Summary: Learn how burnout is PTSD and experience a way to help yourself heal from it. Join host Pamela Stokes in this eye-opening second episode of the PTSD Awareness Month Series for June 2021 with info from Dr. Geri Puleo’s Tedx talk at Seton Hill University.
- Symptoms of Burnout and PTSD are the same
- Why burnout happens
- Experience FINDING THE GOOD to build new neural pathways
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Hello, my friends. Pamela here. Welcome to Move Into Resilience. This is our second episode in the PTSD Awareness Month series. June is PTSD Awareness Month, so I thought it was important to share with you different aspects of PTSD, and also to give you some hope, and let you know that it is something that we can cure. So in today’s episode I’d like to talk about burnout. I had the great good fortune of presenting to a roomful of surgeons at the American College of Surgeons Conference on the topic of burnout. I was invited to give them information but also motions, and we did a few together. And it was pretty great seeing all of these surgeons doing the motions from my Mindful Motion program. It was a big thrill for me and I hope to do more of this. What I mentioned, and what I’m mentioning today for you, is the similarity between the symptoms of PTSD and the symptoms of burnout.
[01:29] The Trauma Response
So let’s start at the beginning. You may recall that there are different kinds of responses to trauma. We have the activation, fight/flight; we have the withdrawal, the collapse, that’s the freeze (deactivated freeze), when we shut down; and then we have something that’s a combination of the two, which is where we have some activation and we also have this shutdown at the same time. So it’s like having the gas and the brake on simultaneously—very exhausting. And this arises when we are in a situation where we have the feeling of threat, of danger, and at the same time, immobility. The combination of danger with immobility is where we get this reaction. So there’s sort of this feeling in the body of gotta get going and then there’s this other response of well actually there’s nothing I can do, and this is what happens when we feel burnout. We’re in a situation that’s challenging for us. Maybe we’re working too many hours; maybe we’ve got a tough boss; maybe we’re working in an environment where there’s trauma all around us—these people who are first responders—and we also can’t change it. So maybe we have this bad boss and we can’t do anything about that person. Maybe we’re in a situation where we have to work because we’ve got to pay the bills, and it’s a terrible situation, but we’ve got to do it. So you can see how this can be related to the trauma response of there’s a danger and I can’t do anything about it. So this is where we end up with the situation of burnout.
[03:34] Burnout is PTSD
What I’d like to show you now is the symptoms of PTSD, some of those symptoms, and the symptoms of burnout and how they are related to each other. There are similarities between PTSD and burnout: exposure to traumatic event or extreme stressor; respond with fear, horror or hopelessness; sleep disturbances or nightmares; depression or withdrawal; frequent mood changes, generalized irritability; avoid activities that promote recall of traumatic event. This information comes from a TEDx presentation from Dr. Geri Puleo at Seton Hill university. And her findings were that burnout is a form of PTSD. The result here, the bottom line is, if you’re in a situation that you really have no say in in how to control it or how to change it, you will feel this sense of helplessness or hopelessness, and that’s ideal fodder for PTSD and burnout.
[04:57] Neuroplasticity and Burnout
So what can we do? We can’t change the situation necessarily, but what we can do is we can change how we respond to it. And it may sound simple, and it actually is, but if we help our brain to have pathways of good—have pathways of ease and comfort—these can be used alternately instead of the ones that are causing the stress response. And this has been written in many different forms. I refer to Dr. Rick Hanson’s books and Dawson Church’s books and Gregg Braden’s books and Dr. Joe Dispenza’s books. There are many ways that we can bring up good feelings, good sensations, so that we can train our brain with this neuroplasticity. We’ve talked about neuroplasticity before which is our brain’s ability to change itself.
[06:14] Intro to FINDING THE GOOD
So what I would like to do today, for our motion for today, is to teach you something that you can do for yourself regularly so that you can build these neural pathways of ease and comfort and feel good, so that there’s something to sort of reach for if you’re in a situation but you don’t feel like you have any ability to change it. So we can’t change the situation, but we can change how we respond to it. This activity is called FINDING THE GOOD, and it can happen in a moment when you least expect it, or it can be something that you actually try to do. The process of finding the good is simple. There have been a few different ways that this has been described. Dr. Rick Hanson calls it HEAL—H.E.A.L. and Tara Brach calls it RAIN—R.A.I.N. And basically the idea is that you’ll experience something; you’ll allow yourself to acknowledge that experience; you will absorb it in; and then perhaps even link it to something that’s negative ideally. So this process is when you notice something that feels OK, stop, breathe, and allow yourself to acknowledge that good feeling; allow yourself to embody that feeling and expand it throughout your body into all of your cells so that your cells are now receiving this good. And from the field of epigenetics, which is “above the genes”, we can influence how our DNA expresses itself, so we can actually change the way our body responds to our situation.
[08:47] FINDING THE GOOD
So let’s try this together. I would like you to think of something pleasant. And this could be very simple. I like to think of things from nature, a flower for example. The petals, the color, the scent, the texture. Any kinds of qualities that you can bring to mind. Allow yourself a few breaths, nice and slow and easy, a little deeper than usual, to bring in any kind of pleasant sensations. Notice what’s happening in your body when you imagine this flower, or if you have one to look at. Notice perhaps you’re feeling a little softer, maybe more expanded, perhaps more settled. Just staying with the sensations. And now allow the sensations to expand throughout your body. So, if they started in your belly or your chest or your face, let them expand out all the way out to the edges of your body, from your fingertips to the top of your head to the toes. And allow yourselves to know this is important information. Remember how this feels. When we tell the cells to remember—there are trillions of them, 50 trillion cells all listening. And they’re waiting. They’re waiting to hear what’s going on out there. Let me know, give me some information, is it good?, is it bad?, what do I need to do? When we send in the good, acknowledge it, absorb it, let it expand within us, our cells are hearing that. They’re responding and producing all of the things that are beneficial to us for health, our wellbeing. So just notice how that feels to feel expanded and soft, allowing that in. It may be different from what you’re used to. It may be unfamiliar. Oftentimes when we have been in PTSD, when we’ve been in this trauma response, oftentimes feeling OK is unfamiliar. It doesn’t feel OK. By practicing, by allowing yourself to know, hey I’m safe in this space, I’m allowing myself to feel OK, this is actually really good for me, important for my cell function, important for my brain function, I’m going to allow this in. Even though it feels unfamiliar, I’m going to allow this in. And with a little practice, it will get easier.
So that’s what I have to share with you today. We talked about how burnout and PTSD are very similar in the symptomology and the effects on what we’re doing and how it came about even. And the trauma response of the activation and deactivation at the same time creating this “gas on, brake on at the same time” feeling. It’s exhausting. And when we come out of this and start practicing feeling the good; finding the good; feeling the good; absorbing it in; letting the cells know this is important information, take this in, we can turn off all of those activation and deactivation responses; we can actually come out of this trauma response; we can come out of the feeling of burnout; and we can be optimally healthy. So even if you can’t change the situation, you can change your response to it. One more thing I’d like to say about burnout is remember why you chose this job. Remember, perhaps, the reasons why you went to school so that you could do this job. Remembering that you’re there to help people, to support people, and to help a business grow or to help an individual get through a situation, an illness. And by remembering why you did this in the first place, why you started this whole thing, that can bring up some really nice, pleasant sensations. And focusing on these as you’re FINDING THE GOOD; bringing them in; absorbing them; letting your cells know this is important information, that will really support you, and can turn off this trauma response and help you to come out of feeling burnout. I wish you well. Thank you so much for joining me today, and send yourself some appreciation for joining in. This has been Move Into Resilience. I’m Pamela Stokes. Take it easy.