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Wellbeing

My experience of burnout was a gift

Writing a book about burnout, I’ve spoken with experts as well as people who’ve been through burnout. Lisa Callinan is both of these – having survived a huge burnout in 2010, she’s gone on to become an amazing life coach, burnout and adrenal fatigue expert. Plus, she’s a delight. Here’s our open-hearted conversation about how she came to burnout – and how she helps her clients break free from burnout today.

Tell me about your burnout…

I was running a gym with my partner in Sydney. I’d very naïvely gone into the business together hoping it would resolve some of our relationship issues – instead, it just magnified what wasn’t working. Then, when the global financial crisis hit, our business started to fail. For about six months, my partner refused to see what was happening and was adamant about not letting me out of the business – our communication totally broke down. And that’s when the chronic stress started. I honestly didn’t realise the toll it was taking on me at the time. Thankfully, eventually, she saw the light, and we started the process of dismantling the business, seeing lawyers and liquidators. Only once it was all over, we’d parted ways and I was starting a new life, did I realise the toll it had taken on me. I was completely burnt out. I could hardly function. 

What kind of symptoms did you experience?

I’d always been fit and healthy – exercise is a big part of my life – but during that time, I had no energy. It was like my body was betraying me. I was running on Coke Zero, pushing myself through the day. I was working as a massage therapist, and I’d get home from work and all I could do was crash on the couch. I was having wild blood sugar fluctuations. 

How did you restore your energy and start to recover?

Recovery started with my own body: I had to do lots of things that were super calming, to activate my parasympathetic nervous system. And do them every single day. Very gentle breathing practices, restorative yoga. I had to find things that gave rather than drained my energy. 

I did a lot of research and encountered the term ‘adrenal fatigue’ which really resonated: I had so many of the symptoms! But when I started seeking help from medical professionals for my physical complaints, it was like being on a merry-go-round, I was trying to find help and not getting any answers. Finally, I met a naturopath who understood adrenal fatigue and working with her really helped. I knew I couldn’t go back to my old ways of coping – hitting intense cardio exercise and unknowingly amping up the cortisol. I had to do things to restore my system.

You need to take care of yourself physically first so you can function. But eventually, to prevent it happening again, you need to understand why you burnt out. What’s going on underneath? 

What were those underlying causes, for you?

I had always been an over-giver, a people-pleaser. Then I looked at the deeper layer: why am I over-giving, always trying to please others? I realized that a big part of it was not accepting myself as being gay. Back around the age of 15 or 16 when it was starting to enter my consciousness, I didn’t know how to language it. I felt like who I was, was NOT enough, and I placed everyone else’s desires above my own, taking decades to realise why I did this. 

When I was 17, I had a mini-burnout and another one during university. I feel like that set the stage for later on – each time your system weakens and your tolerance decreases. Now, I’m much better at recognising the signals that I’m out of balance.

So, adrenal fatigue clearly has a lot of links with burnout…

Absolutely. Your adrenal glands produce hormones, and during chronic stress, the stress hormones like cortisol are pumped into your body way too often. Your hormonal balance can get totally out of whack. Symptoms you might notice include exhaustion, weakened immune system, imbalances in blood sugar levels, muscle atrophy, increased sensitivity in gut or digestion and mood disturbances like depression and anxiety. 

You might find yourself super wired at night and exhausted in the morning, which is opposite to our bodies’ natural rhythms. And in my case, I eventually flatlined, tired all the time, which I would not recommend!

What should someone do if they think they have adrenal fatigue or are burning out?

Find a health practitioner who understands the concept – a doctor, a naturopath. Someone who has an understanding and a holistic approach to what’s happening. Get blood tests done, yes, but go further in trying to understand what’s happening in your body. For example, I had a bioresonance session which showed that I had signs of having had glandular fever. And when we are in chronic stress, it creates the perfect internal chemistry for this kind of virus to show itself again. It can lie dormant for years, then you get stressed and it’s back. For many people there can be underlying issues going on, together with the adrenal fatigue symptoms.

What do you advise clients as the first steps to recovery?

The very first thing is to take steps to calm your nervous system. In my one-on-one program and in my burnout recovery coaching sessions I bring in other practitioners so it’s a very holistic recovery:

  • a naturopath for the physical aspect
  • a yoga teacher for breath and calming
  • a kinesiologist for the emotional aspect

As a coach, I oversee the process and support people to change their daily behaviour, look at the types of conversations they may need to have and decisions they may need to make.  I help them stay accountable to themselves, so they really make positive changes that stick long-term. And if someone is severely burnt out, I prefer that they go to a doctor at the same time to get tests done and things checked out.

Do you investigate the ‘whys’ of burnout with clients?

Heck yeah! It’s essential for preventing another burnout – plus, it’s an incredible opportunity to learn about yourself. I also help clients learn to look after their own needs: to respond, rather than react. When we’re people pleasers, for example, we give endlessly – we keep saying ‘yes’ without thinking. So, I help them create space to get in touch with their own needs and respond from there. It’s all about setting them up so they’re empowered in their own lives. 

What are you grateful for about burnout?

Burnout is a huge gift! It definitely was for me. This can be the best wake-up call of your life because you have no option but to do things differently. You can build habits that set you up to live life in a way that is empowering, authentic and energising.  

This interview and article was written by Sally Clarke and republished here with permission.

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