Healing From Burnout for People with a Sensitive Nervous System

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Healing From Burnout for People with a Sensitive Nervous System

If you are one of the millions of people who have a sensitive nervous system, you know that burnout can be a real issue.

You may feel overwhelmed and stressed more quickly than others, and it can be difficult to get out of the funk when this happens. You may even have physical symptoms you are working hard to address, as being under constant stress it’s taking its toll on your physical health. In this blog post, I will discuss some strategies for treating burnout and getting back to your normal self.

If you are a sensitive person experiencing burnout, you may wonder, how do I get better, and how can I prevent burnout in the future? Once you are aware of the problem, the most important step is finding the motivation and trust that you can get out of the cycle.

How to Recover from Burnout

If you are someone with a sensitive nervous system, you know that burnout is more than just physical and emotional exhaustion. Among many things, it’s a lack of effective coping strategies when experiencing overwhelming stress. You’re probably wondering: How do I get better? How do I reduce stress? And what does burnout recovery look like?

Remember this:

• You are not alone in your struggles; getting support can make a huge difference in your well-being. 

• There are ways to recover from burnout.

• The physical symptoms and emotional damage can be reversed.

• Don’t give up on yourself. Burnout recovery does not happen overnight, but you can and will get better.

Working with the Cup Analogy

Our society is designed to promote and reward hard work to its extreme consequences, so we need to be aware of the warning signs of burnout.

When you are very driven by purpose and passion in your work, you’re a high performer, or maybe have a strong sense of duty as a caregiver, it can be tough to take seriously the signs that your body and nervous system are sending you.

I know this from personal experience, as that’s precisely what happened to me in the past when juggling clinical work with patients every day and my digital health startup simultaneously.

Finally, my body gave me a strong signal, and I developed a condition called rosacea, which was a big wake-up call for me and started my personal healing journey. 

It was also a significant opportunity to change and grow. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and take action.

The essential steps to recover from burnout involve:

  1. Identify and manage the stressors that have brought you to your current state. This may involve making changes to your lifestyle, such as reducing workplace demands, cultivating a calmer workplace environment, or taking on a more relaxed schedule.
  2. Working on your stress response. This means learning effective coping strategies and stress management techniques in order to better handle stressors when they do occur.
  3. Modulating or healing the traits that predispose you to develop overwhelm and burnout in the first place. This may involve developing better awareness and management of your sensitivity traits, building a more secure attachment style, and healing the effects of trauma.

It can be helpful to think of healing from burnout in terms of a cup. In one sense, we’re working to reduce and control how much liquid is poured into the cup. This might involve setting boundaries, saying no more often, and taking time for self-care. However, in the other sense, we’re also working to expand the cup so that it has more capacity. This might involve learning new coping strategies, developing a support system, and working on our self-esteem.

By expanding our capacity and reducing the amount of liquid being poured in, we can eventually heal from burnout.

why is burnout common in sensitive people infographic

Now, let’s break each of the three steps and see them more in-depth.

Manage stressors

Many people who experience burnout will say that their stressors come from their job.

This severe work-related stress can come from long hours, demanding workloads, or a difficult boss. Some might feel like they’re never able to take a break or that their work is never-ending.

However, for some people, the stressors that lead to burnout are more personal. For example, caregivers often experience a high level of stress due to their many job demands.

Regardless of the specific stressors, burnout usually occurs when we feel like we’re constantly under pressure and never able to relax.

Therefore, it’s crucial to identify the specific stressors causing you to burn out. Once you’ve identified the stressors, you can start working on finding solutions.

This might mean changing jobs, setting boundaries at work, or finding a different way to care for your loved ones. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do everything on your own – there are people who can help you make these changes.

Changing your Response to Stressors

The second step involves working on our stress response.

There’s not a lot of peer-reviewed, quality data to answer that question, and one of the reasons is that burnout is not a well-defined condition yet, so it’s tough to assess how effective a particular protocol is when we don’t have clearly defined criteria to define a specific state. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to healing from burnout. Still, research suggests that the best way to address it is through a customized approach that addresses all of the elements at the emotional and physical levels. 

Some of the most utilized elements of a personalized approach include 1-1 support, bodywork, emotional regulation tools, and sleep and food interventions.

When we take a comprehensive and individualized approach to addressing burnout, we give ourselves the best chance of making a full recovery.

At the emotional level, we want to address the root causes of our stress and anxiety. Self-awareness is key in the burnout recovery process. This might involve working on our self-esteem (and especially self-doubt), learning how to set boundaries, or developing a more secure attachment style.

At the physical level, we want to focus on reducing the amount of stress hormones in our body. This can be done through relaxation techniques like deep breathing, eating a nutrient-rich, healthy diet, regular exercise, etc.

Both of these approaches are important for healing from burnout. However, it’s important to remember that each person is different and will need a unique approach. Do not be afraid to ask for professional help when needed.

Personality Traits

The third step in the burnout recovery process is working on personality traits.

We know that a sensitive nervous system processes things more deeply than others, which can show up in life as perfectionism, problems establishing boundaries, being more prone to anxiety and depression, etc.

The goal here is to expand our capacity by addressing how we perceive those stressors, how we process them internally, and how our body reacts to stress.

Perfectionism, for example, can be a major contributor to chronic stress and burnout. By understanding why we tend to be perfectionistic, we can begin to work on changing our internal working models. This requires getting in touch with our emotions and learning new ways to respond to stressors. However, this is not an easy task.

Our nervous system is very efficient at responding to stressors in the same way – which is why tapping into its neuroplasticity is so important. By training our nervous system to respond differently to stress, we can begin to heal from burnout.

On a physical level, we want to train our sensitive body and nervous system to thrive under moderate amounts of stress.

When we think about stress, we often think of it as something bad that we want to avoid. Moderate stressors can help us be more resilient, adaptable, and successful. 

Overall, the goal is not only to resolve and manage the current state of burnout and get out of the cycle, but also to prevent burnout in the future.

This isn’t so much about self-care or discipline, which are often offered as solutions. Rather, it’s about developing the tools and coping strategies that will help us to better manage stress in our lives.

Conclusion

When I found myself amid a health crisis caused by burnout, I decided to take a step back, slow down, and start reconsidering where I wanted my life to go. It was a difficult decision, but it was one that I needed to make.

If you’re struggling with burnout, I encourage you to see it not just as something that needs fixing or getting rid of but as an opportunity for growth and change.

It might present itself as a personal health crisis, but it is so much more than that.

Maybe it is a chance to start fresh, to redefine what happiness means to you. Maybe it is an opportunity to finally live a life that feels authentic and true to yourself.

That might mean changing jobs, altering your relationships, or finding new hobbies that bring you joy. It’s not always easy, but it’s something you may start to feel more and more grateful for, even amidst all this struggle.

Now, I’m not saying that burnout is something to be sought after.

But if you do find yourself in the midst of it, try to see it as an opportunity to make some positive changes in your life.

Who knows, this might be just the catalyst you need to create the life you’ve always wanted for yourself.

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.