Pandemic Undertow: It’s not just “languishing”, it’s burnout. How to find our way back to our health

Written by Dr. Mary Choi, ND

Happy New Year???

The pandemic has swept across the globe and hit Canadians like a tsunami. Anticipating the approaching tidal wave, we ran screaming for toilet paper and ushered our children out of schools and playgrounds to save our most precious commodity – Life. However, as we ran inside to safe guard our “life”, we lost connection with the very thing we live for, our reasons for living.

My dear friend, a mother and staggeringly successful self-made entrepreneur, was telling me that after Christmas, her energy collapsed. She found herself sleeping for hours without waking up feeling refreshed. She was staring at dishes and all the things that she had to do, but could not drum up a morsel of motivation to do it.  New Years is a time of reflection and goal-setting for her. She does this every year. But, this year, she was in no place to think about long-term goals or growth strategies: she was struggling to make it through the day.

“I thought I was dying,” she told me.

She went and got a full professional medical work up, and she was told she was languishing. Languishing, a term coined by a sociologist name Corey Keyes, describes dwindling motivation, or as I call it the A-FITs (“ah, fuck it”s). There is an indifference to the indifference.  Languishing is a feeling of aimlessness with energy – call it boredom or the blahs.  To pass the time, we eat more. We drink more. We binge watch TV more. We know it doesn’t serve our health, but who cares? And there you have it: the A-FITs strike again.

As the pandemic wears on, you might be wondering why you feel so exhausted when you’ve already been enduring the same ol’ pandemic for some time now.  Pandemic stress has been having a continuous effect on us.  Initially, there was the acute flight or fight response, as we frantically swam to the surface after being hit with the pandemic’s first wave.  As the pandemic continued, we languished.  But now with the repeated closures, snowmageddon, and extreme cold weather, we are now feeling the pandemic’s undertow –  a continuous power that we can’t see but we feel, which keeps pulling us under – leaving us exhausted.

Like many of us, in my opinion, my friend was not just languishing. She was burnt out.

The World Health Organization acknowledges burnout as an international classification of disease describing only work-related phenomena resulting in exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy.

Modern day mindset promotes a toxic hustle culture obsessed with needing to do more and produce all the time.  We normalize the feelings of fatigue when we work hard and achieve, because although our bodies scream “no”, we receive external affirmation of a job well done. So, as creatures designed to pursue gratification, we endure. And hustle, hustle, hustle as society continues to applaud us for working through our fatigue.

What would happen if we began healing our bodies when it whispered to us rather than waiting to take action when it screamed?

For me, by the end of December, after bringing the magic of Christmas to my family, caring for the children (home for days on end), preparing meal after meal, CEO-ing our janitorial services, and juggling my actual day job,  I was done.  Maintaining my own household, in addition to holding space for others, has been a tough job.  This last lockdown has felt punishing. I am burnt out. I was alarmed to read that although burnout is recognized by the WHO, they state that this term “should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.” It only reflects feelings in the work place.

Say what now???

I am not sure about you, but mothering during a pandemic qualifies as work to me. Please tell me where the HR department is? I want a raise.

Remember, you are not lazy, you are not procrastinating, you are not lacking in anyway. You are exhausted, tired and traumatized from the constant swimming. Sorry Dory, your “keep on swimming” pep talk ain’t going to cut it here. I am not a fish. I am tired.

There are many ways to recover from burnout, as I highlight below and in our next newsletters. First, lean in to it. Allow it. You have worked so hard and you deserve a rest.

With much kindness,
xx Dr. Mary Choi

For over a decade, Dr. Mary Choi has been transforming thousands of lives as a Naturopathic Doctor, speaker and entrepreneur. She has supported thousands of people to lose weight successfully, transform their relationship with food, and successfully reach and sustain their wellness goals. Dr. Mary received her training at Western University in Health Sciences and went on to the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine receiving a scholarship there for her potential to contribute to the future of Naturopathic Medicine.  Dr. Mary is the clinic director and CEO of Soma and Soul Wellness in Toronto, Canada; a wife, and mother to four beautiful children; and is passionate about helping other reach their best selves.

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