Feb. 27, 2023

2 signs of burnout (that you shouldn't overlook)

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Ofosu and Leah talk with certified coach and clinician María-Victoria Albina about the signs and symptoms of workaholism and what we can do to break the cycle of burnout. They also discuss how to incorporate more intention throughout your workday to help alleviate stress.

▶️ You can watch the latest episode on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/SDnV4WmPZQU

📚 More about María-Victoria: María-Victoria is a trained Nurse Practitioner and Master Certified Life Coach. Her mission is for her clients to stop feeling anxious, exhausted, and overwhelmed, so they can have better relationships with their partners, parents, and themselves. You can learn more about her work here: https://victoriaalbina.com/

🎤 Listen to María-Victoria’s podcast, Feminist Wellness, here: https://victoriaalbina.com/podcast/

📱 Follow María-Victoria on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/victoriaalbinawellness/

🎧 What's in this episode:

  • (00:00) Leah's experience as a workaholic
  • (01:28) Meeting María-Victoria Albina
  • (02:04) Ofosu's experience of workaholism as a child of immigrants
  • (02:53) How to identify when you're working too much
  • (04:23) Why it's not you (it's your nervous system)
  • (06:55) The symptoms of overworking
  • (08:18) How to incorporate mindfulness and choicefulness throughout your workday
  • (09:56) Being a working parent
  • (11:22) Accepting the circumstances of your life
  • (12:52) Ask yourself: "What you need?"
  • (15:34) Tips to transforming your habits
  • (20:16) What's giving María-Victoria life right now

🧘 About Balance: Well Balanced is co-hosted by Ofosu and Leah, Balance’s Co-Heads of Meditation. Balance is a highly personalized meditation and sleep app that's been named Google's App of the Year and Apple's App of the Day. Completely free for the entire first year, Balance is helping 5 million+ people around the world improve their stress, sleep, focus, and mood. Unlock your free year of Balance today by downloading it from the App Store or Play Store: https://balanceapp.sng.link/Arat1/z704/izn0


María-Victoria: We want to know that we matter, and that when the lions come, someone's going to save us. So how do we get ourselves saved? We work. And so as we feed into that cycle, our nervous system comes to see this endless working as the thing that will keep us bodily safe. In moments of extreme danger.

And so, yeah, of course it's hard to rest. You're, come on, your nervous system thinks it's dangerous.

Leah: Hi, I'm Leah Santa Cruz. 

Ofosu: And I'm Ofosu Jones Quartey. 

Leah: And we're the meditation coaches on the Balance app.

Ofosu: And this is our weekly show Well-Balanced where we explore ways to live healthier, happier life.

Leah: Um, so confession time. I'm a workaholic or rather, I'm a recovering workaholic , but it's been sort of a default mode in my life since I was a, a kid actually. I, I know that I've talked a little bit about this on the show, having worked in, um, the corporate world for many years before I became a meditation teacher. And, you know, during that time I can remember working 80 hours a week. And, um, not really having a whole lot of extra energy for myself and my self care and for my loved ones.

So, you know, I've been working on it for a long time to overcome this, but, and I know that a lot of people today could use some help in this area too, so I wanted to bring in someone to help us understand and maybe overcome workaholism for ourselves. Uh, her name is Maria Victoria Albina, and she's a life coach with a background in medicine and public health.

And she's also the host of a really awesome podcast called Feminist Wellness, where she talks all about shaking off codependency and perfectionism and people pleasing. And I know she has some of her own experience with overworking. So wanna bring her on now? Hey, Maria, Victoria.

María-Victoria: Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Ofosu: Thanks so much for being here. Yeah, yeah. Uh, Leah. As I was listening to your story, I'm thinking about my own, and I don't know that I've recovered from workaholism. Honestly, it's, it's, it's pretty deeply ingrained in who I am. I'm the child of immigrants, just being a part of hustle culture, working a day job, working a nine to five, and then you work, uh, six to three, then you go and do your nine to five again.

And when I try to rest, I have to really work against those feelings of guilt. So yeah, I think this is a great topic. 

Leah: Yeah. Or restlessness. Like, uh, I should be doing something with myself. One part of me agrees with that whole, you know, when you, when you put hard work in, you get good outcomes, but at the other hand, I'm just like, work hard, work smarter, not harder.

But ultimately, what I wanna know from you, Maria Victoria, first off, is how, how do we identify if we're a workaholic? How do we know when this is crossing the boundary from healthy to unhealthy. 

María-Victoria: Yeah. Well, it's really for me about looking at your priorities and what it is that you're valuing in your life.

So as I'm listening to you talk about the results that you're getting, like. What are the results you want? What is the life you want? Right? What are the results that you're, you're busting your butt at your 14 jobs towards, right? Like, what is that outcome? And so to your question, how do you know that you're overworking?

Look at the balance of your life. Right? Look at the focus, like what matters in your life and what are you creating for yourself? Are you creating more work? Are you creating more. Or are you creating more presence, more mindfulness, more awareness, more connection with self, more regulation in your nervous system, more connection with the people you love and the things that truly matter to you.

Leah: Yeah. Good questions. 

Ofosu: You know what's funny though, when you ask those questions, I can see how where my life is now is a lot more in line with the healthy answers to those questions, then maybe pre pandemic and pre some major life shifts that happened for me. So yeah, I feel okay. So I feel okay, and um, I'm curious, Maria Victoria, if you could share with us, what are the roots of this drive to work too much?

Is it an addiction? Is it a legacy of, of, uh, uh, from our ancestors? What are your thoughts? 

María-Victoria: I wouldn't call it an addiction. I, that's some language I'm, I'm very careful around as a clinician. There is some cultural inculcation there that happens within the American milieu um, if we look.

Most of the rest of the world, rest is built into life, right? So our margin time back home, the banks are closed from lunch till like four, right? Everything's closed. You rest, you take a, you, you, you let the animal do what the animal is meant to do, which is be at rest. Right? And that, that's not the norm within the us right?

For most of us, that's something that, um, our conditioning has taught us. Doesn't make us a good or valuable member of society. So we've got that cultural legacy, and then I think we can bring the nervous system in. That cultural milieu really shapes us to be in sympathetic activation. Yeah. Which is the fight or flight part of our nervous system when we're full of adrenaline, uh, epinephrine, eventually cortisol, those stress hormones that tell us that a lion is ni.

And we're about to be lunch if we don't keep moving, keep moving, keep producing, keep going, and keep proving our worth. And these forces lead us to believe that, um, rest is dangerous. Which is the undertone of what I'm hearing from y'all. Right. Because the human animal, we're seeking two things, significance and belonging.

That's it. Right? And, and what belies those two things, of course, is safety. We want to know that we matter and that when the lions come, someone's going to save us. So how do we get ourselves safe? We work and we work and we prove it. And we prove it. And so as we feed into that cycle, our nervous system comes to see this endless working as the thing that will keep us bodily safe in moments of extreme danger.

And so, yeah, of course it's hard to rest your, come on, your nervous system thinks it's dangerous.. So that's where we get to bring in compassion, curiosity, and care to understand that it's, it's not you, it's your nervous system.

Leah: I mean, I love that you're bringing up the nervous system because yeah, I, I experienced that myself when I spent many years overworking, I would say, because for me, the symptoms that forced me to slow down and make changes in my life was burnout.

And for me that showed up like adrenal fatigue. And, um, confirmed by doctors and tests. And just feeling extreme exhaustion and not being interested in the normal things that I would be interested in. I am so remembering the days when I would just come home and collapse on my bed and like , like, yeah, I'm dead , I'm dead just to the world.

I'm so, and for me, I, you know, I was living in Los Angeles and in order for me to even just break away from that hustle like I needed to, I needed to actually move somewhere where the cost of living was lower. So there was less pressure on me to have to, to produce so much and work so many jobs to get by.

And so that was really even part of the inspiration for my husband and I to move out of Los Angeles and go to Bali. Um, but for someone who potentially, that's not the possibility. You know, like they've got several children in school systems or they just, they can't pick up and move across the world, right.

What do you think is a good first step when we realize we're having problems with overworking ourselves? Like what can we do about it? 

María-Victoria: Mindfulness. Presence. It's presence is always where I'm gonna go first, right? Lack of presence is usually one of the biggest culprits. So really coming back into mindfulness around your agency that you are deciding to do these things.

And coming into mindfulness as you do those same activities. So I was a primary care provider in busy clinics in Durham, North Carolina, in New York City. Before opening my functional medicine practice, there were times where I was seeing 30 patients a day. And so I was trying to get burned out pretty quickly, and for me it was about slowing the pace within my own body.

And bringing my nervous system back into regulation, into ventral vagal, the safe and social part of the nervous system, so that while I was moving from room to room with efficiency, I was not carrying the energy of rush, the energy of hurry, the energy of hustle, the energy of get it done. Instead I was moving mindfully and maybe it added four seconds to the walk between patient rooms.

But I would do a walking meditation and feel that heel strike and feel the length of my foot right, and just come back into my body so that I could step from thing to thing, from plank to plank in a grounded way instead of letting my nervous system go into the overwhelm that it was being asked to.

Leah: Yeah. I love that was your answer. 

Ofosu: Yeah. I'm currently leading a weekly workshop for, uh, for parents, um, around self-compassion. There's a big overlap with, um, workaholism and parenting. Because the work doesn't stop. And I just saw like something on Instagram that said parenting, it's like jumping out of an airplane.

A bunch of y'all jump out of an airplane, but nobody except you knows how to do their parachutes. And so then you have to do, you have to do everybody's parachute before you do your own, right? Then you hit the ground, but you don't die. You have to make dinner. And, um, it's beautiful. But that, that's, but that's after you get home from work.

That's, you know, so I empathize or can relate to what you're saying because for me, just walking from the bathroom to the kitchen and making those steps count is really the difference between completely losing my shit or you know, or staying in the game so I can make this pasta.

Because I've had a really hard day. You know what I'm saying? And then it doesn't stop, so, right. I, I, I don't think it can be overstated that a mindful pause, the quality of a mindful pause is like almost like a life and death decision. 

María-Victoria: Yeah. And what I'm hearing in what you're sharing is also the importance of acceptance.

Right. So really taking a non-judgmental stance about the circumstances of your life. So sometimes we can change the circumstances and Leah, like you shared, you're in this situation where you can. The job is the job. You have the kids. As the kids you have. Yeah. Ba bing, ba boom. Here we are. So when we're fighting against reality and we're saying, I want this to be different, instead of accepting, these are the tiny humans I made, and they have the following eternal demands.

Right. And this is life in this system. And if I'm not going to change, making that decision. I'm not gonna fight the facts of it. This is massive, right? Because if you're every day like goddamn, they want food again, these kids ate yesterday, right? Like it doesn't make the kid less hungry. It doesn't make the screaming stop.

It sure doesn't make the chickpea pasta cook itself. . Let's be real. But what it does is it activates your nervous system again, into that adrenaline because you're pushing against reality. 

Leah: Yeah. We talk about that a lot as meditation teachers that the strain against the sounds and the thoughts and all the things.

And like you're saying, the strain against your reality, the denial against it. Um, is actually putting out enough effort to cause tension and yeah, like you said, cause the adrenal response in your nervous system. And I also think there's something to be said about when we give ourselves that mindfulness, uh, those moments of, of mindfulness and checking in with ourselves and or take, maybe it's taking a few deep breaths or mindfully moving, you're mindfully eating or mindfully walking.

That we also can ask ourselves, what do you need? And I've found that to be, yeah, so simple and it, it seems like, well, of course, but I don't think it's actually something we consciously think about until we check in and we ask ourselves like, what is it that you need right now? And maybe it is like a little break or walk outside.

Um, or maybe it's a glass of water or maybe it's to actually set a boundary. Right? 

María-Victoria: Absolutely. And, and sort of growing from what you said about asking ourselves what we need. So much of my work as a somatic life coach is about really working with our inner children and the parts of us that may be driving the bus.

So not just asking your adult self, do you need a walk? Do you need a breath? Do you need a cup of tea? Love that. Please do that, take that moment. But then taking the moment to go meta to go deeper. What is the unmet need within my psyche? What is the unmet need from childhood? And what is the unmet need that's driving me to continue to overwork myself?

Ooh. So my focus, as you shared at the top of the show is I support human socialized as women to overcome our codependent, perfectionist, and people pleasing habits where I define codependency. as chronically and habitually sourcing our sense of wellness worth safety and validation from everyone and everything outside of ourselves instead of from within.

\ And so when that's your outlook on life, and that's the childhood programming written into your nervous system, overworking is, duh. Right. Like you need to prove that you are worthy of love or you won't ever feel worthy of love. Right? So how can you back it up, right? And work with your nervous system and inner children to start to say, I am worthy of love, of care, of all good things in this life simply because I exist.

So we can work with our neuroplasticity, our brain's capacity to change, and with our nervous system to write a new neural map within our bodies. So that we can start to believe that another framework for looking at productivity and creating is possible that isn't hinged upon our value as mammals.

Cause I think that's the part that fs us up so bad if I don't get this memo in. I'm an unworthy human. 

Leah: Wow. 

Ofosu: There's so much, um, I guess scientific and existential hopefulness tied in with, uh, yeah. Uh, the, the reality of neuroplasticity and which essentially means that, you know, no matter how, where we are in life, we can transform our, our, our brains and our our minds.

Can you give us in the short time we have, um, A guide to transforming our neural map. Uh, there are some practices that we can do Yeah. To begin to transform, um, yeah. Our habits. 

María-Victoria: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. There's so much we can do. Mindfulness is the first and most important place to start, right? Yeah. So much like when I was working functional medicine, I wasn't gonna change someone's diet if I didn't know what they were eating.

So we did a food journal. Start to write down your thinking, and I know that sounds banal and. Wait, what? But when you're feeling overwhelmed, what is the story under the story? Right? What is the thought that cassette tape that plays in your mind automatically? Like the ticker tape in Times Square, right?

Mm-hmm. , that just goes and goes and goes. And then I'll invite you to ask yourself, who's voice is that? Is that your dad? Is that your mom? And from there, how does that voice make me feel? When I hear the voice say, if you don't get that memo, what happens in your body? So as I say it, let me tap in.

I feel like this red hot, like pulsing energy in my solar plexus. And it really feels unsafe to believe that my worth is dependent on producing. So then we can ask ourselves, what do I do when I have that feeling? What's the action I take? Well, I push away my feelings and I focus on activity.

Mm-hmm, uh, maybe I ruminate, maybe I distract. Um, maybe I buckle down and work until, until I'm falling asleep at my desk, ignoring myself, ignoring my emotions. So then we can ask ourselves, what's the result that I'm creating in my life with these actions and get real? What are you creating for you with these continued actions from mindlessness, from being unconscious, from not being present, from buffering against your feelings?

Because those feelings are existential and enormous. Their My worth is tied to my work. Mm. So of course you're buffering against them. You're not a fool who wants to like stay in that feeling, right? You're not an idiot. Come on. Then you get to ask yourself, do I want to continue to think, feel, act these ways, or do I want to shift?

Yeah. And so that's how we lay the groundwork, um, to, to start getting real about what's going on. Yeah. And then you ask your body how you can come back towards ventral vagal, which is the safe and social part of the nervous system. Yeah, right. We do a walking meditation, we do breath work, and we come back home to the anchor within ourselves where our wisdom lies.

Leah: Preaching to the choir here. We totally believe it's a great, great choir. 

Ofosu: Yeah, the one the choir needs the choir also. It's like it, anytime. Anytime, uh, this, these topics arise for me, it's always like hearing them for the first time. It's always fresh and it's always powerful. Um, yeah. 

Leah: Yeah. And always relevant because we are continuing to be met with a culture that really rewards when we don't cash in that vacation at time, and we just push through. You know, it's like a culture that like gives you a little badge of honor. I think that we're starting to shift and it's through Yep. These conversations that I think on a, on a mass scale, we need to all be having these conversations more.

And yeah, it's through talking about this that I think we're, we get to a place where we all collectively start. To honor our bodies and our minds and take care of ourselves. Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing all of these, uh, wonderful tips and your thoughts on this me, Victoria. Yeah. It's been, um, it's been really enlightening.

María-Victoria: Yeah. Thank you. This was truly a pleasure and, and an honor. 

Ofosu: Likewise, likewise. Same. We've got a link. In the description to Feminist Wellness, Marie Victoria's podcast and also to our website in the show notes. So please go check out what she's up to. It will be well worth your while. 

Leah: If you're only listening to us right now, then don't forget, you can watch this podcast on YouTube and on Spotify.

And if you like our show, please spread the word. Tell your friends and your family about us. That's the best way to get the word out about new podcast. 

Ofosu: We will be back next week. Don't forget to be kind to yourself. Take care and peace. 

Leah: Bye. I know we have one last question for you that we always ask. 

Ofosu: What is giving you life right now?

Maria: Oh. Oh, so many things. Oh, so many things. Sorry, my brain froze and my body just filled with love. Oh, so it's love. Love. Yeah, love, love, love. Ah, like it's wild that we get to be alive and we get to be human. I also was a hospice nurse at the Zen Hospice in San Francisco, so I think a lot about this, right? 

Ofosu: Some of my favorite people are dead. We're so lucky to be alive, so love for my friends, for my partner, for my dog, for my family, ah, love for the world. My clients just love. Wonderful.