INTERVIEW - SABRINA'S STORY
We regularly interview people who have experienced loss or burnout. Everyone experiences and responds to hardships in different ways, there is no right way or wrong way to grieve or handle stress. We share these stories in hopes that their experiences will support you in your journey – which ever side you are on – working through the process or supporting a loved one. If you are interested in sharing your story, please reach out via our home page.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I’m a 29-year-old natural red head living in Utrecht, a city in The Netherlands. Since July 2017, I’ve been at home as a result of a burnout. On my Instagram account, @slowvibestribe, I share my holistic road to burnout recovery in the hopes of spreading a more laidback lifestyle and positive vibes to everyone suffering with similar health issues. I’m about to head to Portugal for four months to surf and live a more laidback lifestyle at the beach.
Have you experienced a time in your life when you felt burnt out? What do you think led to your feelings of being burnt out?
I didn’t listen to my own body, especially my gut feeling. For too long I ignored the different signs and feelings my gut was telling me. I always thought that I was in balance and was good at listening to my inner self. I was wrong about that.
Since graduating in 2012, I kept an eye out for that special job that would fulfill me and spark joy every time I walked into the office. Unfortunately, the opposite was true; I always felt very out of place. After a couple of months, sometimes even weeks, I usually started planning my escape route from jobs. From desk jobs to working in a coffee bar, nothing was ever good enough. I felt entitled to feel that way because I had earned my master’s degree and felt life had bigger and better plans for me. Don’t get me wrong; when I start something, I want to succeed. I want to achieve and contribute something to this world, but that was also missing in most of the jobs I had. My own expectations caught up with me, resulting in six different jobs in less than five years.
Around August 2016 while at job number five, I was again searching for my next move. I felt connected to that job, but I also wanted to be at ease with what I had. Of course, my body was trying to sound an alarm, but I didn’t listen.
My body was going into a state I like to call “shit just hit the fan, let’s run.” The irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that had bothered me for the past five years made a radical decision to shake things up. As a result, I was very sick for the next five months. No doctor could find out what was wrong with me. I thought that I could cure myself by changing my diet and job. So, I did, but the plant-based diet and extra supplements were not doing the trick. And of course, the new job that I had found turned out the be a total catastrophe.
Tell us a bit about your burnout story.
My body became sicker and sicker; I could not hold in any food and my energy level dropped. I tried multiple diets, but they didn’t help. Even a vacation to the laidback island of Aruba in May 2017 didn’t make me feel any better.
It was there—on a lovely sandy white beach in Aruba—that I knew something was definitely up. I couldn’t relax and enjoy the sun or the beach. I just wanted to curl up in a corner and disappear. But even in that moment, I kept ignoring whatever the universe was telling me. It was the worst vacation I’ve ever had.
My body and mind gave up; they were fed up with me always trying to make it work. It clearly wasn’t working. I became exhausted trying to live up to my own expectations and always being my own worst enemy. My body was tired from the physical symptoms and my energy level had been low for eight months. Whether I was walking, eating, or sleeping, nothing went smoothly. I was so tired. I didn’t feel like the spontaneous and witty person I usually am. When I returned from vacation, my doctor sent me to a psychologist. After two sessions and tests, the diagnosis of “burnout” was given.
Describe 2-3 things that helped you deal with your feelings of burnout and stress? How were you able to heal from being burnt out?
> I cannot stress the importance of being outside, going for a walk without any distractions (like your phone or other people). This has really helped me find more inner peace, especially the first months of my burnout. We are stuck inside all day, that we lose our connection with movement and nature. Getting fresh air and moving your body does wonders for your state of mind.
> Acupuncture, therapy, meditation and yin yoga. This sounds like a lot, but for me it’s the perfect combination. There are so many tools/workshops/people that focus on recovery, take your time to find what works best for you and your needs.
> Another thing that has given insight into my stress is assessing my “stress activators”. My therapist made me draw a thermometer divided into four parts and how I feel when my stress reaches a certain level. For example, in the first quarter, I feel more anxious, can’t concentrate and have trouble sleeping. In the last quarter, I don’t function. Then I had to think of ways to reduce my stressors. This has really helped me to listen more carefully to my body and assess the way I react in different situations.
Thinking about all the things you might have had on your plate during this time, if you had the choice, what would you have changed? What supported you most through dealing with burnout?
It may sound strange, but I’m really grateful to have been given this experience. I see this burnout as a way to change and improve myself. Over the past 7 months, I’ve learned more about my boundaries, feelings, emotions, thoughts and behavior than I have in the 28 years prior to this illness. Of course, accepting that you’re ill— burnout is a very serious illness—is difficult at first, but it’s all part of the process of accepting yourself and learning what is important to make you healthy and happy again.
For me, learning that I’m responsible for my life and that I am the creator of my own thoughts—and the way they make me feel—has made me realize I can change any situation. This burnout is not my life. It’s just a temporary situation that I need to go through to learn more about myself.
I’m also learning to be more at ease with a slower pace, which helps me to tune in with how I feel and doing what feels good to me in that particular moment. Today, I’m still working on my recovery, taking it one step at a time.
What advice would you provide others dealing with burnout?
> Do what feels good for you in a particular moment. If you’re tired, sleep. If you want to be alone, be alone. If you want to eat your favorite cookie, just eat it! You need to break free from society a little. Make your own rules and accept that other people go to work while you may be resting on the sofa with a book. Appreciate the time you have to make changes in your life and try to see your illness as a medicine.
> It doesn’t matter what other people do or tell you to do; it’s about accepting yourself for the awesome person you are.
> Try to look at the entire picture. From the pain in your big toe to your fatigue, everything in your body is connected, so listening to every part can give you a better understanding of your health.
> Don’t be afraid to share your story. A lot of people are ashamed of their burnout, but talking about it really helps to put everything in perspective. Treat your burnout well. Think positive about it so you have the strength to fight it. Everything will become much lighter.
> Don’t forget to slow down.
What advice would you provide those who want to support those dealing with burnout?
> Give them space to recover. Don’t forget they may need a reminder to slow down. In addition, encourage them to take time for themselves.
> Understand that burnout is real. Many people don’t get that you feel tired after a five-minute walk or a shower, or that you go to bed at 8pm, because on the outside you often don’t look ill.
> Help them to make things “lighter” by putting things into perspective, otherwise it’s sometimes very difficult to see the positive sides of the burnout.