Fatigue, exhaustion, burnout and overwhelm

In fairly recent times there has been a definite increase in people experiencing being burnt out and overwhelmed. This may manifest itself as a chronic ‘diagnosis’ such as Fybromyalgia, ME or post viral fatigue, or it may be a feeling of exhaustion and generally not being able to go on in the same way you maybe have before. This experience in the bodymind was increasingly the case for many people before and now as we begin to enter the era of ‘post covid’ it is becoming ever more prevalent. What is going on?

We can explore this in Ayurvedic terms. In the world, as it is today, we are often expected to be very ‘Pitta’ in our lifestyle. That is we are expected to work hard, strive, achieve, perform. It is seen as a positive thing to consume, not only particular foods but to consume goods, financial commitments, vehicles, alluding to the seemingly endless need for working and striving in order to earn enough money to be able to afford the things that we desire. We are in a never ending cyclical web of consuming and striving , and to find a way out of this is not easy or painless. All of these qualities are very ‘Rajasic’ or ‘Pitta’ in nature, that is very fiery. This requires us to be somewhat obsessive and driven in order be able to continue. The analogy of the fire element in this is an interesting one in that eventually, in many cases, this way of life leads to ‘burnout.’ Beacause this is usually associated with this excess fire or Pitta there may be pain and inflammation in the joints, digestive tract and liver. Covid is to some extent an inflammatory condition, again fire related, it is thought that there are now cases of ‘long covid’ with a similar experience for the individual of post viral fatigue.

Everything in life is cyclical. Nature and the elements will always rebalance themselves. We are part of nature and so we also are cyclical. Because the body is made up of these elements the body will therefore seek eventually, sooner or later, to rebalance itself. If we continue to push and strive, to disrespect and disregard the need for honouring the seasons, for example grounding ourselves during the autumn, resting more in the winter, then there will be consequences. We cannot be forever in the fiery summer.

If we overdo things, overexert and overwork, we not only create stress, anxiety and tension in the bodymind, we may also develop unhelpful alternative ways for managing this such as caffeine, sugar, processed foods, alcohol. We may end up not sleeping properly due to more chaotic routines dictated by our work life balance. If we don’t eat, sleep and respect the bodily rhythms we don’t have time to heal, we loose our balance and this in turn leads to imbalance and disease. The anxiety and stress created internally by the expectations that society places upon us externally only serves to add to this imbalance. as the body reacts to this ongoing stress with a ‘fight or flight’ response. All of our body systems are affected, from circulation to respiration to digestion. This dislodges our naturally balanced state of homeostasis, where the body functions at its optimum. What happens in the body inevitably impacts upon the mind and vice versa. And yet we continue to push and to strive, to ignore the indigestion, the sleeplessness. We don’t ever stop for for long enough to notice how restless we actually are, and how much we need to rest and digest, not only physically but emotionally, everything that is happening to us, both individually and collectively as a human race.

The result of all of this excess fire element or Pitta (on an individual basis) is burnout. Prior to this our Vata (air and ether) may well have also been raised, creating feelings of anxiety and ungroundedness, symptoms such as IBS, headaches, restlessness, overthinking and insomnia. The vata continues to be heightened and then the burnout comes. We are exhausted, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. There is nothing left. Physically and for some psychologically Kapha takes over. Kapha is the water and earth element, it is heavy, unctuous, sticky and very very grounding. In excess it can feel like we are literally stuck in thick mud unable to move or motivate ourselves. It can also manifest as a lack of motivation for anything, apathy and eventually a deep emotional depression. This complete overwhelm state is combined with the continuing anxiety of Vata, largely because we are no longer able to do what may be ‘expected’ of us. And so we find ourselves in a state of physical exhaustion and complete fatigue with psychological anxiety and fear. We can see this state in many people around us today as a result of the information that the population have received throughout the pandemic. Whatever your views on what has happened in 2020 – 2022 there is no doubt that the vast majority of the population have been for a long time now in this state of constant fear, so now we see an increase in these fatigue symptoms as the unsurprising result.

How do we begin to pull ourselves out of this state? It is not easy to self motivate, it can feel impossible to extract yourself from the cycle which may have brought this about, work, money, responsibilities to family and so on. The place to begin is by being aware of the cyclical nature of ourselves in relation to the natural world. Everything in nature is cyclical and so are we. We have forgotten that we are meant to have times of rest, to live by the seasons, to eat food that is from the land around us and to go more slowly and take time to notice. We can begin with the daily routine of Ayurveda, Dinacharya.

The way in which we try to live is like a continual summer. We are not designed for this. We need to honour all of the seasons. After summer comes Autumn. Moving into being more grounded and restful, letting go. Let us embrace the darkness of winter. We seem to want to avoid being restful and yet without the darkness of winter we would not enjoy the contrast of the warm summer. Winter is a time to self care, to be quiet and reflective. As spring inevitably arrives once more we can begin to unfurl, to stretch and awaken slowly, as nature guides us towards summer. All of these processes are gradual, we do not need to leap from one season immediately with impatience, into the next. Let us meander and enjoy the journey. Oftentimes we are so busy thinking about what happens next, striving and pushing, that we miss the most precious moment of all, which is right now. Begin today, whatever your journey, stop for a while and enjoy the view. Listen, to your body and your mind. What do you need from yourself, how can you begin to be more aware, more balanced, more in tune?

To discuss this and to find out how Ayurveda can help to support you, more please contact me. I would love to hear from you!