I have just spent a week in a Rehab. That’s a phrase that grabs attention but to be more accurate I have been staying at a luxury Rehab and Wellness centre in Chaing Mai, Thailand, experiencing their ‘Executive Burnout’ Programme. The purpose of the visit was to find a suitable environment and facility that I could recommend to my clients and/or members of their family who have become so overwhelmed with the pressure of their everyday life that they can no longer cope.
Burnout, is more than just feeling stressed and anxious and having the occasional bad day at home or at work. It is a psychological and physical condition that can render a person emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted and incapable of coping with everyday life. It is an insidious condition that sometimes happens so gradually that the feelings associated with it become normalised and go unnoticed or ignored. In the same way that bindweed will wrap itself around a plant, gradually spreading until eventually it completely smothers the plant, robbing it of light, air and nutrients, by the time we (or others) recognise our burnout, we may be powerless to deal with it on our own. Although the word is frequently misused it is a recognised condition first defined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s.
The phrase ‘Executive Stress and Burnout’ may lead people to believe that this is a condition that is most likely to affect CEOs and those who hold high ranking professional positions. However, the condition is just applicable to someone with a part time job or no job at all if they are also managing lots of responsibilities such as being a care-giver, a parent or caring for elderly parents or a combination of all of these and/or others! Often multiple responsibilities have to be managed in difficult circumstances such as having a low income, health concerns or being unsupported. People who feel they are ‘just about coping’ with daily life may find unexpected life events can create extra pressure and challenges that they feel unable to manage. This is magnified by feelings of having too much to do and not being in control and when things go unresolved and continue for a long time, there is more chance of this leading to burnout.
Signs and symptoms
We all experience some of the symptoms of burnout some of time but it is the constant presece of such things that leads to the condition. The resulting symptoms such as extreme fatigue, insomnia, irritability, memory problems, loss of appetitive, depression, anxiety and mood swings exacerbate the problem and make coping and managing even more difficult.
More than a retreat
Many people seeking refuge from the daily stresses and grind of everyday life might consider going to a retreat. Although this offers temporary relief, retreats tend to focus on the physical aspects and offers respite. Yes, the opportunity to ‘get away from it all’, to relax and enjoy a massage, yoga and time for oneself does help in the short term but it doesn’t address the problem(s) waiting back home. Eventually, when the retreat is over participants return to the life that was there before and the conditions that created the problem in the first place. Indeed, returning to work after a break can be another source of stress and anxiety if in one’s absence unfinished projects are still waiting along with an inbox full of unanswered emails and more work has piled up. What is needed, as well as physical recovery is professional guidance and support so it is becomes possible to recognise and acknowledge the source of burnout so that, with the development and acquisition of new tools and strategies. things become more easily managed in the future. This is what well run Rehab and Wellness centres can offer as they have the facilities and clinical expertise to provide a complete recovery programme with trained counsellors, coaches and medical staff in attendance. It is this combination of fully addressing physical, emotional and psychological needs in a safe, luxurious and relaxing setting that is so powerful.
Although I attended this programme as an exploration of the treatment and facilities offered by this top class facility, I quickly realised the benefit of participating in such a programme as a prevention of burnout. Like many people with a busy life, I had been living life at a fast pace, frequently delaying or missing mealtimes, rushing here, there and everywhere. As part of the programme I participated in group sessions and had one-to-one sessions with a highly trained CBT counsellor and coach. The value of this was being asked the right questions that brought my awareness back to what really matters in my life. Often what we need are questions although we may be seeking answers. Listening to the stories of others and hearing about their life circumstances I noticed common themes, the most prevalent was not having enough time for oneself. In this peaceful and beautiful location we all had the time and opportunity to simply sit and think without distraction. Although I regularly meditate here it was very different, time felt abundant, my thoughts were clearer and I felt lighter and blissfully relaxed.
A child-like experience
The Executive burnout programme lasted for 5 days. By day 2, I felt like a different person, I was eating far more than usual as there was such a variety of tempting, healthy food and yet I lost weight. I slept longer than I do normally and woke up feeling refreshed. There was much laughter, fun, connection and camaraderie and I really enjoyed meeting others in the various different daily activities and outings we were offered. There was a familiar feeling that I couldn’t identify at first but then realised it was the feeling of being totally cared for and supported both emotionally and physically in a way that I hadn’t experienced since childhood. I was in fully in touch with nature, disconnected from technology, the internet, email and TV. Immersed in a world where I was able just to be – a human-being rather than a human-constantly doing. This was not just my experience, I saw it in the faces and postures of everyone as we became responsive to the calm and peace that soothed even the most fractious of us. We shared our individual stories, discussed problems and possible solutions and I think we all re-discovered who we truly are and who we want to be. People arrived knowing what they didn’t want to experience anymore but left with a fuller understanding of what exactly they do want and more in touch with how to achieve this.
A new beginning
Of course, this programme didn’t remove all life’s problems back at home but I think it helped people see them in perspective with a new ability to identify those things that deserve much attention and those that don’t. For some, it was the simple realisation and acceptance that sometimes we need to say no and sometimes we need to ask for help and support. For others, it was the realisation and recognition that some of the things had brought relief in the short term, such as overeating, drinking, shopping, watching too much TV and the misuse of drugs etc. had become unhelpful behaviours that had ultimately made things worse and not better. My own experience is that I have a new found appreciation of my health and a commitment not to take it for granted but develop and prioritise a new self-care regime (which I have). It reminded me of the difference between knowing the theory of wellbeing and the actual experience of putting it into practice and the importance of seeking professional, specialised help when it is needed instead of ‘soldiering’ on. As a result of time in Chang Mai, I have decided to repeat this programme each year as an investment in my physical and mental wellbeing. If you would like to join me in 2019, please contact me
I stayed at The Dawn Rehab Centre, Chang Mai, Thailand on the 5-day Executive Stress Programme