Burn Out: Throw in the Towel

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I have a confession to make: I’ve spent all of 2014 burned out, throw in the towel, no way around it, exhausted.

We live in a society that encourages us to push ourselves so far past the brink of exhaustion that we’re running on fumes, leaving our bodies with nothing from which to maintain health, let alone regain it whilst being sick. Pushing oneself is seen as a badge of honor, one where the health consequences are ignored until the body is well past the point of simple tiredness, the body is utterly and completely exhausted.  How often have you read of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other intrepid and successful individuals boasting that they get only three or four hours of sleep a night?  I don’t know about you, but day after day of not enough sleep really takes a toll on my body, mind and spirit.  Feeling optimal, for me, requires seven to eight hours of sleep!  Even so, I’ve managed to burn myself out this year.

What has highlighted my state of exhaustion is that I’ve been ill in one form or another more times than usual, this past year.  Most predominant was February’s nasty bout of anemia and chronic injury inflammation which lasted the entire month; then I spent all of May ill with a combination of an upper respiratory tract infection and laryngitis -never had I been so sick in my life; and then November with the most awful migraine swiftly followed by a mild, yet annoying, cold.  I’ve had a plethora of digestive issues, and recurrences of the aforementioned chronic injury inflammation.  It has not been a fun health-year, even with the fun and great things that have happened: finishing my herbal program, starting this site, working on the QH product line, spending time with family and friends, Fourth of July was excellent, and generally enjoying what was quite possibly the perfect NY summer that I’ve ever been blessed to witness.  Still, because I’ve had so many health and well-being problems, the awesomeness that 2014 could have brought has been clouded by something bigger than me: full-out, flat-out, burn out throw in the towel exhaustion.

From a holistic and TCM point of view, burning yourself out is related to and causes Kidney Deficiency.

The Kidneys are the seat of Yin and Yang in the body, they store Essence, and they house the adrenals, they are considered the ocean of the body.  The Kidneys house the Zhi (or Will) of the person, and they control all aspects of growth, development, and reproduction through their storage of Essence.  When we are in a constant state of stress, our fight-flight response is always on “go” and we literally burn through adrenaline, and spike cortisol production – thus we create massive waves in our bodies.  With chronic stress, the body kicks into action to “soothe” the irritation that’s created from the adrenaline rush with cortisol.  Guess what happens then?  Weight gain around the belly, edema, and all-round feelings of being burned out: weakness, lassitude, dulled senses (ie hearing loss).  This means that your drive to take care of yourself is diminished, and if you did have the drive you might not have the energy to do anything about it!

Having been plagued with lassitude, dull senses (I’ve been complaining all year of my poor hearing – when in fact I’ve always had really good hearing), weight gain in my belly that won’t go away, and lack of my usual oomph or spark has been a mighty big sign that something is amiss.

One simple, yet difficult lesson for me to learn has been: take care of yourself.  The simple act of taking care of yourself can mean the difference between having the energy to do the things you love, and not having the energy to do the things you love.  See the value and need in not only taking time to relax and rest, but to reduce the stress-load on your life.  Spend time with your family and friends, spend time with yourself.  Take care of yourself: your body, mind, spirit, and the space in which you live.

Do the things that give you more energy, the things that you love.

Quaternity Holistics - Summer Field

Start making changes to support yourself and your well-being, throw in the towel on burn-out!

I see a lot of folks recommend adaptogen herbs such as ashwaghanda, eleuthero, etc. to help with burn-out, exhaustion, and other adrenal issues.  Frankly, I’ve found that adaptogens provide us with the “excuse” to keep pushing forward without making the other necessary lifestyle changes – how does that really help one who is already pushing too much?  It’s like drinking a pot of coffee to get you through your day because you only sleep four hours a night!

Instead of taking herbs to help you push further, do something for yourself every day. Make lasting changes that provide you with the ability to truly take care of yourself:

  • Eat foods that are not only good for you, but make you feel good – soups and broths, cooked greens with dressings (vinegar/oil, and tahini are current favorites), roasted vegetables, kitcharee, lentils, etc.  In short: whole, unprocessed, foods
  • Move – exercise, dance, yoga, tai chi, swim, jog, walk, bike
  • Meditate – take time, every day, to sit quietly with yourself to learn from yourself
  • Sleep!  Need I say more?
  • Touch – feel your body, pay attention to what hurts and needs love, take the time to massage your body with oils and lotions, and also: hold your loved ones close every day for a few deep breaths. Take the time to connect with your body, and your loved ones with an open heart.
  • Express – creative expression via art, music, dance, journaling, scrap-booking, photography, gardening, singing, crafting, knitting, etc.
  • Listen to what your body, mind, soul, and loved ones are telling you.  Still yourself enough to hear these spoken and unspoken words, really listen so that you can make the changes that need to be made.  I cannot tell you how many times I was told to stop doing so much, and to take time to rest and take care of myself and didn’t listen.
  • Enjoy and Relax – read a good book, take a relaxing bath, spend time with family and friends, take a walk outside, etc.

Find a way to reduce the stress-load on your life, or change your outlook on the stress that you are experiencing.  This means not only identifying major sources of stress in your world, but doing something about it.  If your job is making you miserable, can you work on finding a new one?  If you get stressed very easily, and cannot pinpoint the source, perhaps becoming resilient in the face of stress is your best option.

If you think that none of this is “doable” because you have other people to take care of, remember that you cannot take care of others in a fully empathetic, compassionate and loving manner if you are not taking care of yourself in the same way: with empathy, compassion and love.

Last, but not least: Believe in yourself – you CAN do it!


Sky view of redwoods, ben lomond





7 replies
  1. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Great post! Why was 2014 such a burnout year? I just can’t seem to make myself go to bed early or stop saying “yes” to people. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone in my struggle to take care of myself.

    • pamelacshaw
      pamelacshaw says:

      I think we were raring to go with energy and ambition in 2014! Here’s to providing ourselves all of the things that we need, and saying no to all the things we don’t!

  2. lori
    lori says:

    Stress, family issues and Perimenopause has kicked my butt like nothing ever has. I’ve always been pretty healthy and strong with a good constitution. Colds and flus were always mild and rare. Then suddenly, age 49 hit along with a daughter that has caused a lot of familial stress by her poor life choices…and I found myself completely drained, exhausted, anemic and unable to control the violent effects of a bad perimenopause. Struggling, even though I KNOW all the info. about diet and herbs!

    Well, my missing link was …rest. Sleep, rest and a ability to say “no”. Sleep often alluded me as I worried about my daughter and I bled severely through the night.Then, after a year and a half of this, as providence would have it, we moved to another state for my husbands job and I am now getting the rest I need as I am away from the hectic life of a homestead, large gardens, small business and many friends that need me along with a daughter that makes me want to scratch my eyes out sometimes.

    My perimenopause symptoms are balancing, my health is being restored and I feel very grateful (although I do miss many people). I am amazed. You can do all the “right” things, healthful eating, exercise, herbs…but stress can trump them all!
    I’ve learned a big life lesson this year.

    Thanks for your great article.

    • pamelacshaw
      pamelacshaw says:

      Lori – That is so great that you were able to put sleep, rest and saying “no” into practice and get your health back! Stress is unbelievably hard on our bodies and minds.

  3. Pam Broekemeier
    Pam Broekemeier says:

    This article was so timely! The past couple years for me have been very stressful. And I’m sad to say that almost all the bullets you touched on, I’m not doing.
    I’ve been focused so much on others, that I’ve forgotten myself and keep pushing my health to the back burner.
    Thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one and to help my look in the mirror.

    • pamelacshaw
      pamelacshaw says:

      I hope that the New Year brings you the momentum you need to put (and keep) your health on the front burner!

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