Save Yourself by Becoming Bulletproof to Burnout
by Catherine Morris | November 19, 2020, updated about 2 months ago
Twenty years ago, health coach Kalina White had nothing left to give.
“I was a stay at home mum and my husband worked away. I kept putting all this pressure on myself and as the kids got older I started a career in financial services, and added that to all of the stuff I was doing. I was juggling everything and the weight of it all took a toll on my health and I ended up buckling under the pressure.”
It's a familiar story, and the reason why White became a health coach, eventually honing her practice to specialize in burnout.
“I was at that desperate point where I had to do something, so I started with my health. In my practice, that's how I approach finding relief for my clients—we start with that foundation so they can improve their health but still have productivity in their life”
The Signs and Symptoms of Burnout
If you start and end each day feeling stressed, distracted, and worried about everything on your plate, there's a good chance you're headed for burnout. In White's experience, one of the earliest signs is procrastination and, as tension increases, a swing to the opposite—
“You are being pulled in all these different directions and not sure where to focus. In the further depths of burnout, it changes and you can get this intense focus where you are hyper focused and not able to step back."
Other red flags include exhaustion, feeling run-down, being more prone to illnesses such as colds, flus and minor infections, taking longer to shake off those illnesses, and weight gain or loss. While these are the most common signs, White cautions that burnout can look different to everyone and the most important thing is to simply listen to what your body is telling you—
“Be aware of what your individual signs are because they are different for everyone. Be gentle on yourself. Being compassionate with ourselves and knowing the signs are some of the first things you can do.”
Keep an eye on your routine too. It's common for burnout to be cyclical, where people push themselves to their limit and then collapse, before starting all over again—
“A few clients have discovered they had a burnout cycle,” says White. “They would go hard and give everything for a certain amount of time but then crash and go into hermit or turtle mode. One woman realized that every three weeks she couldn't get out of bed for a whole weekend.”
Given the damage chronic stress can do to our mental and physical health, it's important to catch your burnout early, and undo the habits that led to it in the first place.
Most clients come to White concerned about their weight gain and looking to lose the pounds, not realizing that their weight is part of a bigger problem. While White typically starts with diet with these clients, her overall approach is more holistic—encompassing small and achievable lifestyle changes.
“I deal with immediate symptoms then I reverse engineer those habits that led to burnout and change them one by one. It's about making those small adjustments. Small things can have big results in the long run. It can be as simple as having a lunch break and taking a walk, turning off social media or the TV 30 minutes before bed. We don’t get burnt out overnight, so it is not something that is going to change overnight.”
Coming out of burnout is a slow and steady process, explains White who usually sees her clients for at least six months and adds—“We focus on one thing for the week, then bring in something new. By the time we have gone past three to six months you have that practical experience and those tools in your back pocket.”
For the clients who find it tough to stay on track, White says it can be very motivational to remind yourself that all progress counts, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem—
“I ask my clients—what were your wins for the day, or the week? We bring those small wins into focus because sometimes we don’t acknowledge them, we brush them off, and we don't pat ourselves on the back.”
Cultural Stigma of Burnout
People aren't just reluctant to acknowledge their small successes, they also have a hard time asking for help in the first place. White notes that cultural expectations can be a major trigger for burnout, saying—
“We don’t want to ask for help and we have all these expectations. We think we should be able to do it all. Burnout is not something we are proud of or talk about. It’s our dirty little secret. We say we're so busy and we wear that as a badge of honour, but behind closed doors we are burnt out.”
Then there's the pervasive effect of social media, showing idealized versions of men and women who appear to have everything, and still find time to share their glossy snaps on Instagram. “We see these things on social media and that puts us into a downward spiral,” says White who finds her passion in helping people overcome these stigmas and harmful influences.
“I want people to feel empowered so they don’t have to do everything for everyone else, they can put themselves on the priority list. It's not about putting yourself first, but putting yourself on that list and not pushing aside your wants, needs and desires.”
A Burnout Epidemic
White's work has never been more necessary. A global pandemic, political unrest, and economic uncertainty are all contributing to a stress epidemic.
White says, “Things have changed, we’re working from home, we're schooling our kids from home. We’re not getting out as much so we can’t escape the stress and anxieties. We cannot leave our work at the office and just go home, it is harder to disengage from everything and that puts us into burnout faster.”
With lots of us quarantined for a good chunk of this year, and still maintaining our social distance, we're isolated like never before. In these situations, a coach can help by providing one-on-one support remotely, and making sure our health goals don't fall victim to the new normal.
White says, “Many of us already know to eat well, sleep and exercise, but for some reason we’re not doing it. That support and accountability, a helping hand, someone to cheer you on, is where a coach comes in. A friend can cheer you on but they don’t have the experience or the tools a coach does.”
If you feel like you might be on the verge of burnout, or want to lower your stress, book a consultation with White today. You can also get in touch with any of Which Doctor's life coaches, therapists or counsellors for support with whatever challenges life throws your way.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.