On today’s episode, we’re talking about emotional burnout, and burnout in general. Both of these are what I’ve been going through, so I wanted to give you an update on my life what’s going on with me. I hope that by talking about this today, I can help educate you on what burnout is, discuss the links between disordered eating (or a history of disordered eating) and burnout, and how you can identify whether you’re going through it too.
What I’ve Been Going Through
Over the last few weeks, you may have heard me mention how I’ve been unusually tired. I haven’t felt this tired in over 2 years, since I finished my dietetic internship.
In episode 1, I talk about how my Dad passed away right before my dietetic internship, and how I basically repressed it for 9 months. Because what else are you supposed to do when you just have to get through something? At the time, I was studying for my RD exam and building a business, but I could NOT focus. I had no motivation to do anything, and my brain felt scattered.
I actually started going to therapy thinking I needed to learn how to focus, when it was actually repressing my emotions that lead to emotional burnout and the focus issues.
That’s how emotional burnout shows up for me:
- I can’t think straight
- I can’t get anything done
- Everything I’m supposed to do sounds like a nightmare
- I don’t want to get out of bed
- I don’t want to go anywhere
- I don’t want to see people
Before I expand on that, I want to give you some backstory.
I went off birth control during my dietetic internship because I didn’t like the side effects it was causing. Going off the pill was like nothing I had ever experienced before- I felt like an actual animal. I went back and forth between hungry, horny, crying and angry in a matter of minutes. It was wild. I had been on the pill since I was 14, so when I went off it after 8 years, I was like nothing I had ever experienced.
I didn’t have any help or knowledge of how I was supposed to support my hormones- I didn’t even realize you were supposed to. There’s a book called Beyond The Pill, which although it does have some weight loss talk, is a great book about how the pill affects your body and hormones. It goes through how to support your hormones and deal with post-birth control syndrome. Unfortunately, I didn’t know any of this at the time.
The Effect Of Chaos On Your Body
I knew I was burnt out from not dealing with my dad’s death, but it felt like I was truly in fight or flight mode. From the time I was in second grade when my dad had his first stroke and started having medical issues, I felt like I had an ongoing stress response. It felt like I was in a constant stress response until I finally got help for his passing away. I’m not exaggerating- this is a real thing that can happen. Having something traumatic happen creates chaos in your mind and your body, which it leads to resorting to the most basic instincts for survival.
If you’ve been dieting from an early age (like I had been since I was 14), that’s also stored as chaos and trauma in the body. I’m sharing this because all of these things map out an entire picture of what’s going on with me. But if you identify with any part of this, hopefully it’s the push you need to get some help.
Emotional Burnout & My Hormones
Even though I had been going to therapy, around August of last year, I saw a doctor to check my hormones. Reason being, I was still burnt out, tired, and having a hard time waking up in the morning. So, they had me do a saliva test that measured my estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEAs, and cortisol levels throughout a single day. Although I had an IUD at the time, I still hadn’t dealt with the craziness of going off birth control.
I’ve had the results since then, but I haven’t done much with them. Although I went over them with the doctor at the time, she didn’t really tell me much other than the fact that my cortisol was abnormal and my estrogen and progesterone were so low they weren’t even on the charts. My DHEAs were also low, but I didn’t do anything about it because I didn’t get any advice on it. It just was what it was. Aside from getting put on hormones, which I didn’t want, I didn’t do anything about it.
Fast forward to this year:
I have been doing a TON of healing work with a business/mindset coach as well as on my own, and it’s been really transformational. The way that I show up in my business, for myself, and for my clients has completely changed. I’ve moved out and into a new apartment where I live by myself. I’m navigating a new level of success that is brand new for me.
To be totally honest, I haven’t been taking the best care of myself since living on my own. I’ve been doing those surface level things that I’m supposed to be doing, like doing regular physical activity and eating healthy enough without being restrictive or obsessive. At the same time, I’ve also been numbing and distracting with technology and feeling a little bit lost.
Mentally and emotionally, I just haven’t been taking care of myself in the way that I need to. I realize that as an adult, I don’t have a ton of hobbies- I’m kind of unsure of what to do with my free time. I also haven’t taken a vacation in a while, so I’m going to make an effort to plan out vacations throughout next year. I haven’t been actively pursuing rest in the way that I need to, and that’s something that needs to change.
Dealing With My Hormones
The other day I had an a la carte session with my friend Jess, who you may know as @whollyhealed on Instagram. I basically cried to her for the whole hour and a half we talked, because I was feeling so drained. Her first recommendation was that I get back into consistent therapy. Second, she said that my hormones were that of a really stressed out person in their 40s. Someone who’s 25 should not have the hormone levels that I do.
She said I’m slightly estrogen dominant, meaning I have more estrogen that progesterone. That says to her that I still have some free-floating estrogens in my liver from the birth control pill. She recommended I get on a supplement to help support my liver, and cut down on caffeine and alcohol. I knew I was highly dependent on caffeine, so that’s definitely something I have to work on.
We talked about some other things, and I cried a lot, but basically I need to take some supplements and ultimately get back into therapy. This is emotional more than anything else.
Yesterday, I was barely able to show up without any coffee, and today I had a bit of coffee because I had to get some stuff done. I feel a little better, especially considering I just spent the last 3 days crying and sleeping. I got a new bed and mattress, I’m taking proactive steps to cut back on the energy I spend, trying to find easy ways to do as much as I can and outsource as much as possible.
It’s Not About Food
It’s important to note here that this is about SO much more than food. I had a trusted mentor this week say that I look up the Medical Medium and ‘clean up my diet.’ I lost it. I need to let it go because it’s causing me emotional stress, but it really frustrated me. I am in this mess partially because of my obsession with health and because I restricted from age 14 to 22.
When I said please don’t give me food advice because 1. I’m a dietitian, and 2. I have history of an eating disorder, she said it had nothing to do with weight loss, just clean eating. What I wanted to say was THAT’s why you shouldn’t be giving out nutrition advice- if you knew anything about my history, you’d know that my eating disorder WAS about clean eating. That’s still something I’m not willing to go down that rabbit hole for. Also, the Medical Medium is absolute bullshit. So I had to get that off my chest.
This is not about cleaning up my diet. It’s about emotional healing. No amount of smoothies or supplements is going to fix the fact that I have a lot of unhealed emotional traumas that are still coming up. Even though I have done years and years of emotional healing work, it’s still there.
I need to learn how to rest without guilt.
I need to learn how to be strategic and specific with the times that I am working so that I am not burning myself out with the career that I chose for myself.
This is not about food.
I want to preface this conversation by saying that I am so privileged to be running a business and be in a place where I have enough stability to hire out, take time off and cut back on the amount that I do to prioritize my mental and emotional health. I know a lot of you don’t have that luxury, which is why I highly recommend you read Burnout by Emily Nagoski. There are a lot of things she recommends to help support you within your schedule.
What happens in emotional burnout is:
- We get stuck in a stress response or an emotion
- We don’t work through it
- We don’t heal
- Then we become exhausted
You know when you start crying, like really hysterically crying, and there’s no stopping it? Eventually, you get to this point where you calm yourself down and it just kind of goes away. That is an example of a complete emotional cycle.
What happens in our society, especially when you’ve experienced trauma or if you’re taught to suppress your emotions, is you continue to go back out into society and experience more emotional stress. It piles on every single day, and we don’t let ourselves feel it fully. So it builds and builds.
We have these emotional cycles stored in our body as:
- Back pain
- Muscle tweaks
- Tense muscles
- Tight jaw
It’s your body screaming at you to pay attention, because it has all of this unfinished emotional stress built up over time. Eventually, we become so exhausted and burnt out because our body’s ability to bounce back gets weaker and weaker if we’re not dealing with these emotional cycles. This is a major problem.
Dealing with Stressors vs. Dealing with Stress
One of the things they talk about at the beginning of the Burnout book is the difference between dealing with a stressor and dealing with stress. What I hear a lot is that people have dealt with the stressor (the thing that’s causing the stress), but not the actual stress.
In the example of dieting, maybe you stopped restricting, but you’re still feeling burnt out. It’s often because you dealt with the stressor but not the stress. The stress is still being carried in the body. This is a lot of the work that I do with my clients- dealing with the stress and the tension that is caused from what’s left behind of the stressor. If you move through the stressor without dealing with the stress, no matter how insignificant it may seem, you could still be dealing with it.
Sometimes, what we actually need is professional help to create the space for us to deal with that stress and move forward and better handle it in the future.
If you took anything from this, it’s that your coaches, therapists and dietitians need help too. Everyone needs help. No matter what you think you can get yourself through, you probably need help doing it- it’s honestly way easier when you have help.
I would also highly recommend reading Burnout by Emily Nagoski and getting your hormones checked! Go get help. I know how nerve wracking it is to get that information, but it can help a lot. Hormones are real business. And if you’re constantly in a state of fight or flight and constantly busy, that will wreak havoc on your body. Like they say in Burnout, your life literally depends on you dealing with your emotions.
I hope this gave you some clarity and rang some bells for you to go check out the book and take more care of yourselves. Tonight, take some time off from your phone and technology. Nap, do some journaling, some crying, and just allow your brain to rest and create space for whatever comes up. Even if it’s just 5 minutes, it can make all the difference.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighton
- Burnout by Emily Nagoski
- Jess, who helped me with my hormones @whollyhealed
This post was transcribed and edited by Brittany Allison, Intuitive Eating Counsellor. You can find her on Instagram @thefoodfreedomlife.
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