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Managing burnout—a practice of identifying, setting and advocating for your boundaries.

Updated: Mar 18

There is a time for training, and there is a time to execute, where we take everything we have learned and see how its application holds up in real time. We lean on our skills, performance habits and sacred rituals to win the marathon. We don't train for the marathon we're busy running as we run it, we do that part ahead of time. What we learn by running the damn thing will inform how we will approach the next one if we don't swear off running for the rest of our lives ( if you haven't picked up on this yet, I am NOT a runner, never have been and never will be...but I like this metaphor so I'll use it anyway and you can pretend I know what I'm talking about when it comes to marathon running).


I think it's safe to say, I didn't really know what a boundary was until I was in my mid twenties. And boy did boundaries save my life.


As an anxious body, and someone who has a tendency to over exert themselves, I got a little addicted to burnout. I identified my productivity with my self worth ( Not uncommon for all of us living under the demands of a capitalist value system that equates productivity with worthiness) and I operated for a long time under the thinking that if I wasn't sweating profusely, shaking, near collapse at the end of a project I wasn't working hard enough. This is also a product of being raised and conditioned by the white euro-centric ableism that permeates the contemporary dance world....more on that later.


In my healing, I discovered the necessity of boundaries as a way to deal with the perpetual enmeshment I found myself in with others. I am a recovering people pleaser, who was constantly sacrificing my own needs and—by proxy—my sense of self in order to show up and support others. Boundaries were a way I established healthy relationships that left space between me and you and allowed for a new kind of dependency to emerge. An "Interdependence" that honors my autonomy and yours, allows for the expression of my authentic "yes" and what has become of particular importance to me, my authentic "no". It made saying and hearing "no" less scary. In the words of Prentis Hemphill, "Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously." We often have to push past our boundaries in order to identify them—that is how we know where they need to be to give us the most support. We have to know exactly how far is too far and that means going into the space of "too far". So pump the brakes if that little voice of judgement piped up just now telling you you are horrible for not holding your boundaries, or you should know better...seeing, setting up and respecting our boundaries all take practice. One that is hopefully full of a lot of failure because that is how we learn!


For me, boundary awareness and setting is about learning how to navigate resistance (Thank you to my teacher Zach Dacuk for this learning). Learning how to navigate resistance is one of the most supportive things we can do to manage burnout and tune into our body's wisdom.



NAVIGATING RESISTANCE — INNER SENSING WORK


The minute I feel/sense/can identify resistance, wether I hear it in my voice, feel it in my throat as I turn to speak, feel it localize somewhere in my body, identify it in my communication or willingness to move forward and back, when I sense my urgency and reactivity inside that urgency, I know I am at the edge of my boundary.


The goal here is to move back to gain perspective. I don't know about you but judgement is an old friend that crops up in this space. My medicine for judgement is curiosity. I get busy getting CURIOUS so that I can collect some information and understand the story that is playing out around my resistance. What is it I am resisting? What is the story around power/authority? What belief am I operating from in my decision to ignore or listen to what my body is asking for? The body asks for what it needs, even if “I” choose not to listen or can't intellectualize its ask in the moment. Managing burnout is re-familiarizing ourself with this inner dialogue, between "I" and Body. Resistance is our body/intuition speaking to us and asking us (quite literally) to stop and listen.


So much of our work around boundaries is figuring out where our authentic "yes" and "no" lives. This can be tricky because this is also a space where our trauma response gets activated, where our trauma may be blocking our access to our "yes" and "no" and muddying the voice of intuition. Have compassion with yourself in this space, healing trauma is no hill of beans. Healing trauma takes effort, is uncomfortable, requires access to resources and is incredibly complex and unique to everyone and everyBody.


Part of our patterning around pushing past our boundaries might be tied up with our sense of duty, our self worth, our relationships to productivity and the forces asking us to show up. It can be useful to identify these forces and voices of authority and determine wether or not they exist outside of our sense of self, because the way we show up to meet them depends on the power dynamics at play and our conditioning inside those dynamics. How do you want to be in relationship to authority? What is your past patterning with voices of authority? Sometimes we don't have the energy to change, sometimes we have to just get through the marathon and apply our learning to the next one. But we CAN glean information from the experiences we are currently in about our internal landscape and ways we are in relationship to our "yes" and our "no". Who's comfort is being prioritized? What holding patterns from past experiences are impacting our perception of threat and ability to choose between "yes" and "no."


SO, WHAT THE HELL DO I DO ABOUT IT?


I turn to my BODY in times of impending burnout and notice where the inner critic comes in. I say, "Thank you inner critic, but No". I invite in curiosity to meet myself where I am and give myself permission to prioritize my own care as opposed to act out of a sense of obligation to an outside voice of authority that tells me to keep going. This is a practice of claiming authority in my life, of recognizing my responsibility by moving into my power, of validating my intelligence and the intelligence of my body in knowing what it needs, and rebuilding trust with myself by giving myself what I need, when I need it. In our work and in the culture of business, claiming this space looks different depending on who is depending on you to deliver, AND depending on the way the culture or environment you are in perceives you. I recognize my privilege as a white body means I navigate less resistance, am recognized as having more of a right to rest, and have more access to space to claim that rest. This doesn't change my belief that we all NEED access to this space and are inherently able and responsible to advocate on behalf of our needs. No one else can know them better than you. Getting to know your own may be totally new to you, be patient with yourself. Boundary work is resistance work, resistance to the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy that demands we push past our limits to earn our place of belonging, that strips us of our own authority to manage ourselves and degrades our ability to trust in what we already know. Navigating these systems and pressures is going to look different for all of us. I acknowledge my hot take comes through my conditioning as a white body so leave what I say here if it doesn't resonate, challenge what I have to offer to meet YOUR needs and claim your own authority in your boundary practices.


Setting boundaries takes courage and is uncomfortable. It takes energy to invite in change and you may only have the energy to get though this cycle of burnout with awareness. That is enough. That is a great place to start.


PRACTICES, TO DOS AND RITUAL


To give you some things to do right now…get curious about the cycle of exertion and recuperation you are participating in and focus specifically on bringing in practices that are recuperative to the burnout you are experiencing / edging towards. We burnout from being in our holding patterns for too long. Very often I have to take an unfamiliarly slow yoga asana class to recognize the sensation of holding in my body, pushing past the signals of the body desensitize us to them. We are literally in a practice of numbing when we choose not to listen. At the end of class I realize how tired I actually am because I have managed to slow down and create enough space to fully receive myself. This witnessing—this recognition—is hard to access if I am constantly on the move. There is no space / time to witness this pattern because I am not making the time. The recuperation from overexerting ourselves is learning how to let go. To SEE our holding patterns, we have to create space to meet our edge consciously. Here's a secret, you ALWAYS have more time than you think.


If you are launching a new tech company for example (thinking of a friend here who was asking about managing impending burnout), I am assuming you are spending lots of time on the computer and near technology, lots of time in the back and forth of conversation, perpetually 'on-call', you are task-oriented, hyper focused, exerting lots of brain power in a particular way, in the mode of go-go-go.


Is that resonating?


The quality of that exertion is lots of movement, air, dryness, heat, creative generation, problem solving, systematizing and high output—high Vata. We want to invite in practices to balance Vata which means inviting in the qualities that oppose those that are bringing us out of balance.


So—bring in slow, oily, heavy, earthy…focus on getting grounded, bringing in tender care, slowing down, and prioritizing real rest (not numbing and distracting but being present with body). Figure out what this looks like for you and what feels good inside this space! Try restorative yoga asana, bring in lubrication and deeply nourish yourself. Drink warm water, commit to consistent meal times with yummy oils, practice Abhyanga / self-oil massage that encourages movement in the lymph, take warm baths, schedule quiet time, fast from technology (put your devices in a different room than you).


Look at your go-tos for balancing exertion…are they more exertion or are they truly recuperative to the exertion that is wearing you down? OPPOSITE BALANCES OPPOSITE. Like INCREASES Like. If you are heavy conceptualizing, switch into something body centered, if you are still for hours, move around for a few minutes, if you’re eyes are steadily converging (focusing on an object close to you like a screen) let them wander around the room and look at something far away. Take two minute stretch breaks to move away from the computer and connect with your body, take ‘breath breaks’ ( I love these! Move back to take 5 deep breaths) throughout your work day. This is a practice of tuning to our natural rhythms in real time so we can up-cycle from the "burnout".


Burnout is about being in one state, one part of our cycle/rhythm for too long. We stretch and expand our bodies so far without experiencing the natural cycle that maintains balance in our systems, we put off the contraction and the return to center. One more hour, one more email, one more mile. Our crash is hard because we fall back from as far as we overextended ourselves—as far as we took ourselves away from our center in resisting the rest that is inside of the return.


Set alarms on your phone to break for meals. Set boundaries around your communication so you don’t have to be “on all day”. Find a “start to your day” and “end to your day ritual” so you can feel and practice a beginning and an end to define and hold a container for your work. The body does a great job of regulating it’s own cycles! Thank your body for the crash!! It is doing exactly what it is designed to do. When your body can expect to get its needs met with consistency, these cycles are able to regulate themselves better. Water, food, sleep and exercise! These things are your anchors and points of return where your body can recalibrate, receive nourishment and rest. Our Sleep/Rest cycle is the most important thing to prioritize, all of our learning, downloading, digestion and repair happens here. There is no "making up" rest. You either give it to yourself, or you don't.


Remember the body is resilient! It’s ok if you burnout, it is a cycle and you will swing up again. Once the marathon is over, carve out intentional time to let your cycles and rhythms recalibrate. Give that gift to Body. Hit that snooze button.


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