How to become resilient to stress and burnout
Do you know the top three New Year’s wishes of the Germans for 2018?
# 1: Less stress.
# 2: More time for the family.
# 3: Living more healthily.
Less stress is at the top of the list – maybe even for you? Somehow, stress has become a normal state in recent years and is causing more and more people to feel burned out, and overwhelmed. But how did that happen? Stress is actually a very helpful program of our body to mobilize all forces in extreme situations threatening our lives. But it seems like we are in a permanent survival mode now. No wonder that the body “burns out”.
Stress is a multidimensional phenomenon
Stress and burnout are not just physical phenomena, but they take place on different levels. If we assume that in addition to the physical body level, there is an intellectual (mind, thoughts), emotional (feelings) and energetic (personal energy) body level, all of these four levels can be stressed by certain factors and by a variety of triggers that are partly connected. Therefore, it is not surprising that we even develop psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety or even burnout if we suffer from constant and multidimensional stress.
We are in a time of upheaval. The world is changing – almost every day. This means that we have to constantly adapt to new conditions. Every small change can already produce stress at all levels. Which is usually not a problem, because we are actually designed to adapt to change.
However, what usually comes across are our learned “thinking programs” that are conditioned to safety rather than liveliness. So instead of welcoming the change and creatively responding to it with our “evolutionary programs” established by nature, we try with all our might to control change and leave everything as it was. This creates an immense tension and thus additional stress. And I dare say that it is not the change itself that triggers the unhealthy permanent stress, but our reaction to change. Our trained, conditioned refusal to even slightly expand your own comfort zone, let alone go beyond it.
Conscious feelings as a basis for resilience
What is to do? There are already a lot of offers for relaxation and “stress management” on the market. Meditation, yoga, wellness, sports, positive thinking up to psychotherapy or drug treatment with psychotropic drugs are used to eliminate stress. And they even help – but only partially, because they rather treat the symptom than the cause. Because all these methods are mainly aimed either at the physical body or at the intellectual, while at the same time emerging feelings are rather even to be suppressed and the energetic body is usually ignored at all. Yet feelings are crucial in regard to stress management and to the development of stress, depression and burnout, which is fundamentally underestimated or misjudged.
Let’s go through this step by step. As already mentioned, we live in times of great upheavals and changes. The natural human response to change on the emotional level is the feeling of “fear.” Change naturally causes fear – sometimes more and sometimes less. This is the natural evolutionary program mentioned above. Because fear creates stress to mobilize resources that you cannot access in normal situations. Adrenaline is released. You become awake, inventive, creative, fast and gain access to your intuition. These are all skills you need to discover new territory. In times of change, fear is your best ally. ACTUALLY!
You probably already suspect what the problem is. The problem is that we have made fear itself a problem. Fear has been declared an “enemy” because fear is a trigger of stress and it deprives us of our illusion of safety. We want to feel safe, therefore fear is simply contraindicated. So, as much as possible, we try to “put away” the fear, try to not feel it, try to not let it come up – whether through meditation, positive thinking, pills, or simply by making ourselves numb with distraction. The problem is, that the fear is still there, it does not go away, but hides in the unconscious – and along with it the stress, the constant adrenalin rush, etc. until our body burns out or the fear appears in the form of panic attacks during the night, when our control mechanisms don’t work.
The only healthy way to get rid of your fear would be to consciously use it for what it is intended for. Fear comes up – you use it, e.g. to make your next evolutionary step – and it disappears, along with the stress. It would be that simple. Unfortunately, we did not learn how to do it. We have not learned to use our fear in a responsible and conscious way. Just like the other feelings, like sadness, anger and joy. And this lack of emotional ability turns out to be fatal for many of us in these times.
Therefore, conscious feelings work is an important key to develop authentic resilience. Just as you can train and strengthen your physical body with sports and proper nutrition, with conscious feelings work you can also make your emotional body powerful and resilient – without numbing your feelings.
Key number 2: the conscious handling of your personal energy
Considering the energetic level concerning stress or resilience is also challenging because most people are not even aware that they have an energetic body. You probably have not heard or learned much about this either, unless you happen to do yoga or tai chi or read relevant books like Rupert Sheldrake’s. Your personal energy is invisible and therefore difficult to grasp or describe. A simple example may make clear what I’m talking about. Maybe you know the following situation. You want to go shopping and spend an afternoon in a busy downtown or a well-frequented shopping centre. How do you feel after a few hours in the crowd? Most people then feel worn-out, exhausted and energetically drained.
Energy is a much sought-after resource – and I’m not just talking about electricity or gasoline, but also about your personal energy. It is as valuable as electricity. Your energy is connected to your attention. “Where your attention goes, your energy flows”, is a saying known at least in yoga circles. Your energy follows your attention. Your energy will be where your focus is. And since energy is precious, everyone wants to have it and therefore everyone tries to get your attention by all means. Be it the shoe store with its beautifully decorated shop window – and of course all the other stores that want your energy in the form of money – or be it the media, advertising, politicians, your employer or just your fellow human beings, your family, your children, etc. Everyone wants to have a little bit of your energy.
And if you are not paying attention, because you are not aware of your personal energy, it can happen that your energy is gone and nothing is left for yourself or for the things that are important to you. But there are also other factors that can drain your energy without you even noticing it. For example, too many unfinished tasks on your to-do list, packed rooms where there’s no clarity, too messy desks, unpaid bills, unspoken words, or if you are always thinking about the future or the past. All these things are like small holes in your energetic body, from which your energy is constantly leaking.
Therefore, in addition to the conscious feelings work, the training of the energetic body, like learning the conscious and responsible handling of your personal energy is crucial to develop holistic resilience. Holistic or authentic resilience and thus a healthy stress prophylaxis require the training of all four levels of the body. Otherwise, you produce rather numbness and rigidity than real resilience and aliveness.
P.S.: Since 2018 I offer a resilience program (annual training), which is based exactly on this holistic approach including all 4 levels of the body. More information can be found at https://www.lebe-deine-berufung.de/en/the-resilience-program/