help! i’ve got spiritual burnout
When the art of self-elevation becomes too much.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.
I haven’t slept soundly in months. What’s keeping me up isn’t my new foray into freelancing, or whether I’ve left my straighteners on, it’s actually my laborious wellness routines. My well-intentioned 9:30pm bedtime seems worthy on paper (primarily because I’m aiming to be up at 5:30am, the time all those successful billionaires rise) but inevitably my evening routine goes awry.
It starts promisingly. My Fitbit alarm goes off at 9.30pm signalling bedtime and because blue light is the new Satan, I put my phone away immediately. I liberally douse my antimicrobial bed sheets with a Ren & Now To Sleep mist (the lavender and frankincense lowers your heart rate) and lie on my silk pillowcases (they’re meant to be kinder to your skin than cotton) as I do 25 minutes of self-hypnosis and journaling.
Then -- and I’m not done yet -- I read a book, usually wellness-related, for 30 minutes after which I think I must be ready for sleep. But my brain is wired on what I’ve journaled and read so I’m forced to try and chill out in order to sleep. I have to get the contraband phone out and listen to the Relax + app which is, essentially some dude talking about sleep for 40 minutes. Eventually, after flailing about, unable to switch my brain off for what feels like decades, I fall asleep around 1am. The irony is that I started this routine to replace my old bedtime regime, which basically consisted of scrolling through Instagram looking at Scottish fold kittens until I fell asleep. At this point, that’s probably way more relaxing than my current routine.
When I wake up I feel like a sack of putrid shit. I’m exhausted, snoozing my phone alarm 10 times and rising two hours later than I intended. I’ve now got extreme health guilt too as I’m unable to fit in my 20-minute Vedic meditation, mirror work, protein shake (with maca, probiotics and ashwagandha obvs), followed by a shot of collagen and liquid probiotic and hit the gym. I haven’t set my daily intentions, I haven’t written down what I’m grateful for either (Oprah would be so disappointed). This is all before I’ve even begun my day
I wish this was an extreme example, but it’s not. And it’s something that has seeped into my routine so gradually I’ve barely noticed. It affects my entire day. When I finish work I’m so tired that I just zone out on the sofa watching Gilmore Girls on repeat while reading through three different horoscopes on my phone for spiritual guidance.
This what I’ve decided to call a ‘spiritual overload’ – the moment when the pursuit of ultimate wellness starts to affect your health, becoming both stressful and counter-intuitive. Helen Morris, founder of wellness marketing agency, Samsara Communications has felt the same: “I was reading a lot of self-help books at once and doing deep hypnosis work to reprogram my subconscious self, which was very intense, and it ended up being was quite hard to deal with. Fortunately, I had a therapist I could process the emotions with, but I know that's not the case for many,” she says. Meanwhile Giselle La Pompe-Moore, Reiki Practitioner, Meditation Teacher and Founder of Project Ajna says that even though she’s a professional healer, it’s happened to her too. “I’ve had quite a few periods of spiritual burnout. It happens when I'm not adding in enough physical self-care, like sleep, exercise and eating well, when I'm working through a lot of emotionally draining work."
When it was coined in the 70s ‘burnout’ meant exhaustion from trying to juggle the work/life balance. But I think the same can happen with wellness, when we try to take on too much, and do too much, self-development. I realise this could be misconstrued as extreme self-obsession, but Giselle thinks the reason is actually because we’ve become overly driven to succeed. “We are so accustomed to being in 'high stress' mode, there’s so much pressure to continuously push forward that even when we seek wellness and spiritual tools to compensate for burnout, we still view these tools in the same way. We get addicted to the work, to 'fixing' ourselves as we're so familiar with overachieving that we end up overachieving with spirituality.” So what can you do if -- like me -- it’s all become too much?
Emma Lucy Knowles, clairvoyant and intuitive healer says if we’re not careful, ‘spiritual work’ can just become another ‘whipping tool’ -- something I know I’ve felt of late. “Spiritual work takes a healthy dose of patience and we’re all too keen to miss that part. We live in a ‘one click, next day delivery world’ and that’s not real life. You need space to reflect on the progress you’ve made, what works and what doesn’t.”
Helen says: “I had to take a month off doing any kind of spiritual or self-development work apart from yoga and meditation. It really helped to reset myself and now I make sure to balance it all with regular everyday, mundane things, whether that's watching Netflix or catching up with friends who aren't in to the same stuff as me. It allows me to integrate and process what I’ve been working on,” she says. Giselle says that slowing down is also a great way to syphon out what isn’t working for you. “Spiritual burnout is quite often the result of keeping in the practices you feel like you should be doing, even if you no longer enjoy them or you haven’t seen a benefit as well as continuously adding in new ones,” she explains.
That was definitely my mistake – being influenced by what I saw on Instagram (I’ve done a mass unfollow of pretty much everyone in wellness), the umpteen podcasts I listened to, the things I was reading in order to know myself better. When actually, we’re the true experts of ourselves. So now I’ve slowed down just to meditation and intuitive movement (seeing what my body needs each day). And so far? Well I’m certainly sleeping better that’s for sure, and hopefully the ‘magic’ will follow.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.