As a practitioner of Ancestral and Functional Medicine I have learned from many of my teachers and taught many of my clients all the standard tools of self care that technically should prevent “burn out” (aka Adrenal Fatigue, HPA Axis Dysfunction, or, if you’ve ever experienced it, “feeling like you got hit by a bus”).
The self care tools list to prevent “burn out” includes tried and true rules of health, such as… Eat organic and non-GMO, eat tons of vegetables, enough protein and good fat, but don’t eat too much food, Get plenty of sleep, Reduce toxic exposures (including EMFs), Spend time outside and with loved ones, Exercise daily, sweat, Do yoga, breath, meditate, See a therapist, Do spiritual work, take supplements if needed, Drink plenty of water, but only the cleanest water, filter the water, filter the air, Detox your body, detox your house…
With all that work to care for just yourself (and did I mention loved ones?), it is easy to become a human-doing, instead of a human-being.
Don’t get me wrong. For close to 30 years, I have been dedicated to these tools as my way of life. And who knows, living this way might prevent the “inflamm-aging” chronic diseases, such as cancer, from rearing an ugly head in my body. That would be nice….
However, this tried and true advice did not prevented “burn out.” That’s right, I will admit it…I hit a wall…and it sucked.
As I juggled solo-entrepreneurship of my busy clinical practice, motherhood, post-grad education, and remained diligent in all my self care rituals, I still bit the dust last winter.
I reached out to colleagues and they gave their, admittedly great, advice. Learn to say “no,” limit your schedule, increase your service fees, take a vacation, hire help, automate.
Looking for the Root Cause
And then it dawned on me, in the medicine I practice, we are always looking for the “root cause,” which is simply the bigger picture. These helpful suggestions were still focusing on the details and treating the branches. Of course the branches should always be cared for, but what is the “root” of burn out?
In order to effectively treat any condition, including “burn out,” the root cause must be unveiled and addressed.
I started to investigate. I listened to great speakers, read awesome books, and then literally stumbled upon Jonathan Field’s work and had a revelation. In his book, How to Live a Good Life, he describes 3 buckets that sustain your happiness. They can easily become drained, and each bucket influences the others.
The buckets are
- Your Vitality Bucket
- Your Connection Bucket
- Your Contribution Bucket
Much of the detailed advice in the book for how to be happy and healthy is similar to the standard self care tools listed above. The difference? How all those tiny (and sometimes not so tiny) details are brilliantly organized into 3 groups, aka buckets. This makes it easier to organize in my head (which tends to be swimming with advice and protocols). This means I can quickly visualize which bucket has a leak and is in need of love in the moment to come back into balance before I burn out.
If you are like me, a nerd with an appreciation for the bigger picture, Jonathan’s book, How to Live a Good Life, may be a good guide.
One example of a small, powerful action to prevent burn out—take a daily 60 second snapshot of your 3 buckets
- For your Vitality Bucket: How satisfied are you with your health, both physical and mental?
- For you Connection Bucket: How satisfied are you with your relationships and community?
- For you Contribution Bucket: How satisfied are you with your path, purpose, and contribution to the world?
Then he explains how each of these buckets connect, and how they each can leak, can drain the other buckets, and how they never lie. He takes you through a journey of asking some hard questions and then provides tools to formulate a plan to refill your buckets.
This may be just another well written self-help book, but it sparked a light in me and I have since made some huge and “risky” changes in my life in order to stabilize my well-being. I realized that my buckets were uneven.
Only you can assess your bucket levels. For me, I needed more community. Flying solo is exhausting, no matter how strong our wings are, or how clearly we see our destination.
In terms of preventing disease, I still love to share the Chinese proverb:
I’ve since fallen in love with and added, in terms of preventing burn out, the African proverb:
May you find balance in your own vitality, community, and dharma (life purpose).
Here is to your Health!