So You’re Burned Out. Now What?

If you’re here and you’re reading this, you’ve probably felt it: The days that begin, from the first cup of coffee, with the irritating feeling of knowing you have very little left to give. And that’s the neat little trick of burnout: It can pre-emptively extinguish the joyful moments that have the power to combat the stress of daily life. So maybe you walk through the world with a resentment that is difficult to shake, clinging to the idea of spending a curative two weeks on beach somewhere to vanquish it all.  

While a vacation certainly never hurt, there are paths to healing burnout that begin with small shifts. Spiritual coach Kelsey J. Patel’s is a master of those rituals: Her book, Burning Bright, is a gentle guide to creating the daily practices that can obviate the experience of burnout—and help us manage the inevitable anxieties that come with being human. Here, we ask her to walk us through her philosophy, her self-care toolkit, and her advice for combatting the unique stress of the holidays.

When does stress become burnout?

Think of your small daily tasks, like going to the post office or making a cake for your best friend's birthday, or answering your text messages. If those small things in your life are starting to feel overwhelming and cumbersome and exhaustive, then it's time to start working on your boundaries and balance with relation to burnout.

At the start of your book, you walk readers through some mental and spiritual work around “imprints”. What are imprints—and why do they matter?

Our imprints are things that we are unconsciously holding onto in our bodies, whether it's in our mental body or our emotional body, or our physical body. What happens is something like a person cutting us off in traffic can stimulate one of those imprints: All of a sudden our body is going into an old program that is not actually appropriate for the experience that's just happened. We are reliving or re-experiencing an old trauma, old stress. 

That is why it's so important to do some of this digging and some of this work so that you can recognize it and self-soothe in any given moment of your day, rather than allowing it to just be a spark that you create and burn into a fire.

How do we manage the stress in our lives we have no control over?

Part of being human is that we will suffer, right? That's part of being alive. When I look at things that are external, that are out of our control—which by the way is most of life—I say to people, "How can you allow yourself to be present, to feel whatever the emotions are that are coming up inside of you related to that thing?" 

For me, it's about taking that momentary awareness and experience, sitting with yourself even for five minutes and just feeling it somatically in your body. Give yourself permission to let yourself feel that thing rather than avoid it, numb it, or act as if it's not there. Because when we avoid things, they're going to keep knocking. When we avoid our emotions, we are stuffing them somewhere else in the body.

I love CBD as an ally, because it has a physical stimulation to help the body balance itself.
What are the main tools in your burnout armamentarium?

I love CBD as an ally, because it has a physical stimulation to help the body balance itself. I don’t use it daily, but if I know I have a really full, busy day, I'm going to use CBD. I like it in the afternoon after I've had lunch. I make myself a cup of tea, and maybe about an hour later I'll have some CBD because it helps get me out of the spin of doing, doing, doing, and it helps relax me into whatever other work I might have that afternoon.

But beyond something like CBD, I focus on some of the more emotional and mental release systems. I love the Emotional Freedom Technique, or tapping, which I talk about in the book: It's one of the fastest, quickest, easiest tools, in my opinion, to combat momentary stress and anxiety.

Micro breaks: Taking ten minutes to lay down between meetings and breathe and put your hands on your heart and get a cozy blanket on your body and just exhale, intentionally, is huge. People believe that in order to combat stress, they should do more. It's the opposite. In order to combat stress and anxiety, you want to give your body a really beautiful, welcome invitation to rest and repair. I might take five minutes to lay down between calls or go to put my feet on the grass and just let the sun shine on my face while I drink a glass of lemon water. I release all of those things that I've just done so that I can go into my next space or my next meeting with a sense of presence and a sense of openness, not compounded energy from the whole day.

Imagine you start your day with an empty cup or a full cup. If you’re filling up the cup all day with the energy of things that you're consuming, at some point the cup is going to be spilling over. If you're giving energy, you're pouring out from your cup—and at some point the cup is going to be empty. These mini practices are just filling up your energy reserves so that you have actual energy to exist in the day. 

And my number one tip to begin alleviating burnout today is to turn off all of the notifications on your phone: They all elicit a physical response in the body.

Do you have any advice for people feeling burnout as we near the holidays, and move toward the end of this chaotic year?

So my very good friend Ellen Vora is a holistic psychiatrist whom I love and adore; we have a lot of the same philosophies. She said something to me the other day which I think is just so beautiful for all of us to keep in mind as we go into the holidays: This is the first. This is our first holiday in quarantine. This is our first holiday going through this very unprecedented experience. In the same way that when someone experiences loss, they have the first birthday without the loved one, the first holiday without the loved one; it’s uniquely difficult.

Take that same compassionate and loving approach...and try to be present with however you're feeling.

Take that same compassionate and loving approach—where we don't have expectations of this holiday season because it is the first and we just don't know how we're going to feel—and try to be present with however you're feeling.

If you don't feel like decorating this year, don't. If you feel like you want to make lots of holiday cookies and socially-distance-share them with loved ones, because that is going to make you feel good, do it. Try to release what has been, and give yourself permission to let this be the same way any first is: It’s new, it's change, it's the first, so it's unknown.

What’s on the other side of burnout?

Complete joy. It is fabulous joy. I don't mean joy in the same sense as happiness and well-being: It's a sense of faith, trust, and contentment in your life and your life's timing. You're not trying to force things to manifest. Still, you have intentions, you have dreams, you have ideas. It's almost like soft, energetic output—but you're unattached to the outcome.

For more on Kelsey, keep up with her and her work over on Instagram, and buy her first book, Burning Bright, at a local bookseller like Book Soup.

Nandita KhannaNandita Khanna LA-based content and brand ringmaster.

Likes: hand-written notes, iced lattes, and the Sunday NYT.
Dislikes: Bad manners, plastic straws.