Discover more from bye-bye burnout
help, I'm on fire: the stress response
02 - stress responses and how they can lead to burnout
Alright, if you’re reading this, you willingly chose to hop on the bye-bye burnout ride! Choo-Choo! Thanks for being here :)
If you missed it, I wrote an introductory post last week, where I explained what this newsletter will entail, which you can find on the homepage: dondrea.substack.com
I gotta be honest, I came up with the name bye-bye burnout because I was listening to Fefe Dobson’s single “Bye Bye Boyfriend”… And now everytime I read or type it, I’m singing it in that exact melody. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, do your eyes and ears a favour and watch the Canadian Queen in her iconic music video below. You won’t regret it.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten my emo and angsty introduction out of the way, let’s get to it.
The definition of burnout is being in a constant state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. It is caused by prolonged and excessive amounts of stress, which occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet demands.
This can be felt and experienced at home, with things like; financial stress, health concerns, or family expectations. It can also show up in the workplace or within close relationships & friendships..
Now, I’m not saying that I’m an expert in burnout, but I have learned a thing or two about it over the past couple of years.
For a while, I don’t think I fully conceptualized the severity of my burnout. It wasn’t until I took a step back that I realized how godawful it was. I was for sure running on fumes.. I lived my life on the friggin’ hamster wheel.. Mind you, my wheel was squeaking, shaking, and spinning wildly out of control. It was an uneven and janky wheel, causing me to fall on my face regularly, which made me feel like a complete fool..
If you experience burnt out for too long, it can cause a number of health concerns. Not only is extreme exhaustion a known symptom, but so is frequent illness, low immunity, headaches, chest & muscle pain, as well as a change in your sleeping and eating habits. All of these things lead to other emotional and behavioural issues like anxiety disorders, depression and PTSD.. No one can comfortably live their life in a single one of these states.. That is, unless you’re a robot.
Our nervous systems are not capable of handling excess amounts of stress. When our bodies, (either physically and/or emotionally) are in a constant state of threat, it leads to what is known as the fight or flight response.
You’ve most likely heard of it.. It’s basically when your body prepares itself for some form of harm or abuse. There are signals being sent from your brain and throughout your nervous system, telling you to either embrace the threat head on, or run and hide from it. Your body can’t tell the difference between running from a bear, preparing to be hit in a car accident, or having a stressful day at work; They’re all equally the same. We’re hyper focused on how to survive from the threat, whatever it may be.
Now, I’m not a doctor or a psychologist, so I can’t medically tell you how it all works, but it definitely has something to do with your frontal cortex basically shutting the fuck down.. Which ultimately causes us to feel on-edge and overwhelmed.
But did you know, there’s another stress response that comes AFTER fight or flight? One that is hardly talked about?
It’s called freeze and fawn. My therapist is the one who introduced it to me. She said the reason I was unable to handle stress or show up to work without fear of failing, was because I was in the thick of what is known as the freeze and fawn state..
It occurs after our bodies surpass the fight or flight response, basically when neither of them happen to be safe or viable options. Freezing is when we simply do just that; We don’t move… We don’t say or do anything, we don’t react because we’re afraid of the outcome. We hold tension in our body and our breath shortens.. We’re incapable of making healthy or good decisions because of it, and it’s all in an attempt to lessen our pain.
Now fawn is a hard one. I had honestly never heard of it before, but my therapist described it as “pushing down and suppressing one’s own needs and wants, in order to prioritize other people’s emotional state”. It’s also deeply connected to past trauma. We head into the fawn phase subconsciously because we’re desperate to prevent further abuse. If you’re a ‘people pleaser’ like me, this is a very dangerous place to be, it’s crippling in fact. We “fawn” over others so that we can attempt to control their behaviour. We turn all of that abuse and pain inward.. It’s one of the many reasons as to why we can be so hard on ourselves.
We’re convinced that if we work a little harder, so & so will be happier, or maybe they’ll give us the validation we’re so desperate for. We don’t want to upset anyone, so of course, we’ll take on that extra project, even if we’re at capacity!
This past week, a Facebook memory came up for me from 2017, where I posted the following:
Now, I can tell you that I experienced burnout and these stress responses way before 2017, but this post clearly shows the beginning of my public cry for help.. I see it now… I didn’t then, but I cherish and wish I could hug that younger version of myself.
I’d tell her that it’s okay to make mistakes. That you’re only one person, and you can’t take everything on yourself. You’re not going to please everyone, it’s not possible. All you can do is your best, you’re not saving lives.. You’re licensing music for TV & Film, for god’s sake, it’s quite alright.
All of this being said, how does burnout show up for you? Are you experiencing or have you experienced any of the stress responses?
If you could write a letter today & pass it on to your past self 5-10 years ago, what would it say? Try writing one out and putting it away in a safe place.. You may come across it years from now and look back with a smile. Be kind and gentle with yourself…
Until next week :)