Feel miserable, angry, tired and overwhelmed; think everyone else has got it going on except you? Can’t be bothered with your friends or can’t understand why you are losing friends? Then it’s time to halt yourself in your tracks, lift your gaze out of your navel and have a good look around you. It could be that you’re sitting somewhere along the stress continuum and that’s a bugger, but there’s action you can take to improve your health.
On one end of the spectrum there is productive stress, helping you perform at your peak and at the other end, potential ill health requiring extensive intervention. Under repeated stress, a person moves from a heightened level of productive activity to burn out. If the feelings of burn out continue, this can tip over into mental health disorders and other serious health issues. Physiologically stress has a major impact on our endocrine and nervous systems resulting in an increase of stored sugars, elevated blood pressure and lowered immune response to name just a few affects. Over a sustained period of time, the constant calibration of bodily systems that is required internally to maintain our homeostasis no longer works as effectively as it could. This can lead to mental health disorders, organ failure and left unchecked even death.
Taking action to prevent that initial tip to burn out or a more serious health problem in the first place is essential. Stress and burnout are great teachers, but only if we’re listening. Most of us are not and consequently find that a return to positive health is long, slow and hard work.
Years ago I was burnt out and bitter. I think myself lucky because there was a little part of me that had some hope that life would not always be like this and the courage and willpower to know that I needed to change. As I began to heal myself through therapy, yoga and meditation I had a number of realisations along the way, one of which was recognising the pattern about how I operated in a workplace. I had been in the same field of work for about 8 years, but moving from job to job approximately every two years. This is kind of normal these days but back then, most people stayed in their jobs around five years and in that time progressed through an organisation, developing their skills and expanding into new job roles. I, however, moved from organisation to organisation undertaking fairly similar job roles. I always told myself that the reason I didn’t progress in my career was the organisation’s fault for not recognising my talent. It was never about the energy I brought to the space and associated behaviour that held me back. As far as I was concerned I was passionate, committed and worked hard; and I was, but the intention in which I approached my work turned out to be the barrier. My approach was to work with a fierce intensity, and that fire in the belly burnt me out and singed those around me.
Over time, I began to explore more deeply the eight limbs of yoga*, and realised that just as our body functions best with all limbs operational, yoga creates the most value when all eight limbs are investigated. A physical yoga practice will have benefit, but to take the lessons we learn in class and apply them to our outside lives, the other limbs provide fantastic guideposts to assist us in our endeavours to change. By becoming aware right through to my core, developing some control over my physiological responses, realising that I was just a small part of this much greater universe I recognised my patterns relating to work and other areas of my life and made conscious changes. Regular self reflection and mindful awareness helps regulate the physiological responses to stress and keeps me from starting bushfires!
* Yamas : Universal morality (how we behave to others), Niyamas : Personal observances (how we treat ourselves), Asanas : Body postures (physical aspect), Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana (control of breath and energy), Pratyahara : Control of the senses, Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness, Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine (whatever your belief), Samadhi: Union with the Divine (whatever your belief).