Boredom or Burnout?
As a kid, I often hated boredom. As an adult? Not necessarily. Comedian John Mulaney summarizes this beautifully. “Kids don’t like that, kids always want to do stuff. Kids get angry, they go, ‘Aw, we didn’t do anything all day!’ But you ever ask an adult what they did over the weekend and they say they didn’t do anything? Their. Faces. Light. Up.” Too real, John. Hashtag relatable.
Nowadays, my boredom actually takes two forms. One form is what I call healthy boredom, and it’s the sensation of waking up and feeling completely rested. Physically, yes, but also psychologically and spiritually. Maybe I have a largely empty day to fill – or not fill. I might read, bake, meditate, or simply lie in a sun puddle with a snuggly cat and do absolutely nothing. That lack of agenda doesn’t stress me out further or make me feel unproductive. Healthy boredom is elusive to me, like a rare and endangered bird, or a Shamrock Shake.
The other boredom is what I refer to as my burnout boredom, and we have long been adversaries. This is my “I’m going to sit my ass on the couch and watch 12 hours of Celebrity Ghost Stories because I can’t face doing the 4 dishes in the sink” kind of boredom. Boredom marathons that happen every night after work and at least one full day on a weekend are an indication that I have devolved into burnout.
It took me a long time (read: 18-ish years) to understand that I was burnt out. I thought that the way I was going about building my business was the way everyone did it. That’s the idea I’d been sold. I bought into it fully, and I’d struggled building my integrative medical practice. I did all the things, wore all the hats. I didn’t understand that my boredom, this all-consuming evening & weekend apathy, was the result of being the acupuncturist and the insurance biller. The functional medicine practitioner and the administrative assistant. The hypnotist and the marketing team. The continuing education student and the CEO. The breadwinner, the chef, and the maid. At one point, about three years in, I burst into tears, wondering if I’d ever feel passion for life again. I loved my work, but I still felt absolutely hollow and utterly bored. I’d had passions – playing music, going to concerts, dancing, traveling – but I was too consumed by boredom to engage with a single one. My body had started to give out on me. I had horrible exercise recovery and would easily injure myself from mild activity, or need a nap after a workout. My digestion wasn’t great, yet I spent absurd amounts of money at restaurants and cocktails bars because I was too emotionally exhausted to cook healthy food for myself, not to mention the fact that I enjoyed the sensation of a good cocktail (or three) sanding down the rough edges of my stress at the end of the week. My weight was stagnant because stress + takeout + vino + no exercise is a wildly unhealthy formula. All this resulted in me being horribly depressed. I was sick, physically and emotionally, and my boredom was both an indication andproduct of that. In reality, my boredom was the only reason I was still surviving. To push myself any harder would have likely broken me.
In July of 2019 a company I contracted with suddenly altered their referral policy without notice, cutting the number of clients I was seeing per week in half and gutting my business. I’d spent years throwing every nanogram of energy I had into growing my practice and I finally snapped. I was afraid I’d have to shutter it. I reached out to a friend & colleague who’d run spectacularly successful acupuncture practices in Europe and asked for advice. Her other specialty was burnout coaching, and she kindly and patiently explained that I was severely burnt out. She shed clarity on my circumstances, and with her help I began to heal. I started working with a functional medicine colleague to address my physical maladies. It was through this process that I realized my burnout boredom was my body’s way of saying that I was pushing myself too hard, crossing my own boundaries, not holding my boundaries with others, and generally abandoning my own needs, wants, and desires. I still experience burnout boredom from time to time, but it’s no longer an adversary. It’s a friend, gently nudging me, telling me that it’s okay to spend a day watching shows about other people’s ghost stories, as long as at some point I come back, using the tools I’ve acquired through burnout recovery to return to my own story.
This article was originally published on Thrive Global on 18 February 2021: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/boredom-or-burnout/
There’s rarely a day that goes by in my practice without a client inquiring about which vitamin/mineral/herb/insert-supplement-of-the-week-here I would recommend. The reality is that I do not recommend supplements indiscriminately or based on the “latest trends.” I don’t have a problem with supplements; I use them all the time with my clients, and take several myself (I’m not just the president, I’m also a member!) But just like medications, they need to be used at the correct time and in the correct way, with the best understanding possible as to why someone might need them in the first place.
When specifically addressing burnout, treatment needs to be comprehensive. The physical causes of burnout are as individual as the people experiencing them. If someone has leaky gut or their 24 hour cortisol rhythm is out of whack, a gratitude journal and the power of positive thinking won’t fix it. To fully heal burnout, we need a combined approach that addresses both mindset and individual chemistry. This is often why supplements are so appealing to individuals who are burnt out; the promise of quick resolution of physical symptoms like fatigue or insomnia feels like a lifeline when we are drowning.
We think of supplements as safe because they frequently don’t require a prescription, but the stark reality is they need to be monitored closely. Melatonin is a hormone. Certain vitamins and minerals can build up in our bodies to toxic levels if we’re not supplementing consciously. We hear individuals and companies say, “if your energy is low take X!” or “if you’re having trouble sleeping, just take Y!” But herein lies the problem: an individual may not have an issue that is rooted in an imbalance of “X” or “Y” and taking one of those indiscriminately could make their burnout symptoms worse.
So what’s a person to do? Seek professional help. A functional medicine practitioner, naturopath, or osteopathic physician is an excellent place to start. These individuals can run lab work to check your levels, but interpret it in such a way that you only supplement that which is critical, and only for as long as is absolutely necessary. They’ll also be more inclined to look for underlying sources. For example, do you have leaky gut? That could be preventing you from absorbing vitamins and minerals efficiently, whether you’re getting them from food or supplementation. In that case, the leaky gut should be addressed so that the nutrients you’re getting are actually being absorbed into your system.
If you can’t access an integrative professional, booking an appointment with your primary care physician is a good first step (and many osteopathic physicians are PCPs so that’s a great way to cover both bases). Explain your symptoms and ask for a general blood panel that includes vitamins and minerals. If anything turns up on the labs and your provider suggests supplementation, make sure that you schedule a follow up with them in a couple months to run your labs again. This will ensure your levels are neither too low nor too high.
If someone is trying to sell you on the idea of taking certain supplements for the rest of your life, do not walk, run to a second opinion. Barring a genetic condition or a lifestyle/dietary choice that prevents you from consuming vitamins and minerals in their natural state (mostly, though not always, through food), you should eventually be able to get all your necessary nutrients through a comprehensive, whole foods diet. Supplementing can be an excellent way to address burnout recovery, but it must be done consciously and is best pursued with professional help.
This post was originally published on Medium via Ellevate Network on 31 March 2022: https://ellevatentwk.medium.com/why-you-cant-supplement-your-way-out-of-burnout-f8541299948c
Eliza Collins is a burnout recovery expert and all around esoteric.