First common advise you receive from your doctor when he/she announces to you that you have a burn-out is to consult a therapist, and most of the time, a psychologist. For this issue we met one, Jennifer Mulder, and asked her some questions. Nevertheless, to put Jennifer in the “psychologist box” would we way too limited and unfair regarding all her activities. If you haven’t heard (yet) about her internet site, The Health Sessions it’s about time to check it. This site is full of golden tips, positive messages and all kind of things that can help you feel better when you feel down. Last but not least Jennifer has written an e-book How to Create Your Own Action Plan for Recovery , we read it and enjoyed every piece of it. Jennifer Mulder has mastered to apprehend every aspect of recovery (from chronic illness, illness, burn-out..all those things that put you down for a long time) and we gently but strongly advise you to take a look at it.
Could you tell us more about yourself?
I’m a psychologist with a long history of chronic health problems. On my website The Health Sessions, I give in-depth advice about a healthy lifestyle and coping with chronic illness.
What was the starting point of your e-book?
During my early teens, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatism, ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. For years, I visited countless of doctors, physical therapists and natural health practitioners in order to get healthy again. When I finally accepted that there was no cure, that being completely healed wasn’t possible at that time, I decided to change my definition of recovery.
Instead of focusing on healing, I tried to do simple things within my power to improve my quality of life, like sleeping better, rebuilding my fitness, being able to concentrate again on study and work despite brain fog. My e-book How to Create Your Own Action Plan For Recovery is a collection of tried-and-tested tips mixed with professional knowledge – the step-by-step guide on rebuilding your health that I wish I had when I was younger.
As a psychologist, how would you define “burn-out”?
I’m not an expert on the topic, but I would describe a burnout as physical, emotional and mental exhaustion as a result of ongoing stressors, that often start in the workplace but overspill to other areas of your life. You experience symptoms like feeling tired most of the time, emotionally drained or cynical, and unable to focus.
First advice you got when you have a burn-out is to rest. You explain very well in your book what rest is and how to achieve to have some rest and relax. Could you share with us some advice?
As entertaining as it is, chilling on the couch with your favorite TV show isn’t exactly high-quality rest. Real rest means more than lying still and keeping activity to a minimum. It involves activating your body’s natural relaxation response, a state of deep rest that balances your nervous system.
You can produce this natural relaxation response with activities that slow down your breathing, release tension from your body and quiet your mind. For example, breathing exercises, yoga and mindfulness are powerful practices, but taking a warm bath, getting a massage or going for a walk in nature can also do the trick.
Why do you think the amount of people with a burn-out is increasing, and specially in young adults?
Again, I’m no expert on burnout, but one important reason that comes to mind is that the lines between work and home life have blurred. Thanks to smartphones and e-mail, we’re available and connected at all hours of the day. What’s more, never in human history have we had so much information coming at us every single day. But our brains have not (yet) evolved to keep up with this endless stream of messages and news feeds.
Young people especially may feel pressure to perform well and not miss out on exciting events. Trying to meet the constant demands and having to be “on” all the time can lead to feeling overwhelmed and physical exhaustion, two warning signs for burnout.
In a society where enterprises like Amazon (and others) ask to their employees to be ultra efficient, where so much people must be reachable almost 24/7, how can we find a balance?
We should start by realizing that productivity is not about working long hours, it’s about managing your (limited!) energy wisely so you can be most effective. That also means you have to recharge in time, both physically, mentally and emotionally.
Because the old boundaries of the 9-to-5 work life are vanishing, it’s important you set your own personal ‘rules’ to find a balance. For example, you could turn off email and social media notifications one hour before bedtime, or even better, limit your exposure to bluelit screens, because they interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. You could have ‘no-tech zones’, like not allowing electronic devices on the table during meal times.
And don’t just ‘unplug’ electronically – consciously build in moments for relaxation, enjoyment or simply doing nothing. Whenever you feel guilty about taking a break, remind yourself that life’s about playing the long game. As pressing as work deadlines seem right now, they probably have little to do with your long-term success, happiness and fulfilment.
Talking about balance how do you manage to find one and combining your private life, your work life and your own personal development?
To be honest, that’s something I’m struggling with myself at the moment. As a mother of two young kids with limited energy and mobility, it’s hard to juggle work and family, let alone make time for myself.
In general, I would say that balance starts with setting priorities: what truly matters to you? Let your core values and goals play a larger role in how you live your day-to-day life. Good planning can be a life-saver – not just to get things done, but also to make time for the things you want to do instead of what you have to do. And when you can’t keep all the balls in the air, remember what Oprah Winfrey said: “You can have it all, just not all at once.”
Photography Annelies Verhelst