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Best Bits of Burnout Part III.

What I learned. Aha Moments 1-4

For audio version go to: Blog-casts English

AHA Moment Nr. 1: Learning that fear can be misinterpreted by the mind.

Something in the air

One hot summer’s day I was sitting in my bed, drinking my tea and enjoying the silence. Then I noticed the birds weren’t singing that day and I fell into a state of anxiety. It was going to be very warm that day, 30-odd degrees. Knowing the effects of global warming, I have become very nervous and afraid during my episodes of depression when the weather has been very hot. Sometimes it feels like the world is going to end very soon (in my mind and body). This particular day felt very alarming.

I had a long walk to reassure myself that nature was still there and not dead and maybe the birds were just too hot to be singing that morning, conserving their energy to stay cool. I however remained in quite an anxious state for a few days until I got to my therapist.

What was really bothering me?

She wondered if I had actually been nervous or anxious about something else in my life. But as my brain was unwilling to look at whatever was really causing it, it misinterpreted it and decided to be afraid of the heat. When I opened up the space internally to ask what I was really afraid of, it was, of course, more personal. I had recently outed myself as wanting to set up my own coaching business, to become self-employed and even though I KNEW this was exactly what I wanted, the idea of such a huge change in my life obviously terrified me. I wasn’t willing to admit that yet (subconsciously), so my mind looked for something else to concentrate my anxiety on: the hot day and the missing bird song.

Don't believe everything you think!

What I didn’t know then was that these feelings of fear or anxiety can start in the body and then be interpreted or misinterpreted by the brain. Now I understand why we don't have to believe everything we think!

AHA Moment Number 2. Tapping into my inner wisdom

One of my biggest take-aways was learning to choose what I put my energy into.

Other people's moods

Using the wise guide imagery meditation really got me in touch with my inner wisdom and opened up that communication channel (see my blog “when my body said no”). There are other ways of doing it, however. Using a little exercise from Martha Beck’s course “Wild New Ways” I was able to help myself with one of my most prominent difficulties, separating myself from other people’s problems and moods.

I use my non-dominant hand to receive my inner wisdom. First I write down the problems to which I want answers or advice with my dominant hand. My favourite and most powerful example went like this:

I wrote down why this problem (being affected by other people’s moods) bothered me so much using my dominant hand:

1. It drains my energy

2. It ruins my mood

3. It makes me feel disconnected

4. It makes me annoyed and angry

I got into a state of Wordlessness and Oneness (see Spoon Bending for an explanation), I put the pen in my non-dominant hand and let it flow with responses to my dominant-hand written problems. Here are the responses I received:

1. It drains my energy

Answer: NO. You pour your energy into it. You can literally choose not to do this.

This was one of my biggest AHA moments to date!!!

I can literally choose NOT to involve my energy in somebody else’s mood! Who knew? (Probably some of you, but I wasn’t aware until I did this exercise.)

2. It ruins my mood

Answer: Retreat. Come back to your own mood. You can set a boundary.

This had been difficult for me, until I read the answer to Nr. 1!

3. It makes me feel disconnected

Answer: You do not have to feel connected 24/7. It is OK to let it go, and it will come back.

A very wise insight. It felt good to know that I do not have to feel connected ALL THE TIME and there is no danger in disconnecting for a while. Up until now the connection has always come back. I just had to learn to “sit with it” for a while.

4. It makes me annoyed and angry

Answer: You can speak up and express this and it may dissipate.

This was never actually necessary once I had received the other three answers.

Thanks to this exercise I have new awareness of other people and their moods and problems and can be more aware of where I am investing my energy. Together with not having to fix anything (see next AHA Moment), I am doing pretty well and letting people alone with their own problems.

AHA Moment Nr. 3. The sympathetic nervous system and its automated stress responses

Fight, Flight, Freeze and Appease

Learning about the sympathetic nervous system and how it is triggered was a huge help. Also that there are many different stress responses controlled by our nervous system. We often hear about Fight or Flight which is our most primitive response to danger. Come across a vicious beast? Run away or fight it. However there are more responses than that. Freeze and appease for example. Sometimes when our nervous system gets triggered we involuntarily freeze up, maybe unable to speak, maybe unable to catch our thoughts, we feel more shocked and unable to express ourselves in our usual manner. At the same time, we can start fawning over whoever has just triggered that response. A way of trying to feel safe in that situation.

Biology is strong

This happened to me a lot and it bothered me A LOT. Knowing that subconscious processes were in play helped me understand and be more compassionate towards myself when this happened. Especially after a wise woman (thank you Amy) said to me "biology is strong, these responses have kept you alive thus far."

Thou Shalt Not Try and Fix

Another typical response is to want to fix. Fix other people’s moods, responses, problems. If there is an unconscious inner drive to want harmony, as well as to “make” everybody around us happy, we may have a tendency to try and fix things. That was me. Still is, sometimes I catch myself before it happens, sometimes I see myself doing it, I am more aware of it, but it has been long embedded in me, so it will take some work and practise to get it out. It was the first Post-It Reminder I wrote myself: Thou Shalt Not Try and Fix. I say it out loud and share it a lot, in the hope it will sink in.

AHA Moment Nr. 4. Empathic awareness

Picking up on vibes

I am an empath and I am empathic (or empathetic as some like to say) and highly sensitive. I pick up on vibes of all kinds. Being an empath for years I did not realise that a lot of the time I was feeling things that were NOT my feelings but were taken on from others. When people told me their sadness, their pain, their joy or whatever, I felt it too and it could really affect my mood and my day just because I could feel it “in the air.”

Partner sad and frustrated? Kathy sad and frustrated. Best friend angry and upset? Kathy angry and upset. Parent anxious and worried? Kathy anxious and worried.

It's not yours

My friend and coach Ruth Bleakley-Thiessen had introduced me to the notion that some things we take on from others and they aren’t ours. This took quite a few months to sink in for me. Some new things take a while.

Luckily I experienced something where it became absolute apparent to me how that works:

The Bloody Chin

My husband came home with a bloody chin. He had fallen during a cycle. He was absolutely fine, but as soon as I saw his bloody chin I felt heavy and low. All energy drained from me, so much so that I couldn’t cook us dinner. So my husband cooked and I dragged myself to the dinner table, suddenly loosing all appetite, too. I sat opposite him and he started telling me in a jovial manner a good story about his cycle. I notice my eyes being drawn to his still bloody (but cleaned up) chin. And at that moment, I hear a little voice in my ear whisper: “It isn’t your chin, Kathy.”

I immediately burst out laughing and interrupted his story with my own of what just happened! The heaviness cleared and I understood what was going on.

It's not mine!

I saw his injury and took it on as my own. He wasn’t in pain or bothered by it, but injuries bother me a lot, so does pain. I tend to go into a kind of hibernation state if injured or in pain. I go low and rest. I had taken on his supposed pain when looking at his injury.

This is what happens when I can see or sense other people’s pain. It goes straight to my core and I feel it like it is my own. But after that experience, and hearing the voice of my inner wisdom, I am MUCH better at separating other people’s feelings from mine.

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