Balance & Beyond Podcast
#20: Burnout: What Your Body is Trying to Tell You
Feeling burnt out? Always foggy, anxious and perpetually tired?
If this sounds strangely familiar, you're not alone. Jo has navigated these murky waters as someone who has pushed her body her entire life. Her serious health scare was a wake-up call, a jarring reminder that self-care isn't a luxury but a necessity. In this episode, we shine a light on the subtle signs our bodies send when we're teetering on the edge of burnout. With insights from thousands of conversations with fellow women, we uncover three levels of burnout signs and decode what they mean.
Have you ever considered how your mindset impacts your physical health? We're breaking it down for you. Dive into the deep dialogue between your body and mind and how your emotional state can manifest as physical symptoms. We're talking about practical strategies to acknowledge these patterns, honour our bodies, and embark on a journey towards healing. Whether carving out time for rest or seeking medical intervention, the aim is clear - tuning into our bodies, breaking harmful patterns and fostering a healthier life.
So join us as we navigate this path together, and here's to a day that goes from foggy to focused!
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INTRO: Welcome to Balance and Beyond, the podcast for ambitious women who refuse to accept burnout as the price of success. Here, we’re committed to empowering you with the tools and strategies you need to achieve true balance, where your career, relationships and health all thrive, and where you have the power to define success on your own terms. I honour the space you’ve created for yourself today, so take a breath, and let's dive right in…
Is your body trying to tell you something? In today's episode, I want to share with you some of the specific warning signs that your body is trying to give you right now around burnout. I want to share with you how it's doing this and, most importantly, I want to share with you what the key ingredient is, that I have found to get my body to work with me and not against me.
As women who are juggling all the things, doing all the things, looking after everybody else, we have a terrible habit and I specifically use the word habit here of neglecting our bodies. What happens is your head says, “I've got too much to do.” “I don't have time to rest.” “I've got to get this and this done.” “I don't have time to make it to the doctor.” But, as a child gets sick, you'll drop everything and magically find the time. And yet, because we are so capable, because we seem to have “thrived” and almost continued to survive off less sleep, or less self nurture, less caring, we've really, really neglected our bodies, and yet they've continued to perform.
We sometimes think that we can continue to get away with it. However, there's a pretty good chance that if you're listening to this episode, your body is starting to give you a few little messages. Whether they're whispers or shouts, or punches in the face, which is what I've coined the three levels. It's giving you some kind of signal that it cannot keep going. And I typically see this happen around 40. Late 30s, early 40s, is most commonly when the body goes, “Whoa, you have been pushing me for probably 20 years since you finished school.” “You've now probably added babies into that mix, so you've had multiple pregnancies.” “You've been a human cow, you've fed somebody else, you've nurtured life, and now you have all these other people to take care of.”
And you're so good at that. And so anything for you continues to be pegged further and further down the list of stuff to fit in. But when it comes to your body, it can be very forgiving and it can go on the smell of fumes for longer than you'd believe, and yet your body still continues to hold the score. Today, I want to share with you what I see most commonly as these levels of phases of how your body is trying to communicate with you. The warning signs of burnout.
Now, full disclosure. I'm not a doctor, I'm not a licensed therapist, so this is not coming to you from a clinical perspective. But yet, as somebody who has spoken to thousands and thousands of women in the exact same circumstance not speaking to all kinds of people from everywhere. I feel like I've got a really good read of what are some of the typical symptoms. So, I'm going to share with you today. And I want you to ponder, and to really reflect on “Where am I?” And it's important for you to take away from this that, typically, these levels continue to progress unless you do something different.
Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending like it's gonna be fine. Starting to hear menopause creep and adrenals being stuffed. The body's ability to continue to take the pounding that we give it is rapidly changing. And the reason I share this is I've been on a considerable health journey over the past, I'd say 18 months to two years. I've invested huge amounts of money. I've taken my family overseas to go to some of the best places in the world, to really understand what it is with our bodies, and why this is so important.
And for me, the reason I've had to make this focus is because I'm a lucky person. I've never really suffered from any massive “touch wood” “touch wood” significant health episodes. In terms of, I haven't had any cancer, I haven't had any lumps found, I haven't had any autoimmune diseases, although that all changed for me when I did think that I was about to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and that was one of my key turning points.
When I've gone “Okay, my body has been pretty good.” “I've always been very active.” “I did triathlons between children, I've run half marathons.” That's always been a really big part of who I am. And then there was this moment, as a lay in hospital, having a lumbar puncture from one of the most horrific things I've had. Screaming in pain, waiting to find out if my body was being attacked by something that, at the moment, there is no known cure for. I lay there and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry.” “Have I taken you for granted?” “Have I always assumed that you would keep up with me, and that you would be okay?” And now you're telling me that something has to change. Let me share with you first.
What I typically see are the whispers as to what is starting to happen, perhaps, it’s with your body. So, some of the very early warning signs I see in women who are juggling all the things of burnout, is that we start to have trouble sleeping. Now, this can come in two ways. Some people really struggle to fall asleep, and are lying awake staring at the ceiling. Or other people are so flat out exhausted that they're asleep in 10 seconds, but then they're lying there at three in the morning thinking about all the stuff that they need to get done the next day.
This is what kicks off this cycle then, and we typically see brain fog, headaches, migraines, start increasing tension, particularly jaw clenching, tight shoulders, tight necks, everything just hard and tight and tired all the time. Most people, when I share these what I call “whispers”, they’re like, “Oh, I've been like that for years.” You know, I've had newborn babies, and I've never really felt the same ever since. Just because something is “common” to everybody else in the same boat, does not mean it's normal. You shouldn't be walking around clenching your jaw every day. You shouldn't be having headaches, and you should be sleeping like a baby.
Now, as we've got these “whispers” and things start happening, if we ignore those, they tend to escalate. It's like the body is another beautiful analogy similar to this. We say you know, the body, or life, throws you a pebble. And if you don't pay attention to the pebbles, it starts throwing you some rocks. And I tend to find this comes in the form of your body now, not just whispering to you and going, “You're a bit tired.” “Oh, I'm having trouble thinking.” “Oh, there's a bit of a headache.” We quickly dismiss that and go “Too much to do.” “No time for a headache, pop some pills, and let's move on.”
The shouts are a bit like “Oh, I might have to do something about this.” So some of the shouts that I typically see, or you could say rocks being thrown at you by your body in an attempt to wake you up, is when people start having a lot more significant challenges. Like feeling the adrenaline pulsing through their body. We start talking about more levels of anxiety. I'm not talking about worrying, which is more of, say, a whisper. I'm talking about anxiety. Sunday night sitting on the couch going, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.” “I have to get to work.” “Oh my God, oh my God.” And then that races, the adrenaline, that feeling of dread. On a Monday morning it's like, “Oh my God, I can't do this.” It’s complete overwhelm.
All those symptoms can sometimes manifest, then, into nausea. Digestive problems, chronic procrastination. I'm not talking about, “I'm putting off that report for Friday.” I’m talking about everything being put off. We see this then, when people go like “Stuff cooking.” “I'm done cooking.” “Chicken nuggets seven nights a week.” This “cannot be bothered” feeling starts to creep in. This feeling of helplessness and hopelessness starts to creep in. Some people, at this time, find themselves going to their GP. And perhaps being diagnosed with some form of depression or anxiety, or on the pathway to that.
Some of these shouts, or these rocks that are now getting thrown at you, are perhaps the inability to shake colds or illness or coughs, that just lurk and linger, and you're sick for weeks on end. And it's these types of illnesses that are not enough to debilitate you. It's not like gastro, or a fever, where you're lying down and you can't move. It's enough to function, but definitely not function at your best. You usually get cranky and you get grumpy and life just becomes this cesspool of rubbish.
And as a result of all of this, the adrenaline and the digestive problems, and then the illnesses. We then typically see women start to become exceptionally emotional. I'm not talking about a monthly cycle of, “Oh, you know, a bit teary now and then.” And, if you were to put things on the chart, they might be every four-ish or so weeks. I'm talking about somebody passing a comment on your presentation, and you have to run to the bathroom because you're going to burst into tears. Or you at any form of criticism.
You become almost paralysed by these heavy, heavy emotions of fear, of paralysis, of overwhelm, of letting people down, of guilt. That is exhausting and really, really physically heavy. So, you'll notice that some of these physical symptoms I'm sharing with you also have an emotional component. And we'll come back to that in terms of what I have seen being some of the key pieces to my health journey.
And then, if we don't heed the signs at this point in time, people start perhaps going to see a doctor and going, “Oh, you know, I probably need to start taking some vitamins.” “I've been told my adrenals are shot.” “I don't have any backup.” “You know I'm having hormone imbalances, things like perimenopause start being thrown around.” And that now becomes a bit of a catch-all for, “Oh, I'm perimenopausal, I'm going to be grumpy.” “I'm going to be emotional, I'm going to not sleep, I'm going to have adrenaline, I'm going to have anxiety.”
Once again, just because it's common, does not mean it should be normal. These are some of the shouts of your body saying “Ah, I'm not happy!” “The life that I’m leading is not allowing me to heal and to function at my best.” And then we ignore these. We start getting two punches in the face. And the reason other people might call these boulders that get thrown at you. Punches in the face or boulders, basically render you incapable of leading your current life. They are that big of a wake-up call. It's like “You didn't listen to the pebbles, you didn't listen to the rocks.” “Now I'm going to completely flaw you and make you stand up and pay attention.” This might be things like cancer diagnosis, or pre-diagnosis. Significant heart palpitations, where suddenly you're being rushed to emergency. Diagnosis, or suspected diagnosis, of irreversible autoimmune conditions. But, it's things like diabetes or lupus or MS, or a whole range of things. Arthritis also starts coming in.
I've had people literally collapse, and being unable to get out of bed. I've had people call me from the emergency room saying, “Jo, I stood up at work, and my body just went no. And as I stood up from my chair, I was horizontal, and I couldn't get up.” Their body literally completely and utterly shuts down. And by the time you get to the punch in the face phase, you have to do something different.
This usually sometimes means a hospital visit. This may mean months off work to recover. It may mean weeks off work and, ironically, when we ignore the whispers and the shouts, we say that we don't have time to fix it. And yet if we would have perhaps gone to that doctor, or taken some time to rest, or done things differently when we had the headaches and the trouble sleeping, perhaps we would have been able to reverse some of these illnesses that are coming later on.
So they are typically what I see as the three levels of burnout. And what makes women more susceptible to this is because we are high achievers. Because we can push our bodies. Because we are perfectionists. And we have a very, very strong inner critic. We also pride ourselves very often on putting everybody else first. “Well, I can't look after myself.” “I can't take a whole rest.” “Once I've emptied the dishwasher, got the kids dinner, cleaned up, my inbox has gotta be prepped for tomorrow, done the lunchboxes, and then I'll go to bed early, thank you.” You may need health treatments for some of these, and I'm not suggesting that you don't go and see a doctor. If you have some of these symptoms, my goodness, you need to take care of your physical body.
However, the missing ingredient that I have seen that makes the biggest difference in people reversing these physical symptoms Is to also deal with the emotional and mental support to stop these things happening in the first place, because quitting your job or taking three months off because you've burnt out and trying to recover, that's only temporary relief. That's like sticking a giant bandaid on the thing that caused your challenges in the first place. Because, yeah, anyone can get healthy living on an island, drinking cocktails, living in paradise, having everything catered for them, awesome.
However, if you then plonk yourself back in your life, and don't make any changes to how your brain is functioning, you don't make any changes to your mindset, you don't make any changes to how you understand your emotional world, well then, nothing is ever, ever going to change. And this is why I have people who come to me and say, “Yeah, I'm about to burn out, but I've been here before.”
“What do you mean?” “Oh, every couple of years I hit burnout and I realise that it's the industry, so I change industries.” “Or it's the job. It's the toxic work environment. It's the workload.” “That's completely irresponsible.” “And there's no way that I could possibly do that.” “So, I quit my job and I started again.” Okay, so we've got three jobs, three different industries, and the same thing has happened. Oh, you mean, you don't know how to say no? You take on more than you should? You beat yourself up? You get very attached to other people? You're quite empathic, you put everybody else first, you're a perfectionist and you're a high achiever?
Hmm, do you think perhaps that some of those behavioural patterns, which are caused by mindset, could be the things that are actually driving you to burn out? Of course, sometimes these health problems come out of the blue. And of course, you know, a work environment and workload, and role and title, can contribute to these.
However, if you don't change you, if you don't change your mindset, then, oh my gosh, nothing is ever going to change. Because the missing ingredient, if you hadn't guessed it by now, is that for anything in life, it is never just the physical. Everything manifests on an emotional level first. And there's data that have said that they've linked, I think it was about 95% of diseases in some way shape or form to stress.
And stress is usually our beliefs around a situation. So, it's self-inflicted. And that's what this disease really is. This is unhappiness with the current situation. And, yes, you know, by all means, I keep saying this: “Get the tests, and sometimes we need surgery.” We don't just need a band-aid. We've got to fix something with ourselves physically. So do that, but at the same time, you need to stop torturing yourself emotionally. You need to make sure that you cover this on all levels.
You've heard of slogans that people bandy around about mind, body, spirit, but it is the absolute truth. And I tell you, while I may have pushed my body to the limits, it wasn't until I started understanding. “Oh, okay, well, the doctor told me I have to rest.” “Well, I don't really know how to do that,” said as I sat there on the couch with my laptop, trying to rest. “Well, I know I'll plan a birthday party.” “I know I'll run the school fete.” “Oh, but I'm resting because I'm doing it from the couch.”
No, I didn't know how to rest. And rest is not something that you just do physically. Because the thing that never, ever used to rest with me was my brain. My mind never, ever stopped. Because my mind never stopped. It continued to lull my body into this world of, “Oh yes, we can do it, Jo.” “Yes, we can do it.” “Just one more.” You don't know that best. Imagine what you can get done if you stay up another half an hour. The house is quiet. You can get so much more done. Well, that's what I had to shift.
But it's not just about what I can get done. It's about how I honour my body. It's about how I honour my physicality. Because I am somebody who probably, like you, I don't make widgets with my fingers. I am not an athlete. I seem to have missed the boat on that one. What I do is with my mind. That is my genius. That is my income. That is my security. And yet my brain, my mind, is rattling around in this physical thing called a body.
So, if my body is not its best self. If my body is full of cortisol, if my body is hormonally imbalanced, if my body is not rested, then my mind is not gonna be at my best. And I want to be at my best. I've invested in all kinds of treatment. I've had coaches, I've had naturopaths. I wear something called an aura ring, which is one of the most sophisticated body trackers on the market that gives me scores. I love hacking and gamifying this stuff. I have a bio mat that I lie on every night that recharges my cells at a voltage level. Because I know that I have to take care of my body.
If I don't, I will miss the signs and, like you, I spent a lot of my life living in my head thinking about all the things I could be doing. And then I'd push my body to do it. But I was terrible at listening to my body. My brain would always override it. “You don’t have time for this.” “You go to the doctor later.” “Just one more.” “That's okay.” “Just have another glass of wine, it'll help you relax before bed.”
But in reality, when you start listening to your body, and I mean paying attention to these whispers. I mean catching the rocks, or the shouts at you before, they turn into punches in the face, or before they turn into boulders. So, that is my request for you today. It is to have a tap into what your body is trying to tell you. You probably already know which of these symptoms you fall into right now.
Are you constantly sick and can't get better? Are you full of cortisol and adrenaline? Are you feeling anxious? Are you emotional? Are you, you know? Have you got brain fog? Are you procrastinating? Is your jaw always clenched? Are you tight and someone touches your shoulders and you're like a rock? And not because of muscles? Where are you on this scale and what needs to shift in you right now to stop whatever you are doing?
As you're listening to this, even just shut your eyes and go. “Okay, buddy, what do you need from me right now?” Shut your brain off and let your body tell you. And if you're anything like the women I’ve talked to, I’m probably going to say, “Please just sit down and stop thinking.” So, if that's all you do today, then I wish you the very best. And, of course, don't forget that emotional mindset and mental support is essential.
Let's break these patterns once and for all. Let's stop women burning out. As a stat, recently on the back end of COVID, about 65% of women were feeling burnt out most of the time. Or always. That is nuts. We have to stop the madness. Listen to your body. Get the support you need, and may you have a wonderful, energetic, clear-brain day. Take care.
OUTRO: Thank you for joining us today on the Balance and Beyond Podcast. We're so glad you carved out this time for yourself. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend who might need to hear this today. And if you're feeling extra generous, leaving us a review on your podcast platform of choice would mean the world. If you’re keen to dive deeper into our world, visit us at www.balanceinstitute.com to discover more about the toolkit that has helped thousands of women avoid burnout and create a life of balance, and beyond. Thanks again for tuning in, and we'll see you next time on the Balance & Beyond Podcast.
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