What exactly burn out is and how our bodies and minds might end up getting to that point at all?
What is mindfulness? How does it work? How do we actually practice it?
Meditation- I know it's not for everyone, but I've included a short guided practice in this episode (I promise I won't do it every week!) to help you get a feel for what I'm talking about.
Our addiction to stimulation in this modern world that makes it so hard for us to slow down and unwind.
Dr Emily Amos 0:11
Welcome to the mind life me podcast, the place where we talk about how we can be happier, healthier humans, and deal with the day to day messiness of Life. I'm your host, Dr. Emily Amos. I am a GP, I'm a registered yoga and meditation teacher. And I burnt myself out a few years ago. And in the process of coming back from that point, I've learned quite a few lessons that I would love to share with you. And just basically think about how we can all try to be happier, healthier humans in this messy world.
And the goal of starting this podcast is actually just to give some ourselves some time and space to reflect on how messy it can be to be human. I spent 10 years helping people be human. In General Practice, a lot of what we do, is sitting behind that closed door with you and helping you to process a lot of the thoughts and feelings and emotions and things that happen to us in our day to day life as humans. And as a GP, our role is actually to normalise a lot of this. And the ironic thing for me was that I was doing that for my patients. And I do believe that it's something that I do quite well. But I wasn't able to do it for myself.
And so in the process of burning out, which happened to me about two and a half years ago now, I've sought to rebuild, I guess, in a different way. Because obviously, there were a lot of personality traits and ways that I approach problems in life that helped to contribute to me, burning out. And on reflection, there's a lot of things that I could change. And in the last few years, I've actually spent a lot of time in self reflection. I've done a lot of meditating, I've had a lot of professional support and support from my friends and family to take the time that's needed to reflect on these things. And there's a lot of lessons that I have learned, many of which would have been supremely helpful to have known before I burnt out. And that's sort of the goal of this podcast. It's the lessons that I've learned through this process. And that would have really helped me to have learned before I burnt out, and probably would have stopped me from burning out had I have done that. So welcome.
Now in this first episode, I guess it's really important to start at the very beginning. Sound of Music says it's a very good place to start. And if I look back, for me, that probably does include some of those trays that we all tend to carry from our childhood and through our adulthood. And my number one thing that I can reflect on is this idea of perfectionism. And perfectionism can sometimes be a healthy thing, I guess it drives us to be our best version of ourselves. But there's a difference between healthy perfectionism and the sort of perfectionism that is really driven on by comparison and self criticism and even self loathing sometimes. And for me, the perfectionism actually came about, in a way trying to control things but also trying to drown out my inner critic. So my, my inner critic voice is one of it is self criticism. You know, this idea of starting a podcast is one that I've had for a long time. And I didn't do it or hadn't done it. Because that critic in my head says, who's going to listen, what do you have to say? And that same critic has had a lot to say about my life thus far. And a lot of the striving that I've done in my life has not actually been because I wanted to achieve whatever it was I was striving for. But rather, it was done in an attempt to drown out the voice of that inner critic.
Dr Emily Amos 4:15
Which is an interesting thing to reflect on, I guess. Because it means that a lot of the things I've achieved in my life and I've always struggled to really accept praise or adulation for the things that I've that I've achieved in my life. A lot of them were really not me actively seeking out to achieve these things. But in a way they were achieved by running away from not wanting to have people judge me or think that I'm silly, or I was running away from something rather than running towards something. And that's something that I've really come to reflect on in the last few years. Because I think that's something that had really contributed to me burning out because the problem with running away from something in terms of how it drives your achievements is, it's actually really exhausting. If you're always running away from something, and it means that every achievement is never satisfying, because it doesn't actually stop there. If you're constantly running away from something, whether it is fear of being mediocre, or fear of failure, or fear of judgement, or whatever the whatever the thing we're that we're trying to, or the uncomfortable feeling we're trying to drown out by our perfectionism, whether it's hard being a high achiever, or keeping the house perfectly tidy, or making sure that kids are dressed neatly, or these behaviours that we engage in, that are really just trying to drown out another uncomfortable feeling that we don't like having.
And so, a lot of us, I guess, have these uncomfortable feelings, all of us really, it's a human thing to have these uncomfortable feelings. And without realising it, what most of us do is we try and drown them out. And we try and make another feeling louder, whether it's control, or perfectionism or achievement. Or sometimes we might reach for our phone or eat food to drown out certain feelings and thoughts. And in the in the last few years, this is something where my mindfulness practice has really come in handy to help to manage these things.
So looking back, I guess, if I think about burning out, basically, I had been a GP for about five years now a bit more. And I have been that I'm also a, Board Certified Lactation Consultant. And I worked, I was working independently seeing breastfeeding families, and taking on a lot of work, taking on a lot of responsibility, but also taking on a lot of emotion from the families I worked with. And I was just finding that I was becoming increasingly worn out exhausted, not able to switch off. And in terms of my workload, I was just feeling that I never escaped it, I could never get ahead of it. So I had these feelings of dissatisfaction with work. And, you know, being the sort of person I was, I thought to myself, Well, I'm just a bit stressed. I just need to take a holiday, and it'll be fine. And so I thought, Okay, I'll book in a holiday. I was booked up a few weeks in advance, so I couldn't do it straightaway, but I thought I'll do that. So basically, I'm hobbling along. Planning this holiday works getting increasingly stressful. I'm feeling increasingly overwhelmed. And then all of a sudden, I have what I guess now I know, was my first ever panic attack. And this one didn't feel like your typical panic attack. It was this sort of impending sense of doom, I guess. So I spent the next 48 hours or so just feeling like I was dying. I actually had a friend's birthday party that I'd already committed to go to. I went with my husband. And I remember standing there in this room full of people feeling like I was dying. And being surrounded by people I knew but feeling completely alone. Almost like I've been wrapped in shrink wrap, and was just being shrunk and squeezed and pressed on every angle.
Realising I really needed that time off work, I had booked it in for a few weeks. And I thought I just need to get through, I just need to get through the next few weeks at least. And then the next few days sort of came along.
Dr Emily Amos 8:42
Eventually, a few days later, I was about to leave for work. I was all dressed and ready to drop to drop the kids at before school care. And I had a actually what you would associate with a really physical panic attack. So heart began to race I couldn't breathe, I felt like my chest was being crushed. I had this awful pounding headache. And I just dropped to my knees just inside the front door of my house. And my kids who were quite young at the time, were just standing there crying because they were obviously scared by what was going on for me. And I was crying. And so all of a sudden, everything just came to a crashing halt. And so I rang my mum and she came around, my sister came around and took the kids my mum took me to my GP. Obviously I didn't go into work. And this started the process for me of the I guess, the outcome of burning out. And the funny thing is that even through this so obviously my body had just tried to give me all these warnings that I needed to slow down and I needed to change how I was living and working and finding balance. I ignored those warnings, probably because I wasn't self aware enough at the time to see those warnings. what they were. And then my body very helpfully sent me this debilitating panic attack that I physically couldn't even get out my front door from. So I'm very grateful for, for my body because it told me told me what it needed to do. But in those first few weeks after that happened, my brain was still probably my worst enemy still telling me Oh, yep, you just a bit stressed, take a bit of time off, you'll be fine. And the people around me could obviously see that wasn't the case that I was much. I was hurting a lot more than even I gave myself permission to be. And that is sort of the hallmark of the first few weeks and months, even of my recovery after burning out, was I kept torturing myself with this idea that why should I be allowed to burn out? How self indulgent of me to burn out? And, you know, there's lots of people who are stressed, and there's lots of people who are overwhelmed, and what right do I have to burn to burn out and say that I that I need to stop like this?
Which is a really counterproductive way to think and my brain was, like I said, my worst enemy. And it took a long time, it took many, many months, it took a lot of work, and my psychologist to actually become to a place of acceptance, where I actually allowed myself to say, you this is this is what it is. And I mean, my definition of burnout is when the demands on you outstrip your capabilities at that point in time. So it's a dynamic state, you know, it changes day to day. And if I look back at my life, back then, my life was complex, but not overly complex, you know, no worse than a lot of other people. But what was demanded of me in my life, was just, you know, it was it was multifaceted. There were home things, there were work things, there was a study things, there were all sorts of things. And I just never gave myself permission to be struggling. And I was so used to having been able to push through things. So that was my default, I just kept pushing. And what I could have done had I have had the self awareness at the time was say, actually, I'm getting a lot of warning signs here that I need to pull the throttle back on some area of my life, because I'm going full throttle on all of them. And it's not sustainable for my body and my mind, clearly. And that was a hard lesson. And I think that's a lesson that a lot of us probably struggle with knowing when to pull back and knowing where to pull back.
And a thing that I said to myself really commonly is this idea of I can't any suggestion anyone might have about how about this? How about you take the kids out of private school and put them into a community kinder, which is what I ended up doing, because when I pulled back on work, obviously, your income changes significantly.
Dr Emily Amos 13:10
I said, I can't, I can't, there's no way. And it's fixed thinking that there is no other option that really keeps you going down a certain path. And I was so guilty of that. And in the years since that's been something that I've been really, mindfully trying to address, because that's something that gets you in a lot of trouble, that fixed thinking. And I think in hindsight, what I could have done was probably been working with a psychologist from a much earlier stage to work on some of these fixed beliefs and ways of approaching problems. And that's something that psychologists and counsellors are very, very good at. Sometimes we just need someone who is outside of our head, helping us to work through the thoughts that are inside of our head. So when it comes down to where I am now, starting a podcast, I teach mindfulness in a lot of different ways. I teach it on retreats, I teach it to medical students at university, and I teach it in my own trainings and run online classes. I've also written some online courses, there's mindfulness has really become a huge part of my life. So given this is our first podcast now is probably a really good time to talk about exactly what mindfulness is. Now, I learned about mindfulness 15 or more years ago at university from Professor Craig Hassed. And all medical students at Monash are taught mindfulness in their first year and I teach that now I'm part of the teaching team with Professor Hassed. And I find that it's a it's a really helpful skill, and I found it to be a helpful skill before I burnt out for just allowing your mind to only deal with one thing at a time. rather than the one thing that's happening to you, and all the other times, a similar thing has happened to you in the past, or all the worries about the future that you might have as well. The problem with how I practice mindfulness before I burnt out, though, was that, you know, I learned about mindfulness, I'd read about it in books, I'd done all the academic side of it. But I never really, truly learned how to make it my own. And so I had a brain that I really struggled to switch off. And it was a brain that was full of thoughts and worries and things that I wished I did differently. Lots of regrets lots of ruminating thoughts. And I could never really switch it off.
So I used to wake up at sort of three or four, three or 4am in the morning, and reach for my phone, just simply to try and drown out the worries about patients or things that had woken me up in the middle of the night. And what mindfulness does, is it gives your brain the ability to stop all that extra noise that we tend to put on an event that happens to us. So if we think about waking up in the middle of the night, which a lot of us do. And often it's when we are worrying about something. If I wake up at three or 4am in the morning, I've woken up at three or 4am in the morning, that's what's happened. But what my brain tells me is, I've woken up, I always wake up this early on, never be able to get back to sleep, and adds all these extra worries. And the worries are often not actually happening to me right now. I mean, it's we all know, it's not really the end of the world to wake up in the middle of the night, on its own. But when we add all the extra stuff to it, so every time that we've woken up, before we add all those worries, the fact that we feel like we'll never get back to sleep again. So we're projecting into the future, we had all those worries as well. And a lot of these things that we actually add to the simple act of waking up. They're either past or future, they may not even happen, they often will, in fact, just about always outside of our control. And this makes the actual falling asleep, again, really tough. So by learning how to practice mindfulness, what we're doing is we're just removing some of that chatter, the mind chatter in the background noise of all the memories of times where negative things have happened to us in the past. And we remember how bad that was all the warriors into the future, where we're projecting, and worrying about things that may never happen. It's that stuff that causes most of the angst for most of us. And if we can keep coming back into this present moment, it's usually a lot easier to deal with whatever it is, that's happening to us, because we're just dealing with what's happening to us, not all that extra stuff.
Dr Emily Amos 17:48
And so, learning to practice, mindfulness is just like any other skill, I mean, you wouldn't wake up tomorrow morning and just tell yourself, you're going to run a marathon, it just doesn't happen. And mindfulness is no different. It's a skill, it's a muscle that we need to work out. And we need to dedicate some time to mastering this skill. And staying on top of it's not a set and forget kind of thing.
Our brains have this natural negativity bias, where we're much more likely to remember bad things that have happened to us in the past, and use that information to project into the future. Because remembering these things historically would have kept us safe. You know, Fred, over there ate some poisonous berries, we would remember that those berries made him very sick, and we'd stay away from them, we're less likely to remember so vividly the things that aren't so negatively affecting our day to day lives. And so our brain is actually naturally wired to have a negativity bias to project into the future. And in a lot of ways, even though mindfulness is say the default state for a baby. So in theory, it's the default state of humans. It's not it's being mindful is actually a state that we need to work on every day.
And so mindfulness is just about being able to bring your awareness back into the present moment. Again, and again, doesn't matter how many times and we can do it non judgmentally. We noticed the minds wandered, we noticed we're getting ahead of ourselves, that's okay, we just come back. And we do it using certain anchors, things like the breath or bodily sensations, you might have done a body scan in the past, or sounds that we can hear. We use these anchors because we can't actually breathe in any other moment. Other than right now, we can't actually hear things that are happening in any other moment, other than right now. So we use that sensory awareness or the awareness of the breath or body to remind our mind, okay, what I'm dealing with right now, is this. Not all that other things my mind's worrying about?
So often we talk about the sabre tooth tiger. You know, we, if there was a sabre toothed tiger in the room with us yet we need that fight or flight response, we need to respond to it. But a lot of the things that cause our fight or flight response in the modern life are not Sabre toothed Tigers that are in the room about to eat us, they're worries about work, they're wishing we didn't do something or we did something differently. You know, we're ruminating about events that have already happened most of the things that cause us stress in this modern world, and not actually in the moment.
Obviously, there's still some stresses in the moment. But we can deal with those. We've got an amazing stress system that has evolved to deal with stressors and then turn off almost like a volume dial. Like where we're designed to have a stress have something that insults us that we need to dial up our stress response, we release all those stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. And then we dial it down once that stress has gone away. But if we're constantly worrying about things projecting into the future, or we're worrying about things that have already happened, we don't actually ever dial the dial back down. And so we're swimming in these stress hormones. And I guess the buzz word, and a buzz, the hear a lot about things like adrenal fatigue these days, when really our adrenal glands are what create our stress hormones, the in a lot of ways, they they sort of, they don't drive our stress response, but they certainly respond to the signals that drive our stress response from our brain. And if our brain is constantly pumping out signal saying right, respond to stress, respond to stress, respond to stress, then our adrenal glands will constantly be doing that. That's their job, and they do it very well. And so you can see that a lot of the the therapies and the treatments, and the all these things that are being sold to people, as cures for something like adrenal fatigue, really, a bandaid, there's no supplement, to turn off your stress response. You may be able to optimise other parts of your life and your health, but really learning how to deal with the stress response, turn it on and turn it off. And actually learning how to live in this busy, overwhelming, noisy, modern world. And find some calm and find some stillness and some rest. So that you can turn that stress response down. I mean, that is the goal in life. And that's exactly what I teach. And that's exactly what in some ways, we're going to do through this podcast, we're going to talk about how you can take care of yourself how you can nurture yourself, and give yourself the capacity to turn your stress system, on and off, dial it up, dial it down, you know, probably never turned off. Okay, this is the wrong word to use. Think of it more like a dial, it's a dial that you just you have the ability to turn up and down, you can't change what's happened to you. What goes on around you will always happen. What you can change is that response that your body innately has to the stresses that occur to you. And mindfulness and meditation are certainly amazing tools to do that.
Dr Emily Amos 23:21
And I love teaching. So I'll be bringing that into the podcast. But I'll also just be reflecting on how it is actually hard to do these things. You know, this isn't easy. I struggled with it. That's why I burnt myself out and have spent years recovering from that. And like I said earlier, the lessons that I have learned in the process of recovering from that would have been really helpful to learn before I burnt myself out. But alas, here we are on the other side. And I'm really happy to start this journey and to be doing this journey with you as well. Because chances are by listening, this far in, you're probably dealing with some of this stuff as well. So what I want you to do now, because this is our first episode, I am going to introduce you very briefly to the practice of meditation. I promise I won't do this every time. But I just want you to get a feel for all this stuff that I'm actually talking about.
So if you can find a comfortable position where you are, obviously if you're driving, don't close your eyes. But perhaps come back to this podcast when you've got some time and space later on today or another day where you can just sit somewhere quietly, somewhere comfortable, and just start to recognise what it feels like to come to rest. Because for most of us coming to rest in our bodies is actually quite uncomfortable. And when we first come to meditation, the most common thing that I ever hear anyone say is I can't meditate. It doesn't work for me or or I have a sore back or my brain is too busy or I can't switch off or all these things that everyone says. And remember how he spoke a little bit earlier about the I can't? Well, I think the same rings true for meditation. So the I can't just have a think if you are coming to this with a couple of "I cants" in your, in your mind, why is that? Why, why is your brain in that fixed state of I can't I can't do this. So we want to come to a comfortable sort of position sitting on a chair or couch. When we meditate, we sit upright. The reason for this meditation is not actually about falling asleep and being relaxed, it's actually about being aware. And it's gives us a little trigger to try and maintain that awareness. If we're sitting upright. I also teach yoga nidra, which is a meditation that he's done lying down and relaxing. It's completely different meditation beautiful, but the goal is a bit different there. So for a mindfulness meditation, we're sitting up feet, about hips, with the park with their feet on the floor, and just resting your hands in your lap, however, they feel comfortable. So if they feel comfortable, just rest in class together or resting on your knees. You don't have to do anything in particular, just flop them in your lap and let them sit where they fall. And then when you found a comfortable position, sort of sitting forward on the backrest trying to sit up as upright as possible, just allowing your eyes to close slowly.
And just starting off by taking three long, slow, deep breaths. Just allowing your mind to catch up with your body where it is now. And then just letting your breath fall back into its natural depth and rhythm. Just simply allowing it to breathe itself. I often find that my body arrives places before my mind does, my body might be physically sitting here meditating, and my mind's a million miles away.
Dr Emily Amos 27:05
So just using this gentle trigger of the breath, to let our mind catch up with our body now.
Dr Emily Amos 27:14
As we notice the breath, just noticing that gentle rise and fall in and out needing to control it in any way, or change it. Don't need to force it or prolong it. Just simply noticing it, how it is for you right now.
Dr Emily Amos 27:41
And perhaps you notice that at the top and the bottom of the breath, there's a brief pause, almost like you've thrown a tennis ball into the air and it's going up. And then before it comes down, it's almost like it's suspended in midair for a moment. And the breath has the same sort of character we breathe in. And there's a gentle pause before we start to breathe out again.
Dr Emily Amos 28:12
And another pause just noticing little pauses at the top and the bottom. The breath and each pause coming. without us needing to control it. Didn't need to find time. It just happens. Every breath and perhaps our mind begins to wander at some point, it's okay. It's always a next breath we can come back to
Dr Emily Amos 29:01
each time our mind wanders off with worries about the future or the past things we need to do.
Dr Emily Amos 29:10
And just simply come back to the next breath in and out the gentle pause doesn't matter how many times our mind wanders off. We can always come back. There's always a next breath and it's never too late to begin again. There's nothing to be gained from my meditations. There's nothing we need to do. I just simply noticing the breath As it is, and noticing if our mind wanders. And then gently coming back to the breath, again and again. And as we come to the end of this short meditation today, just bringing some movement back into our fingers and toes, noticing how our body feels in this moment
Dr Emily Amos 30:38
whenever you feel ready, allowing your eyes to open slowly. So that's a nice brief meditation, just to introduce you to the ideas that I'm going to be talking about sometimes in this podcast. The whole podcast isn't about meditation, so don't worry, but if it wasn't for you, this is just so you get a bit of a rough idea of what I what I do. And what I've found to be really, really helpful, as I've recovered from my own burnout and tried to learn how to be a happier, healthier human. But what you may have noticed, as you were perhaps meditating, is that if you don't usually do it, you've never done it before. Or even if you have any feeling a bit tight or a bit tense or anxious, that actually sitting still can be really uncomfortable. And you can begin to feel sort of a twitchy, anxious nervous tension, whether it's actually physically in your body or if it's actually more in your mind. And I talk about this a lot as an addiction to stimulation. So our brains are so used to being active and busy and always switched on. That that is in a way they're addicted to it. Even though we know that like with other addictions, we can still pursue these things, even though they're bad for us. But the addiction to stimulation is no different from any other addiction. We're just so used to being switched on. And that stress system, those stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol and other ones just being constantly coursing through our veins and our bodies sort of running on them. And when we come to stillness when we do things like meditating, or if we go on holiday, or if we lie down at night and try to sleep, even, sometimes we just find that our body is actually still running on those hormones, and adrenaline is coursing through our veins and making it very difficult for us to slow down and be still. And we feel quite uncomfortable when we try and do that. So meditation, I find to be a skill, obviously, that you need to build up. But finding a teacher who or meditation teacher in particular, who's teaching resonates with you, and who actually sort of helps hold your hand and helps to remind you that hard things are hard.
And like I've said before, that you wouldn't expect yourself to run a marathon. If you just decided to do it tomorrow. And meditation is no different. You wouldn't actually expect yourself Well, you shouldn't expect yourself rightly to be perfect at it or to be able to do it really well. Just because you've done it all of a sudden, it is something that takes time and finding someone to walk with you through that process can be really, really helpful. So in some upcoming episodes, we're going to talk a lot about the thing, the other things that I found helpful, obviously meditation is one of them. But just other ways that we can take care of ourselves. And we can be kind to ourselves as we navigate life that is messy and busy and often overwhelming. And I'm hoping that as we do this each week, that you'll learn these lessons too, as I'm learning them, you know, this is a work in progress. For me, I think the biggest lesson I've taken from burning out is that word before I thought perhaps very naively that I was a fully fledged human. I was not at all that and there are so many things that I am still learning and that I need a lot of help mastering and I need to work on to keep mastering them. So let's do it together and try and master these weird and wonderful things. As we learn from some very clever people. I'm going to talk to some very clever people about how we can take care of ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and basically just try and navigate life.
If you want to know any more about practising mindfulness and meditation, I have a masterclass available on my website, which also includes an introduction to breath work, and the links in the show notes. I also am pretty active on social media and we'd love to have you follow along and I've included the links for that. Also in the show notes. I'd love for you to subscribe to be updated of new podcasts, and also join my mailing list by my website All right so I can keep you updated of all the new things coming out for me
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