and let go of little stresses throughout the day.
Nourish Your Body
When energy reserves are maxed out, it may be tempting to reach for a quick boost in the form of refined, processed foods. However, those foods actually rob the body of fuel and accelerate the experience of burnout. Nourishing foods can be quick and far more satisfying.
As a general rule, Ayurveda recommends eating three meals and avoiding snacks in between. This stabilizes insulin and allows the digestive system to rest between meals.
In order to optimize energy, plan your day’s meals ahead of time with an eye toward doshic constitution. Vatas will enjoy oatmeal, hearty soups, and proteins. Pittas are moved toward balance with substantial smoothies, salads, and cooling herbs. Kaphas would do well with baked fruits, bitter greens, and warming spices. Keep the menu simple to avoid extra stress.
Reconnect To Nature
Nature is a magic elixir that promotes restoration, healing, and renewal. Research suggests that as little as ten minutes in a natural setting can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Outdoor time can be combined with other activities to alleviate time pressure.
For example, meals and meditation can be moved from indoor to outdoor environments. While outside, set devices aside and engage the senses. Notice what you hear, see, smell, taste, and touch. If possible, sit or stand directly on the Earth to discharge the positive ions that accumulate through electronic use.
Go to Bed Before 10 pm
Sleep is vital in renewing energy and overcoming burnout. Yet, the time that you get in bed is almost as important as how long you sleep. According to sleep expert and author of Tired But Wired: The Essential Sleep Toolkit Dr. Narina Ramlakhan, “The 90 minute phase before midnight is one of the most powerful phases of sleep, because it’s the period where the body is replenished,” Ramlakhan explains. “It’s rejuvenated on every level…if you’re under a lot of stress, you want to make sure you get that phase before midnight.”
Ayurveda has long suggested getting to bed prior to the Pitta cycle of the evening which commences at 10 p.m. During the Pitta sleep phase, the brain organizes information, processes memories, and renews vital mental energies.
Integrate Empowering Affirmations
Individuals in the throes of burnout may find their emotions spiraling into negativity. Replacing defeatist notions with empowering affirmations can turn the tide of negativity. Try swapping the following positive affirmations for disempowering thoughts:
“I have too much to do” becomes “I take things one step at a time.”
“I am not cut out for this job” becomes “I do the best that I can and surrender the rest.”
“I don’t know what I should do” becomes “The Universe is moving me in the right direction.”
“There is too much conflict in my life” becomes “I look for the good everywhere.”
Pessimistic thoughts often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. As soon as you notice a dim thought replace it with a light-filled affirmation. Notice how your whole body responds to the change of mental dialogue.
If you are experiencing burnout, take heart. The experience is temporary. By integrating the Ayurvedic practices above you can refuel your energy, regain balance, and reconnect to the joy in life.