The highly intelligent, yet humorous, humble, and deeply spiritual psychologist and medical researcher Dr. Joan Borysenko recently spoke to an inspired audience at Michael’s House Outpatient Services as part of their Open Door Speakers Series. The subject on this magical, balmy Palm Springs evening was how to renew your vitality after becoming exhausted from giving too much of yourself in your passion to help others. This burnout affects most people at some time in their lives, but especially those in the service professions.
Everyone has some natural “gift.” Whatever you do that gives you fulfillment and at the same time benefits others in any way is likely your gift. It can be in the realm of personal relationships, business, creativity, or any number of other areas of life. The problem is, regardless of your gift, everyone at some point feels like they have nothing left to give. This is now known as “burnout.”
Everyone reaches a time in life when they don’t want to do what used to make them happiest. They may feel tired, a lack of joy, desperate to relax, maybe even irritable. It is especially the “natural givers” of this world who reach that place most often, and it is sometimes mistaken for depression. Dr. Joan shared with the group highly effective yet simple ways to replace burnout with the joy of practicing your gift with a sense of energy as detailed in her research-based book Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive.
The following is my interpretation of Dr. Joan’s talk for my own life. First, it is important to recognize that you have been giving too much of your natural energy away. Next, recognize that in order to continue letting your gift contribute to others, and at the same time give yourself fulfillment, you need to stop and recharge your battery.
We all love our little pocket computers (we still call them “phones”) because they serve us so well in so many ways; yet, they all need to be recharged on a regular basis. You need to recharge at least as often as you recharge that phone, because you do so much more than that little computer. Give yourself permission to recharge – and do it before your battery is totally drained.
Dr. Joan taught us that the part of the brain that is active when we are in a state of happiness (the prefrontal cortex) can be activated by practicing meditation. Meditation is simply relaxing your body and your mind without the use of chemicals. People who meditate for at least 20 minutes a day report a much greater degree of happiness than the general population. In brain research studies, meditators show highly increased activity in the prefrontal cortex. Learn to meditate for at least 20 minutes a day by finding a quiet place, closing your eyes, taking 3 deep breaths, thinking about the muscles of your body relaxing from head to toe, then thinking about a peaceful place you have been. It can be that simple. Even when your mind wanders, simply come back to thinking of the peaceful place and continue your meditation.
Dr. Joan also recommends deep breathing, as this activates chemicals in the brain (called GABBA) that suppress feelings of anxiety. If you get to feeling anxious at work, this is a simple way to take just a couple of minutes to calm down. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Your brain will suppress the stress signals and you will become calmer.
Another major part of avoiding burnout is to give yourself permission to say, “no.” And, remember that “no” is a complete sentence. It requires no explanation to the person to whom you are saying it. Dr. Joan instructed us to “disappoint at least one person a day.” Otherwise, you are not really taking care of yourself, but rather you are too focused on meeting others’ needs instead of listening to your own needs.
Keep in mind that unless you are taking care of yourself, you are not going to be your best at sharing the natural gifts that you have. Just as the flight attendant always announces on the plane to “put your oxygen mask on first, before assisting a child,” in the same way, recharge your own battery on a regular basis before you try to be of use to anyone else.
Take just 20 minutes a day to take a few deep breaths and meditate. Breathe deeply anytime you start to feel stress. Learn to say “no” when you are not really in a position to meet someone else’s needs. By doing these simple things, you will experience the joy that comes from continuing to discover and practice the gifts that you have to help others. You can continue sharing your gifts more effectively, and you can contribute to a more energized Coachella Valley.
The Open Door Speakers Series is presented by Michael’s House Outpatient Services and is free and open to the public. The next event takes place November 4 at 5:30pm at the Courtyard in Palm Springs, 515 North Palm Canyon, with Recovery Buddhist, Noah Levine. The outdoor evening promises to bring valuable insights to the people of the Coachella Valley in their personal growth. For more information, contact Renee Baribeau (760) 464.2138 or Renee.Baribeau@FRNmail.com