How Organisations and Individuals can Heal Burnout

In This Podcast
Show Notes
Neha Sangwan
E 142

In This Podcast

  • Why self care isn’t selfish
  • What is burnout?
  • The three phases of burnout
  • Why we need human connection
  • Bridge leaders of today, to be leaders of tomorrow

Sometimes a physical ailment isn’t physical, says Neha Sangwan, MD and CEO and founder of Intuitive Intelligence. In fact, stress causes or exacerbates more than 80% of illness, so rather than simply treating the physical injuries, we need to be asking people what’s at the root of their stress.

In this episode of Corporate Unplugged, Neha explains why her passion is teaching people how to communicate with themselves, with each other, to navigate their emotions, manage their energy, to learn how to keep themselves well so that collectively, as humans, we can all rise together now, and in the future. 

“What I have learned is, self care is not selfish, it’s self full. It’s how I can, over time, be able to serve in the world in a way that comes from a replenished full, energised place, full of vitality and energy, versus a depleted exhausted place.”

To find out more, download and listen to this latest episode.

Show Notes

Why We Need Root Cause Healing, Not Just Band Aids with Neha Sangwan

If you go right back to the beginning of society, says Neha Sangwan, MD and CEO and founder of Intuitive Intelligence, there were medicine men and women in a community, people you’d go to see if something was wrong – physical, mental, emotional. But with the advent of antibiotics, suddenly we all want a quick fix, and as our world has evolved to think faster is better, we’ve managed to separate our physical from our mental and our emotional.

Even though medicine is in the business of life and death, says Neha, we’ve decided to just focus on the physical ailment, the pathophysiology, and take care of that. It’s what doctors have decided is their job, and to leave everything else to the mental health professionals, the psychiatrists. 

But the problem is, says Neha, doctors are missing when something physical isn’t actually physical, because not all ailments have a physical origin.

“Sometimes a physical ailment isn’t physical. Sometimes, when I get into conflict I can’t sleep at night. When I can’t sleep at night my immune system doesn’t repair, and when my immune system doesn’t repair, after a few days of that, suddenly I’m falling sick.”

Yes, sometimes you need a pill to get you through the tough time, says Neha, but if you simultaneously start treating the root cause, that’s when you actually begin to heal. 

Why self care isn’t selfish

How does Neha know all of this? Because at the age of 33 she experienced burnout. And the bottom line to Neha’s burnout, is that physicians get paid to have the answer of why you’re ill, what the pain in your head means and what the pain in your back means.

But, and this is the biggest barrier for practising physicians, she says, what doctors need to do occasionally is to open up their thinking and have the courage to say, I don’t know. But that’s not something medical students are taught, and as a result, Neha, a self confessed people pleaser, spent her first years as a doctor pushing herself to find all the answers until one day her brain and body simply stopped functioning. 

“I am really grateful that I didn’t make a wrong medication error, or I didn’t hurt anybody. But it was a huge wake up call. So what I did at that moment was I picked up the phone and I called a psychiatrist.”

When you’ve hit a wall, says Neha, you need to change your relationship to self care. You’ve pushed through your body rather than partner with it, and it’s time for a change. The thing about self care is it doesn’t just benefit you, it positively impacts those around you, you family and friends, your career, humanity as a whole, when you show up well cared for. 

“What I have learned is, self care is not selfish, it’s self full. It’s how I can, over time, be able to serve in the world in a way that comes from a replenished full, energised place, full of vitality and energy, versus a depleted exhausted place.”

What is burnout?

The cause of burnout, says Neha, is as unique as our fingerprints and up until 2019, not acknowledged by the World Health Organisation, and even now, it’s not fully acknowledged as a widespread issue, as its definition is ‘ongoing chronic stress as an occupational hazard’. 

But, says Neha, after 25 years of seeing patients, she’s learned burnout is not limited to work. Someone can be going through a divorce, have a special needs child or have ageing parents, it can happen to anyone, it is not just related to an occupational hazard, it can be anywhere in your life where you’re having a net drain of energy.

The three phases of burnout

Burnout happens over time; it’s a wearing down of your own physiology, capacity, resilience and resourcefulness, says Neha. And there’s three phases:

The first phase is an alarm phase, which is like you’re on a treadmill, going a little too fast, your heart skips a beat, your adrenaline starts going, your blood pressure goes up. Sometimes it’s when you’ve taken on a new role, or you’ve started work at a new company, whatever it is, the initial reaction should then subside, but the problem is some people simply start adapting to that faster pace of life.

If you just keep going and keep adapting to that faster and faster pace, says Neha, you then enter the second phase of burnout, the adaptation phase, where you’re barely hanging on, and you don’t really rest. Sometimes you don’t even feel rested after the weekend or even after a holiday. You just feel exhaustion.

And then one more thing happens, e.g. COVID, a disappointment at work, you don’t get the promotion, whatever it is, and you go sliding down the slippery slope of exhaustion. And you enter the third phase. This is where you’ll hit the wall of ineffectiveness.

Why we need human connection

Gen Z and the next generations have grown up being babysat by devices, not humans, says Neha. And while technology itself isn’t good or bad, it’s a neutral tool, but it’s how we use them that determines their effectiveness, or ineffectiveness.

And when we’ve got the future generations growing up online, unable or afraid to communicate with one another, where they care more about the opinion of anonymous people around the world than who’s sitting next to them, that’s when you run into the problems.

If you care too much about, and place too much onus on, external success, you won’t develop who you are, you won’t learn what you actually value, what matters to you. You’ll be too busy chasing what the world thinks you ought to be doing, and you could find yourself lonely and disconnected. 

“The other place we get really lonely is when we miss the present moment. So if I’m really focused on what I regret, and I made these poor choices and that’s why my relationship broke down, or I didn’t get that job, or whatever it is, or I’m very worried about the future and I’ve never been in the present, I’m going to feel lonely.”

And while there’s many reasons that lead to this point, says Neha, a lot of times when people start feeling sad, or lonely, or down, they don’t reach out because why would you want to let anyone know that your life isn’t the perfect 50% of the highlight reel you’ve shown on social media? 

Except the trick is, says Neha, when you share with someone your true self, in those moments when you’re vulnerable, that’s when you actually deeply connect to them. That’s when you become a real human with the connection and community that you so long for. 

“It’s a lose-lose, when you’re not authentic. And so I decided to say I burned out, I’m going to say that I made these mistakes, and the people who it resonates with are the people I would want to be friends with anyway.”

Bridge leaders of today, to be leaders of tomorrow

In ten years time, says Neha, she wants to see a focus on connection and awareness and for us to come together and begin to heal. Because the way that we are functioning currently, the old way, keeps us separate. 

Plus, we need to start being in service to the next generation, to become bridges for them, to help them become the leaders that tomorrow needs. 

“Instead of judging them, can we allow them to be our teachers? Can we teach them what it might take to achieve and accomplish while we understand that they are not lazy, they are not slackers, they are the future of our world, and the world that we’re leaving them is theirs.” 

Finally, what the world needs, says Neha, is for us to all slow down in order to speed up. We need to slow down and elevate our consciousness and expand our perspective so that we’re not doing the same thing faster, but we’re in fact evaluating how we make our decisions and how we show up. A bit of slowing down would help all of us do a little reflection, expand our perspective, and elevate our consciousness.

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