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Burnout is the new buzz word—a term that gets tossed around as if there’s a quick fix.
If you can say you’re burned out, you’re probably really tired. If you’re truly burned out, you may feel too overwhelmed for words. Burnout is debilitating and destructive, not something you can solve with a long nap, a bubble bath, or even a day off.
What burnout feels like
Burnout has a simple definition. “It’s the cumulative effects of stress built up over time without time to recover,” says Alice Fong, N.D., a Sacramento-based naturopath known as the Virtual Stress Doc.
You might expect burnout to come with feelings of fatigue, an early symptom. But common symptoms also include anxiety, insomnia, lowered immune function, headaches, and digestive issues. You may even feel depressed and lose a sense of joy or enthusiasm for life.
“Life feels overwhelming and everything is just too much,” says Jessica Schatz, yoga teacher and wellness educator in Beverly Hills.
While work stress is perhaps the most common trigger, burnout can also be caused by caretaking, family issues, health woes, or any kind of chronic stress, Schatz says. Although everybody is vulnerable, people in certain professions—like teachers, police officers, healthcare workers, and other first responders—are at higher risk. The impact of the past year’s social, political, and health upheaval has created an extra pull on these already-stressed out workers.
People with perfectionist tendencies and individuals with a history of abuse and trauma are also at higher risk of burnout, Fong says.
What to do when burnout hits
Taking time to rest and recharge is vital if you want to overcome and stave off burnout. Trouble is, though, the go-go-go mentality of today’s world makes it tough for people to step back. “So many burned-out professionals are terrified to get off the wheel because there’s so much to do,” says Fong.
Cue the yoga mat.
How yoga can help
Dealing with burnout requires giving yourself permission to get off the wheel and allowing time to recover. It might specifically mean slotting in time to do mindfulness practices like yoga.
While numerous strategies address burnout, yoga and meditation have a place in your recovery toolbox. Yoga, after all, is mindfulness in motion. “Mindfulness is a way to be more present in the moment, giving you the skills and tools to cope with thoughts and emotions in a healthier way,” Fong says.
By promoting relaxation and creating a sense of restoration, yoga can decrease symptoms of burnout and possibly prevent it, she says. Research supports these claims. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, for instance, found that stress levels and burnout were lower in healthcare workers who practiced yoga and meditation. Another study in the journal Sustainability suggests that yoga helped teachers achieve greater awareness and overcome burnout.
What yoga is best?
What kind of yoga will best help you depends on you—and your level of burnout. In general, restorative and Yin Yoga get the nod from experts. A more strenuous yoga practice like vinyasa flow can also help if it makes you feel more energized. But Schatz cautions against practicing too intensely or too frequently. (Your yoga practice shouldn’t feel like another obligatory chore.)
How much you practice should also be individualized. Fong recommends setting aside at least 10 minutes a day for mindfulness practice, whether that’s yoga, breathwork, or meditation. She says 30 to 60 minutes of yoga a few times a week would be ideal.
Breathe away burnout
Spending a few minutes every day practicing the fourth limb of yoga, pranayama, can bring noticeable improvements in how you feel, Schatz says. Prana is defined as life force. Doing pranayama practices periodically during the day may help boost your energy.
“Moving your breath through your body and directing it to places that might feel tense can help your body, mind, heart, and spirit open up, soften and fortify itself,” says Schatz. She recommends starting a morning ritual with breathing, meditation, and mindful movement.
Don’t forget to use the other limbs of yoga, too. For example, embrace ahimsa, or non-violence, as a means of being easy with your mental and emotional self. It starts by undoing negative self-talk and destructive thought patterns—the ones that whisper, You don’t have time to rest.
“By using ahimsa to be patient with yourself and practice balance, self-care, and self-compassion, you can recognize where you might be pushing past your limits,” Schatz says.