I did it again. I created a massive challenge for myself, where none was needed, took too much on (again), ignored the warning signs and learnt some valuable lessons about burnout (and mushrooms) in the process.
This is extremely exciting from a live research point of view and as you can imagine, I find it both fascinating and absolutely hilarious from the stand point of a Laughter Yoga Teacher. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the experience as it has given me an even greater understanding of stress, more insight into its causes and more knowledge of how to help others to quickly and sustainably recover from it.
It can happen to us all and I hope that by sharing my own experience these words might help someone else along the way.
“We are all just walking each other home” – Rumi.
As you’ll discover from the first blog (below), I’ve been thinking about and planning our cycle tour of Scotland for quite some time and probably talking about it for a year or more. The incredible buzz of the Laughter Festival was behind us, I’d cleared two weeks in my diary, psyched myself up to cycle 35miles per day in all conditions, the bikes were ready and our kit had been sorted.
It was then, at that exact point, when I was on my laptop, in the van, working out the average daily mileage and combining that with where we might sleep along the way, then cross referencing that information with possible Laughter Yoga venues, whilst at the same time writing and sending out press releases, emailing local contacts for support, making announcements and working out costs (I could go on). Suddenly the amount of work hit me and it all very quickly went pear shaped. And man! What a ride. Hahahahah
The pressures that come from running a growing small business were combined with the everyday life and money stuff and now the trip to Scotland and everything that it involved. It was all too much. My body and mind reached a tipping point and my wheels completely fell off.
I appeared to have physically collapsed under the sheer weight of it all, like hitting a wall of physical ability, and for a couple of days I felt unable to move, plan, speak, think, get dressed or even switch on my laptop. Everything completely stopped….. and I cried… which felt good and I was grateful for the relief they provided.
And then it came to me, in a flash of inspiration. I suddenly remembered that in the lead up to the Laughter Festival, my amazing friend and business partner Tim had said to me in private conversation, when I’d been announcing even more plans and ideas, “I just don’t want you to burn out”. Of course, I did not realise the significance of this statement at the time nor that it would prove to be both a prediction and a great blessing in disguise.
In a sudden flurry of activity I immediately Googled ‘Burnout’ and discovered it to be defined as “multiple stressors over an extended period of time”. It was like a Eureka moment and such a blessing to discover this information. I wasn’t alone, there were many others, I hadn’t lost my marbles and it wasn’t that any one of these pressures was too difficult to handle, it was more like there was just too many of them, that I was being stretched too thin, pulled in too many directions without adequate resources and not getting the rest that my body needed. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
I felt better as I read through the list of symptoms: not eating properly, working harder, exhaustion, frustration, lack of enthusiasm and motivation. I had to accept the evidence before me and smiled kindly to myself. I knew that I had struck gold, a bit like when I discovered the true power of laughter for the first time, and I knew that the healing process had already started.
I followed my nose further (which has never let me down) and over the next few days I started to list my ‘perceived’ stressors before bringing them all neatly together under the following headings:
Each of the headings then had a further list of items below of all the issues that I felt were not right in some way.
The page quickly filled up with improvements to be made, jobs to be done and goals to be met. The very act of writing as many of the issues down as I could think of and then sorting them into their relevant headings was useful in that it gave me the information I needed within a framework which formed an overview of all the areas of my life that I felt were important to me at that time. From this perspective I could more easily see the main issues that were causing me problems and those that could be easily resolved for some quick wins. I smiled and felt better.
Two things became instantly apparent.
- I had to offload some of my work and cancel the Scotland trip. It was always a bit of an ambitious project and I just had to accept that I wasn’t physically ready to manage it at this time.
- Smiling made me feel good. So I resolved to do even more of the things that would bring me joy and even less of the things that caused me stress. I went to see Tim to share the good news and then I went to play in the woods on a fantastic foraging course with renowned mycologist Jesper Lauder and then to the coast (hence the photos).
Needless to say that the whole tornado of emotions and thoughts eventually passed and to be out on the other side again was like a breath of fresh air.
As a Laughter Yoga Teacher, I smiled at the irony of the situation, which felt good. How was it possible to teach others how to create their own reality and choose their own emotional state and yet still fall victim to the stresses and strains of my own life? I chuckled kindly to myself, which felt great.
It’s impossible to say which straw it was that finally broke the camel’s back or maybe even which combination of straws or in which order. Who knows? But what I do know now is that Burnout is a thing and as the world gets faster and life gets busier, more and more people around the world are experiencing it, even Laughter Yogis.
The good news is that the quicker the acceptance of the situation the speedier the recovery (so I hope this post will get picked up by those that need it most) and there are some easy and practical steps to help bring you back on track and in alignment with your true purpose.
- Recognise the symptoms of burnout.
- Stop what you are doing and take some deep breaths.
- Write down your list of stressors and elaborate on each point.
- Organise them into a few key headings.
- Write down what you can do in the short, medium and long term
Some people think that Laughter Yoga instructors should be laughing all of the time (even in our sleep I assume). I strongly disagree and in fact, I think it is quite dangerous to be in denial of your true feelings. Life’s just not like that and anybody who tells you different is either a) not human or b) not telling you the truth.
There are good days and bad days, ups and downs for us all and to pretend that everything is just peachy all of the time is unrealistic, unsustainable and can be very damaging to our mental (and physical) health. No, my work is in being authentic, in speaking the truth from my own direct experience and sharing my discoveries and insights along the way with others.
All emotions are good and should not be avoided. They point us towards what is good for us and away from what is bad, helping us to go in the direction that brings us the most fulfilment and joy (defined by love and laughter). The trick is to not to react to them in haste or indeed, to ignore the warning signs, as I did, of what is actually a highly evolved and awesomely sophisticated bio-chemical energetic feedback system. Instead, we must learn to forge our life deliberately in order to become fully conscious creators of our own reality and, as I have found time and time again, coming back to and maintaining a regular practice of deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation (and laughter) is of real value to our lives.
Yes, it’s true that even I ignore the nudges and pinches sometimes, but luckily, when I do find myself in a bit of a dip, I address what’s really going on and thankfully have learnt the techniques that help me to not dwell there for long, to focus on what I do want, not on what I don’t want, to remember who I truly am, get back on the horse and continue in the service of others.
Regardless of what is happening in the outside world and no matter how you are feeling on the inside, always remember that you can simply take a few deep breaths, safe in the knowledge that this moment too will pass.
You’re amazing and don’t you forget it.
It is time to shine.