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How Yoga Helped Me Recover From Burnout

Hey, I’m Eliza, a yoga teacher and recovering workaholic. In this blog, I share my burnout story and how yoga helped me recover after a health scare.

 

I’m writing the article I wish I’d seen then. When I needed it. I hope this helps you recognize the symptoms of burnout. So, you can do something before it affects you too.

 

What is Burnout?

 

According to buffalo.edu, there are 3 stages of burnout:

 

1.     Stress Arousal Some of the physiological and psychological responses of this stage include irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and forgetfulness, to name a few. You may also have heart palpitations, problems concentrating, and acute gastrointestinal symptoms.

If you have at least 2 of these symptoms persistently, you’re in stage 1.

 

2.     Energy Conservation At this stage, your body and mind try to compensate for stress. If this doesn’t work you may experience procrastination, need excessive time off, persistent tiredness, social withdrawal from friends and family, increased substance use,, and excessive apathy, to name a few. If you have at least 2 of these symptoms persistently, you’re in stage 2.

3.     Exhaustion


It’s at this stage that most people realize that something is wrong. Symptoms include chronic sadness or depression, chronic stomach issues, chronic mental and physical fatigue, and social isolation.


Once again, if you have at least 2 of these symptoms persistently, you’re in stage 3.

 

They state that “these stages usually occur sequentially from Stage 1 to Stage 3, although the process can be stopped at any point”.

 

As you read my burnout story you will recognize these stages, how subtly they show up and how easily they can be missed when you don’t give yourself time to slow down.

 

My Burnout Story

 

I earned my first money at 12and I got my first paying job at 15. I worked double shifts on weekends and attended school from Monday to Friday. When I graduated, I moved to London, my birthplace. I worked in pubs for the first year or so and eventually got a job in a law firm. At the firm, I went from receptionist to legal secretary in 6 months. I was 19. I had many jobs after this, I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say I worked hard at every single one of them.

 

Fast forward to my late 20s, I was back in South Africa and working as a fashion accessories buyer for an independent boutique. A job I thrived in.

 

One day I got an email from a recruiter, they had found my CV and had the perfect job for me. Even though I was happy in my existing job I peeked anyway, after looking at the job description I decided to decline, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer.

 

I declined the job a second time. They persisted and asked me a third time. I finally agreed to go for the interview. This should have been my first sign; that this company did not respect my boundaries or decisions. Something was telling me that I shouldn’t take this job. My intuition was sounding alarm bells, but I wasn’t listening. The job sounded like a great experience. Overseas and local travel, working with one of the biggest retailers in the country and having the freedom to be a bit creative too.

 

I accepted the job offer. At this time, I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms of burnout just yet. The training period for this job was 3 months, I felt ready to hit the ground running after one. My over-achieving self was always trying to do more than what was expected of me. After a few months, I was handed 3 departments to run, with the supervision of my mentor. It felt so great to be trusted with all this responsibility.

 

Stage 1 – Stress Arousal

 

I was working 10-hour days and taking my laptop home on the weekends. I was wearing busyness like a big proud badge of honor. This job helped me buy my first home in my late 20’s, something I’d been working towards for 4 or 5 years. My mortgage got approved, renovations were completed within 6 months, and I moved in. I was in such a happy place, or so I thought. It was during this time that some of the signals started.

 

It began with mild heart palpitations, which I put down to anxiety. Eventually, the heart palpitations turned into breathlessness that sometimes stopped me in my tracks for a few seconds. I kept pushing forward. These symptoms didn’t seem severe.

 

Each week the job demanded more from me. I remember sitting in my boss’s office one morning and being shouted at, yes actually shouted at, for not doing enough. His words still ring in my ears sometimes…” you’re not doing enough” he said to me, I retaliated with, “I’m working 10-hour days for you and taking my laptop home on weekends, what more would you like me to do?”, his response, “more”.

 

Stage 2 – Energy Conservation

 

After this encounter, I started dreading going to work. I was almost always late and felt myself procrastinating and finding it hard to concentrate. I felt like a failure which slowly crept into other areas of my life; my relationships, and my family life. The only thing I had headspace for was work. It’s all I thought about. I had also signed a very tightly bound employment contract that required me to pay my travel back if I left before a certain amount of time. I had mortgage payments. I felt trapped.

 

Then came my first trip to China, regardless of the pressure from work I was excited for this new experience. It was a 14-hour flight from South Africa to Hong Kong, then a train and taxi to the hotel. I don’t remember the exact length of the journey, but I remember feeling exhausted when we arrived. I thought we’d have time to shower and rest before we went to the trade fair. I was mistaken, we checked in, dropped our luggage, and went straight to work.

 

On the first day I walked around feeling like the ground was moving below me, a symptom I later realized was jetlag, but I pushed through. One of the girls was throwing up in the bathroom and in between she was meeting with her clients and visiting vendors. It was ruthless.

 

During this trip, we walked for 8 hours a day and spent our evenings uploading all our work for the staff back at head office. Some nights we went out for dinner or did a bit of shopping.

 

Even though I was exhausted I enjoyed the trip. It was nice to experience another country and culture. After my second trip, however, things took a turn. After about a year, the work was taking its toll on my body.

 

The heart palpitations continued and the apathy for everything else in my life increased by the day. I felt detached from everything.

 

Stage 3 - Exhaustion

 

Then one December we were at a client’s Christmas party. We flew into a local city and had a lovely time, the company put us up in a beautiful guest house.

 

The next morning, we all had breakfast and headed to the airport. I was in the car with 4 colleagues. I was sitting in the middle of the back seat when the heart palpitations started again. This time I couldn’t hide it or ignore it. I swapped seats with my colleague and opened the window for fresh air. It got progressively worse.

 

By the time we arrived at the airport, I was hyperventilating. I couldn’t lift my limbs, and couldn’t see anything (I think my eyes were rolling). I remember flashes of the event. I lay down in the car with everyone talking to me. I remember being carried through the airport to a medical center. I was offered medication, but I refused it. I was told I would be on a no-fly list until I could function again.

 

Eventually, I took the medication. I woke up on a gurney hours later. A colleague stayed with me. The medics checked me over and finally let us fly back home. My parents were waiting on the other side, and they took me straight to the hospital. I was admitted for observations and testing.

 

My memory of this time is a bit fuzzy; I think was in for a few days. What I do remember though is asking for my laptop to be brought to the hospital because I was getting calls and messages from work asking when I would be back. The anxiety was building.

 

After all the tests, the doctors diagnosed severe exhaustion and panic attacks. I remember returning to work very shortly after being discharged. Management showed little concern for my well-being. Even though was constantly breathless as I walked the corridors and climbed the stairs.

 

I constantly felt sad and didn’t want to speak to anyone about the situation. I thought it was easier to keep things to myself.

 

The Turning Point

 

After this, I finally found the courage to resign. I took a step down in my career. I returned to fashion retail, where I was comfortable and confident.

 

When I started my new job, I began to feel like myself again, I was getting some of my fire back. I instinctively started a morning yoga practice again. Starting slow, with gentle 20-minute sessions at home before work.

 

I also started meditating. I listened to recordings at night to help me sleep. I fell asleep every night with headphones on. Every morning I woke up refreshed.

 

This was only the beginning of a long journey to recover from the effects of the panic attack. I was still having weekly episodes. Thankfully, not as severe as the airport episode. I was still experiencing feelings of depression and apathy.

 

I continued at-home yoga sessions, where I was most comfortable, without the judgment or gaze of other people. I could move in a way that felt comfortable, rest when I wanted, and release anything I needed to.

 

I had attended many yoga classes, but at this time I was not ready to be around other people. I felt vulnerable. I continued with the evening meditations too.

 

After a few months of home practice, I joined a Hatha yoga studio. Every class was the same sequence, and my teacher was a lovely Indian man named Siva. He was very rigid in his teachings but had such a calm presence about him and I always felt safe in his classes. I could feel my body getting stronger, and something was happening internally that I couldn’t pinpoint yet. After a few months of attending Siva’s classes, I approached him one day after class and asked if he would be willing to teach me what he knows, sadly he declined my request.

 

My Yoga Teaching Journey

 

This led me to dig up yoga teacher training research I started 2 years prior. I went on a deep dive to find a school. But, I wasn’t ready to take the plunge just yet. I continued to attend classes with Siva, my work-life balance got a bit better, and even though my panic attacks were getting less frequent they were still happening. Something was still missing.

 

I left work one day feeling so low, something had happened that upset me and I asked myself the question, “Why am I allowing this to happen?”. It triggered some bad memories from my previous job. It was the shift I needed.

 

That day was the day I decided I was leaving South Africa. I was returning to London and becoming a yoga teacher. I sold my home and possessions and I set off for a fresh start.

 

Some people thought this move was drastic and unnecessary. But, I knew that it was the right thing for me. I couldn’t pinpoint the why, I just knew.

 

After arriving in London, I flew to Italy. I did an immersive month-long 200-hour Vinyasa Yoga teacher training in Cesenatico with 15 amazing souls. This was the best and toughest month of my life up to that point. I was learning so much about this ancient practice that I had been part of for years. I was also processing and healing.

 

The training was incredible. 6 days a week of yoga, meditation every Tuesday evening, and vegetarian food with no stimulants (coffee) on site. It was the body and mind detox that I needed. I soaked it all up. I intuitively took to everything I learned and all I kept thinking was, I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner.

 

When I returned to London I continued to practice and applied everything I had learned. I kept learning, reading, and applying. I did this on repeat and still do this today.

 

I had my last panic attack in January 2018, and have not had any signs or symptoms of one since.

 

I have been teaching yoga since 2017. I’ve trained in Vinyasa, Yin, Restorative, Yoga Nidra, and Gong sound healing. I use everything you have read here to help people feel more at ease in their daily lives.

 

Am I Burnt Out Or Just Tired?

 

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms or stages of burnout please read the points below, even if you can only apply 1 practice, it will help to alleviate your symptoms:

 

5 Symptoms of Burnout:

 

Helplessness

Cynicism

Sense of failure or self-doubt

Decreased fulfillment

Feeling detached from personal life and job

Loss of motivation or decline in performance

 

Pay attention and recognize these symptoms. One thing I wish I had done is to catch the signals earlier and do something about it sooner.

 

How Yoga Helped Me Recover From Burnout?

 

After years of practice and teaching, I found these practices to be the most effective in alleviating burnout symptoms:

 

1.     Pranayama (breath extension or control) Breathing is linked to every aspect of the human experience. Conscious breath is one of the most fundamental parts of a yoga practice.  The breath is the anchor to the present and the propeller for movement and energy.


There are many Pranayama practices to choose from, the one that helped me the most with an overactive mind and anxiety was full yogic breathing and Ujjayi breath (aka victorious breath) for when I needed a boost of energy or focus.

Here is how to practice these pranayama techniques:

 

Ujjayi breath – Victorious breath

 

Find a comfortable seat. Take a deep inhale and exhale by nose. Again deep inhale by nose and this time exhale by mouth as if you want to fog up a mirror, notice the activation in your throat as you exhale. Inhale by nose again and this time close your mouth and exhale by nose as if you want to fog up a mirror. Keep the throat active with no force and continue breathing through your nose. Take long slow breaths.

 

Full Yogic Breath

 

Lay on your back in a comfortable space. You can bend your knees and rest your feet on the surface below you or extend your legs.

 

Breathe naturally and take a moment to pay attention to your breath. Place your hands on your lower belly, around your belly button. Notice how your inhale makes your hands rise and your exhale makes your hands fall. Slowly start to deepen your breath into your lower belly. Focus on sending your breath there so only your belly rises and falls. If you’re doing this for the first time it’s natural for it to be challenging.

 

Take 3 more full breaths.

 

Now rest your hands on your ribs, and notice how your inhale expands your ribcage and your exhale contracts your ribcage. Take 3 more full breaths here.

 

No rest your hands on your chest, your fingertips rest lightly on your collarbones. If your arms aren’t comfortable here, rest them anywhere and focus your attention on your chest. Notice with your inhale that your chest rises and with your exhale your chest falls. Take 3 more breaths into your chest.

 

Now rest your arms anywhere they are comfortable and thread all 3 breaths together. Inhale belly rises, ribcage expands, chest rises, and exhale, belly falls, ribcage contracts, chest falls. This is full yogic breath, or 3 part yogic breathing.

 

Take 3 more full breaths and let your natural breath flow.

 

2.     Meditative movement


All yoga can be meditative movement, but if you have ever attended a dynamic yoga class, you might have noticed that you barely have time to breathe properly, never mind focus on the movement. I have referenced meditative movement specifically because I this helped to bring my body and mind back in sync. Movements like sun salutations, where I would repeat the same movements, so it became like a moving meditation, really helped me feel grounded and present.





3.     Gentle yoga


I fell in love with yin yoga from my first class, it made me feel so calm and nourished. This coincided with listening to regular yoga Nidra recordings.


Combining these 2 practices has been the most powerful in my healing.


Here are some simple yin yoga poses that are great for relieving burnout symptoms:


Legs up the wall


Stay for 5 - 10 minutes to decompress.

A woman doing legs up the wall on a bed in a green leggings

Childs pose


Use the support of cushions under your belly for a comforting sensation.

A woman doing childs pose on a bed in green leggings


4. Yoga Nidra


If there are times when I feel myself getting overwhelmed with life, I listen to a yoga nidra and the stillness of the practice settles my body and mind.


 

Now I have the tools I need to navigate life. Granted there are times when I don’t take my advice and need a gentle reminder of what works for me, but this is a part of being human. I will forever be a yoga student and work towards being kind to myself.

 

4 Lessons I Learned From Burnout

 

1.     Pay attention to the symptoms

 

If I could go back I would pay more attention to the signals my body and mind were giving me. I would seek out help or speak to someone about what I was going through.

 

2.     Don’t wait until it’s too late


Once I noticed any symptoms, I would actively seek out practices or techniques to help me reduce their effects. For example, the heart palpitations, I know now that laying on a cold floor helped to calm my nervous system and allowed me to take slow deep breaths.

 

3.     Don’t allow uncertainty to get in the way of your wellbeing

 

There are so many online resources nowadays. I would have tried online meditation sooner. I would have given myself permission Rest.

 

4.     Set boundaries and know your value

 

This is something that has taken me a long time to learn. Setting boundaries was such a big step. When I started doing it, it made me feel uneasy, I was worried people would think I wasn’t a nice person. The resulting long-term feeling however outweighed this temporary uncertainty.

 

If you have recognized parts of yourself in this blog, please seek resources to help you. I have a range of free resources on my website that you can access here.

 

This story is the reason I created Room of Rest, I want others to have a space where they can take care of themselves and feel safe to do so.


If what I share can help even 1 person avoid getting to the point that I got to, then the purpose of Room of Rest is fulfilled.

 

Restful regards

Eliza

xxxx

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Absolutely Loved this thank you 🙏 ♥️🌹♥️

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