The Eight Basic Salves for Burn-Out.

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I spent this evening with a childhood friend…

…in town visiting from NYC, just talking and being tired and she was okay with that—she, for whatever reason, didn’t need me to be charming, didn’t need me to convince her to do this or that or text funny things…she was just happy to dress beautifully and join me at a political party and go out with me to the theater which turned into dinner at Oak, then gelato/sorbet then, just talking and safely chaste cuddling, at home.

(She has a better half, so we’re just like brother and sister, and I wouldn’t want to cross a line that would violate the comfort of our relationship, her relationship, her integrity, or mine).

But our evening together confirmed what I’ve suspected. A month ago, I burned out. Most people have told me I need a vacation.

But I don’t need a vacation: work piles up too fast if you take a vacation. Returning from travel is what burned me out in first place.

It’s like this:

What I need is cuddling.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons.

So here’s a little list of things I need that I’m not getting. I’m making this list for myself, so that I begin to attend to my poor, blown-out mind and tired body…but I know many of us are stressed, wiped out, burnt out, deflated. So hopefully this personal rumination will serve as a personal reminder to a few of you.

Eight basic cures for stress:

“And the antidote to burnout is, symbolically, a return from adventures, from trials and tribulations, to the womb, to an inner sanctum where we can relax completely and finally, once again, experience vulnerable, wide-open love. Then and only then may a deeply feeling sigh of relief come, like rain on a parched field.”

1. Water. I think that’s probably why I rely on weekly baths, so—hot water hugs me on every side, soaking out my stress. That’s why I love hot tubs, not that I’ve had the dough to work mine for…five years. And that’s why I love hot springs, though I haven’t been to one in…10 years? Well, that’s why I love swimming pools, and I hope to make it at least a few times, this summer. That’s why I love reading a non-digital…you know, a book…by the river. I’ve done that three times in the past five years. (Clearly, this here entrepreneur needs to make more of an effort, now, to take care of myself) In any case, that’s why I love water of any kind.

2. Intimacy. Another cure, if you’re lucky enough to have someone to love you, is intimacy. Cuddling. Equivalencies if you’re alone: getting a massage, or sleeping in the fetal position, or even perhaps going for a hike to a beautiful spot with a beautiful view, and spending some alone time.

3. Exercise I enjoy. This is vital for maintenance, but not enough for me for recovery, now that I’ve really blown out my mind and body for the first time in 10 years of building my life and business. For me, this category includes my commute: switch driving for your bicycle or walking, and it’ll make a world of difference.

4. Real Food. Real food as defined by Michael Pollan, as nothing you’ve ever seen an ad for. The less packaged, the better. Less than five ingredients. Food that your great-grandmother would recognize as food.

5. Meditation, in the morning after waking and in the evening before sleep. Even a few minutes each is vital.

6. Community. Depressed, stressed, overly introverted, blown out from extending outward too much, shy, angry, confused…whatever I’m feeling is fast fixed by community. I bike downtown, wait in line to get a coffee, and before I know it my grunts of hello have turned into inarticulate mutterings of honesty. Soon, my gruff “Well I’ve been having a hard time” has turned into talking about the problem…of re-taking a view from the top of the hill, seeing the problems and questions clearly, and being “more-over” it.

7. Animals & Nature. Working with the earth—gardening. Hiking with your dog—nature, no wifi, no cell phone, just you and your (rescue?) dog. Unplug, literally. Leave your phone behind. Get some fresh air.

8. Sex. Orgasm is, in Buddhism, said to be one of the three moments in which it’s easiest to attain enlightenment. And it’s by far the funnest of the three (the other two are sneezing, and the moment of death—but, really, any sharply defined moment of sudden transition will do. Perhaps that’s why some people love horror movies. Boo!).

*Again, vis a vis sex: many of us are single, alone, lonely—let’s remember that making friends with being alone is a wonderful power—liking oneself means we’re always with your best friend, wherever we go.

What’d I miss?



Bonus: Stress! Salves:


Meditation for Busy People!

get thee to a garden like this one:

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view.


30 Responses to “The Eight Basic Salves for Burn-Out.”

  1. Andréa Balt says:

    You missed Europe. Lots of cuddling.

  2. climblaughlive says:

    Laughter! and making a fire in my fireplace and soaking up the warmth or laying out under the night sky here in Colorado and soaking up the stars…

  3. Hi, Waylon. My condolences. Burnout is a tough thing to go through anytime. I have more experience with this than I'd like to, having run companies for 25 years, both for myself and for my key employees, whom I often had to help with their burnout issues.

    I think you've missed the most important thing of all–reorganizing your work life and developing new executive habits so you don't get burnt out in the first place. To me this is actually more important than figuring out more ways to escape and renew, although I like all those, too. Let's call it personal sustainability. It's a lot like ecology, actually.


    • elephantjournal says:

      I agree 100%. I need to better be able to manage my stress–which I've done very well for 9.5 years—instead of trying to escape, or vacation, which would just leave more work undone when I return home. So enjoying every day and learning to say no and developing healthy routines of exercise and reprioritizing my social life—you know, not working—are things I've been attending to, a bit.

      I definitely pushed myself too much over the last year, and for the most part enjoyed it—but I'll never work those kind of unending hours again.

      • I'm actually talking about the way you do your work, not balancing it–getting more results with less effort.

        And I would argue that if you rearrange your work life and develop your leadership team well, you should have no trouble at all taking a relaxing vacation without worrying about the work piling up.

        In my experience, one eventually has to examine the nature of one's daily work itself to make progress.


      • Katie says:

        Try reading the 4 hour work week. It can help you free up some time for the things you love!

  4. Melinda says:

    Great, honest post. We are on a similar wavelength — I had just started (and sputtered out on) a new post that was all about missing (and craving) loving touch that segued into a ramble about exhaustion. You've come up with some great strategies to combat burnout. I hope you follow through and get rejuvenated. Best to you (and a virtual hug).

  5. ~Jenny says:

    Tip for avoiding burn-out in the future: Be Selfish in Guarding Your Energy. For introverts, being out in the world can be very taxing and draining, and we need solitude and peace and quiet to recover. Make time for restorative solitude every day and every week. This can be something as simple as a nap, skipping a party, or tuning out the world for ten minutes by listening to calming music on your ipod as you walk or drive to an appointment.

    Take care of yourself first, sweetie!

    • elephantjournal says:

      I agree with all those recommendations…I'm both an extrovert–social, outward-facing, inspiring by big ideas and causes…and a huge introvert who needs to recharge, be alone, relax completely in order to go back out there.

      That said, I think guarding your energy can quickly become an uptight, stressful attitude…I know you don't mean it that way, but I've always been inspired by the Buddhist notion of "ever-expanding energy naturally arises when we do what we love."

      So, a balance of those two notions, perhaps?

  6. Lisa Avebury says:

    This may sound counter intuitive when you are feeling burnt and crispy, but I know that, for me, if I go out and do some "SEVA"-kinda get out of my own way, outta my own head and focused on the needs of something that is bigger then my own little kingdom-it is renewing and refreshing. I myself have been feeling a bit charred (maybe it is the time of year or some weird phase of the moon). Normally I spend one afternoon a week helping load shelter dogs on a van to be transported to no kill rescues out of state. I missed the last 2 weeks and finally got back to it today. All I can say is it resets my dial, suddenly I can see the world with new eyes. I have always thought about the volunteer "work" I do (I am committed to two different orgs and do a few shifts per month for both) and how it feels like I am getting away with something. This is because the act of doing something just to be there, of service, is nourishing in ways I never expect. Even on the days I think I could be "getting things done" but have to go to my volunteer gig as I am committed, I am always amazed how I feel after some time in the fellowship that only can come out of doing something "selfless". And BTW, make sure you put some Epsom salts in that bath it helps with the detox! Peace 🙂

  7. […] worse is when we are in need of being held or loved and we get candy instead, simply reinforcing the belief that food and love are not only connected […]

  8. […] semi-conscious mornings, paychecks that always seemed like they were missing zeros, and eating, sleeping, and breathing skinny plastic legged mannequins. Daily. All the while surrounded by customers […]

  9. […] I’m at. And I told you that, houseguest friend, even before you arrived. I’ve been burnt out. For a long […]

  10. veronica says:

    Great piece- I noticed this was posted back in June, but this popped up at just the right time for me. I can totally relate with working to excess, then taking vacations as a result and becoming more burnt out when arriving back home.. it's the story of my life. The points raised in order to bring oneself back to basics and recharge are very simple, but yet necessary.. a good reminder to do these things that are so natural, but that I have seem to have eliminated from my habits.
    But it is all about balance, and not only that, but conserving energy and learning how to integrate these parts into daily life..

  11. @yogadeals says:

    Playing with kids – they help you to be in the moment and see things new again.

  12. […] And I practice being present twice daily. So can you. […]

  13. joce says:

    Sleep, hugs from my fiance, family, gardening, sunshine and my nephews’ father’s feijoada (brazilian peasant food ) helped me get through my burnout.

  14. […] For all of the sex and violence we watch, we have far too little passionate interaction. We have forgotten that we are more connected than we are separate. We give bland handshakes instead of hugs (well…not me…I hug everybody…I’m weird that way). We have forgotten how to be emotionally naked with each other. We forgotten the need for non-sexual touch in our lives and instead “respect each other’s space.” We text, email and IM instead of talking face to face. We try to fill and fix our stresses with so many different things, when often we would be better of just being still with the present moment, and being held by someone. […]

  15. […] Get support before you think you need it. If you wait until you are completely overwhelmed, you won’t have the capacity to instruct, guide and evaluate the help you need. Questions will feel like interruptions, and feedback will feel like criticism. What’s more, you may find yourself hiring in haste and regretting at leisure. […]

  16. Rogelio Nunez says:

    Well don’t forget the power of yoga asana n pranayama. It can

    Consist of active n inactive restorative poses. Inversions r magical

    Try a handstand by wall. Bipartisan karani 10 minutes. After teaching

    2-3 classes n driving everywhere this pose brings me back to life.

    Just a few mins per day consistently.

  17. Annie says:

    Ooh, that's a good list. I understand completely the need to be near water. For me, that's the sea. I'll settle for a nice river, lake, swimming pool… even a good garden pond. But you can't beat being by the sea.

    I totally agree with what someone said earlier about laughter. A good laugh can really change your mindset.

    I also like what someone said about volunteering too, but personally I couldn't do that if I felt too burnt out. I know helping others is amazing and powerful medicine but it can also demand a lot and when I've reached burn out for a while I've just had nothing more to give.

  18. anaguardia says:

    Yes, yes. I love this. And it's not easy, I even like that you also fail. I was reading No. 1 like: I need a bath tub, no wait, he also doesn't have one, maybe a river the pool? oh, yes, then I'm too lazy but when I do, I love it.

    I guess touch is a big thing here, so lets all also touch ourselves. Burnout warriors unite 🙂

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