NowsBurnout is one of those things that affect us in a multitude of ways. When you’re exhausted (the primary symptom of burnout), it’s not just physical – it’s also emotional.
The best way to understand what happens when you’re burned out is to consider the mind-body connection. That’s because burnout typically happens when you experience chronic stress. Because stress is nothing more than our perception of stimuli, it starts in the mind with our thoughts and trickles down into our body. The more stress you have over time, the more exhausted you become.
There are many ways to counter burnout and the right solution will mostly depend on what’s led you to feel stressed out in the first place. That said, it helps to learn what others have done in situations that are physically demanding and see how these techniques might be applied to mental stress.
The Iron Man
It’s been one of the longest days of your life, but you feel very accomplished. Over the past fifteen hours, you completed a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and are 25 miles into your run. All this physical exertion has been without a single break. In about a mile and a quarter you will have completed what is considered one of the most gruesome sporting events in the world: the Ironman.
You’ve been training extensively for this day. For the past 13 weeks, you built up your cycling from ninety minutes to five hours and your running has increased to three hours. Your swimming started at 1500 yards and doubled over time. Weekend workouts were as long as nine and a half hours, more than a full work-day schedule, but significantly more demanding on your body.
Through all this training, you’ve been able to build up the necessary stamina to sustain such a prolonged physical challenge as this triathlon requires. But you’ve been training not only your body, you’ve been training your mind.
When you made the decision to take on this feat, you committed to months of strenuous workouts, to proper nutrition, and to continual hydration. This commitment is a dedication of your resources now to a future event. This version of delayed gratification requires a fortitude of mind.
If the mind can harness enough internal power to allow us to train the body, can it also accomplish astonishing results without physical movement?
In this article, we explore the power of the mind over the body, some extraordinary attainments made by one man, and the tool he used to do so.
The Ice Man
Wim Hof is an extreme athlete who is known as “the Ice Man.” He has run a full marathon at minus four degrees Fahrenheit. In the snow. Barefoot. Wearing only running shorts. He also holds the world record for sitting still while submerged in ice water for a total of an hour and 44 minutes. And while many have attempted climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and failed, Hof was able to accomplish this feat wearing just shorts.
What explains Hof’s immense ability to endure extreme temperatures while exerting immense physical energy? Does he have a secret physical training method that other athletes don’t know about?
The answer is no. The secret does not lie in his physical training. It lies in his mind.
In a 2018 study, Hof increased his heart rate, adrenaline levels, and blood alkalinity on command. He claims that his branded method can also alleviate symptoms of physical illnesses such multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cancer, and diabetes as well as mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
So what is this powerful method? As it turns out, Hof can endure freezing temperatures because of his ability to raise his body’s core temperature. To cultivate this mind-body connection, Hof uses Tummo meditation, a form of meditation that generates inner fire or heat through breathing techniques.
Tummo meditation incorporates a visualization. As is explained in this video, you visualize yourself “as a fully blown up balloon that is hollow. You then visualize a little object inside you glowing and generating heat.”
Becoming the Iceman
We now know what is possible through Tummo meditation, but can anyone train to attain feats similar to those of Hof?
According to the Dutch man, the answer is yes. As a matter of fact, when investigative journalist Scott Carney attempted to debunk Hof’s method, he ended up learning his techniques within one week and performing similar feats including climbing up to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro wearing just a bathing suit for most of the way.
So if you want to control your body temperature, and more importantly, your immune system, learn the Wim Hof Method (WHM) of breathing techniques discussed in his book, Becoming the Iceman. There is no telling what you’ll be able to achieve.
How Breathing Can Help You De-Stress
In essence, what Wim Hof is applying is a method of intense breathing that heats up the body and prepares it for physically demanding situations. As a result, your pain threshold expands and you can endure far greater challenges with less stress.
Can the Wim Hof Method help with mental stress as well?
One thing to note about stress is that it puts your nervous system in a state of fight-or-flight. Under normal conditions of stress, your blood pressure goes up as do other sympathetic nervous system markers. When stress is chronic, not only are you similarly affected, but even when you try to rest, you aren’t able to recover.
Hof claims that his method of breathing and cold exposure helps to “reset the nervous system,” allowing even those who are burned out to sleep better, recover more quickly from symptoms, and boost energy levels.
While cold exposure can be helpful in reducing inflammation, improving the quality of your sleep, and balancing your hormones, it is not something you can do in a moment of stress.
What you can do, however, is breathe. Here’s how:
Step 1: Take 30-40 short breaths that first expand the belly and then the chest. This quick succession of breaths invokes your inner fire, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. You can follow this video as a guide.
Step 2: As you take your final deep inhale, hold the air in without breathing until you cannot hold it any longer. Then let it go.
Step 3: Finally, fill yourself up to capacity and hold the breath again, but only for 15 seconds.
These three steps together are one round. Hof recommends you repeat this 3-4 times and then “bask in the bliss.” That means, don’t rush into work. Take a few moments to notice how differently you feel in your body. Chances are you’ll feel calm.
Breathing for Burnout Recovery
We’ve all heard of breathing as a mechanism to relieve us from stress, which is why it is an excellent protocol for people who want to prevent burnout. But what about folks who are already burned out? In other words, can folks who experience the effects of chronic stress benefit from breathing and if so, how does the protocol differ here?
What I discovered may come across as counter-intuitive. That is because when we are stressed, whether acutely or chronically, we think about relaxation as a means of recovery. But the research shows that short bouts of intense daily stress can actually lower the effects of chronic stress.
After you recover from the shock of this discovery, you might be left wondering, “How can I apply this to myself?” That’s where the breathing protocol comes in.
Using the Wim Hof method actually stresses the body out because it produces hyperventilation. By restricting the breathing exercise to 5 minutes, you induce a stress response in the body, but because doing so in a way that relieves long-term stress.
Step 1: Take 25 quick deep inhales and exhales.
Step 2: Hold the last inhale for 30-60 seconds and let it go.
Continue the exercise for a total of 5 minutes per day for two weeks.
The reason this works is because you are in control. Even though you get your body into a state of heightened arousal, because you’re intentionally putting yourself under these conditions, the stress you produce actually has the opposite effect on your body in that it alleviates burnout.
As a side note, if you have trauma, you may want to practice this in the presence of a therapist and if you experience panic attacks, refrain from this exercise as it can bring panic on.
Breathing protocols are now arsenals in your tool belt that can help both with burnout prevention and burnout recovery. When breathing is focused on inducing relaxation, it prevents stress from building up, allowing you to more quickly relax and recover from the day’s events. In addition, it can be used to build up your inner fire when you knowingly put yourself in challenging situations to boost your resilience.
When breathing focuses on purposely inducing short-term stress, it can alleviate the effects of chronic stress and allow you to recover from burnout.
Now you know what can help, why it helps, and how to implement the right strategy for your burnout. Now you can exhale.
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