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Are You in the Exhaustion Funnel?

Melli O'Brien






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Are You in the Exhaustion Funnel?

How to live a more balanced, sustainable and fulfilling life—even when things get busy, stressful or overwhelming.

I love to dance.

In fact, I love to do a lot of things.

I love to be cozy and

content at home with a book.

I love yoga.

I also really love getting out into

nature, you know, going to the beach,

hanging out in the forest or by a river.

These are things I naturally love doing.

So I make time for them as much as I can.

They nourish me.

They feed my soul.

Think about the things you love doing.

Maybe it's cooking or reading that

you enjoy, or maybe taking walks on

the beach or painting or gardening.

Whatever it is that you love to do,

hopefully you're able to make enough time

for it in your life to enjoy these things.

The things that make you happy,

the things that feed your soul

and recharge the batteries.

But, life.

Isn't just about the

things that we love to do.

There are certain things we have to do.

You know, we have families to take

care of, jobs to do, errands to run.

Some of these things can be really

nourishing and rewarding, but some of

them, we just have to get them done.

And it's a bonus if we get

some joy from the experience.

In a balanced life, we're able to keep

all the plates spinning, so to speak.

So we can have some time with our

friends and family, we have time

for our hobbies and interests, all

while holding down a job and keeping

some semblance of order at home.

If our lives are in balance,

there should always be time

for the things that nourish us.

But life, hmm, isn't

always so balanced, is it?

Sometimes work takes over or something

unexpected happens, like a family illness,

or maybe we allowed our personal to-do

list to get a little out of control

and take over our lives so we can feel

like we're under constant pressure.

I'm sure you can think of a time in

your life when that work-life balance

started to unravel a bit, or you

started to find every day a little

more tiring than the one before.

If that sounds familiar, you may have

been feeling what we call burnout.

Something, I think, we all feel

from time to time in this busy

frantic world that we live in.

But burnout you have to be careful of,

because it can really creep up on you

if you let it, and it can make it harder

and harder for you to bounce back into a

more balanced and positive way of living.

That's when you risk falling into

what Swedish psychiatrist, Marie

Asberg calls the exhaustion funnel.

So if you imagine a funnel, like

the one you have in your kitchen at

home, the top of the funnel is nice

and wide and this represents where

your life is at its most balanced.

At the top of the funnel, you're

able to make time for the things

you love doing alongside all

the things you just have to do.

So you have the fun things you

could say and the less fun things.

So going dancing is balanced out with

doing all the housework and your fullwork

day or care-taking day is balanced

out by a walk in the countryside.

Now, it's not a strict weighing

scale, but basically here at the top

of the funnel, you're able to make

enough time to do the things that

nourish you and fill you up along with

those things that might deplete you.

So you have balance in your

life and it feels at the top

of the funnel, sustainable.

You could live like that for a long

time and keep the batteries charged.

Now, if you start to sink a little

bit further down into that funnel,

life starts to get a bit narrower.

And this is where it can start to

resemble the exhaustion funnel.

So perhaps you had a big deadline

at work and you need to work late

a couple of days to finish the job.

And that's not so bad in and of itself.

But quite often, it's the start

of a descent into burnout.

So let's say for a few nights you

skip yoga, skip time with friends

or walks in nature and you start

to work through your lunch break

rather than taking proper breaks.

You know, if this sounds

familiar, it's not just you.

We've all been there.

But how do you feel afterwards,

after a couple of days?

As the batteries and not being recharged?

I know for myself, first thing

that happens is I start to feel

a little bit more fatigued and I

start to get a bit more irritable.

I also start to lose focus at

work and I start to lose energy.

And if I'm not getting enough exercise

and I'm missing social contact,

my mood really starts to drop and

everything starts to seem harder.

You know, life starts to lose its sparkle.

Can you relate?

That is how burnout starts.

First, we decide to give up a few

of the, what we might call, optional

things in life, just for a while so we

can meet all the expectations on us.

But then we start to feel lower and

lower physically and emotionally because

we're giving up the most nourishing

things in our lives, the things that

really sustain us and give us joy.

Your journey down the exhaustion

funnel from here gets deeper and

deeper as you decide to give up more

and more of the things that energize

you, lift you up, and make you happy.

If you continue doing this, you end up

doing only the things that drain you

and none of the things that nourish you.

And if you keep doing that, you end up

at the smallest and narrowest part at

the bottom of the funnel where you've

gradually let go of all the things

that give you joy and nourishment.

Now you're getting really close

to burnout if you stay here.

And what it's like here at the bottom

of the funnel is usually you're trying

to do as much as you can, there's lots

of doing, doing, doing, but you're tired

and drained of energy, low mood, and

often feeling anxious about some of the

choices that you've decided to make.

So you might be feeling guilty about

missing a school event with the kids,

maybe feeling socially disconnected

because you've stopped having time with

friends and fun with people you love.

And the more you strip out all the

fulfilling and sustaining aspects of

your life, the more you feel burnt

out, unhappy, depleted, and lost.

Eventually if you stay here long

enough, you hit total exhaustion and

get to a point where you actually

cannot function well anymore.

This is burnout.

Now the trouble with

this is it's not easy.

Once you hit burnout and you're completely

depleted, it's quite hard to bounce back.

You'll already be tired and unhappy,

but also often living a life that's full

to the brim and has a bit of pressure

and expectations from other people.

Sometimes when people hit this

point, they start turning to other

bad habits to help them cope.

Drugs, drinking, sleeping tablets,

to name a few, bad eating habits.

Now, if you're hearing this and you

think you might've fallen into the

exhaustion funnel, do try to show

yourself some self-compassion to

help you begin to find your way out.

Even if you're just looking

after yourself a little bit more,

just looking for those signs of

tiredness or stress changes in mood.

This might give you the clues you

need that something's not right

and then you can start to respond.

So after all, if your best

friend was showing the symptoms,

you'd look out for them.


So why not apply the same kind

attitude towards yourself?

And something really important to

us always remember is that it, it

really is vital to take care of

yourself when life is getting busy.

This is how we stop falling into

the exhaustion funnel and how

we regain and stabilize that

sense of balance in our lives.

And here's the really good news.

All of those enjoyable and

energizing things that you love

doing are not just optional extras.

They're not just luxuries.

These are the things that allow

you to function at your best

when life is staying in balance.

These are the activities that increase

your psychological wellbeing, help you

face the challenges of day-to-day life.

These are the things that

sustain you, bring you joy.

So it's important and vital even

to try to find time for them.

Try to keep an eye out for identifying

if you start to feel more exhausted.

And notice why you might be

feeling tired and stressed out.

So what has changed in your life?

What are the things that maybe are new

or have changed in their timeframe?

Maybe there's more draining

things in your life.

Maybe there's a busy phase at work and

it started with one overdue report and

now it's morphed into you regularly

skipping your yoga or exercise or

bailing on nights out with friends.

Maybe your movie nights

been postponed a few times.

So just as an act of kindness

towards yourself now, always tuning

in to: have you fallen into any

routines that are draining you?

Are you doing enough things

that are nourishing you?

When you identify the things that are

draining you in life, you can start

to work with them more skillfully.

Perhaps eliminating some of them or trying

to do what you can to regain balance.

You might be able to implement

the simplest of self-care

boundaries and rituals.

Things as simple as switching your phone

off at eight o'clock at night, so you

won't be tempted to reply to any more of

those work emails or look at social media.

Often the most draining things

could be traded for more

sustaining and nourishing ones.

So just having a, a think about that.

Is there parts of your life where you

could bring in more of those sustaining

things, more of those nourishing things

to keep lifting you up and lighting

you up, keeping that balance again?

So, and soon when you do this, the

positive energy from bringing more

sustaining activities into your life

will help you feel more balanced,

more focused, and more content.

With self-awareness and self-compassion

like this, you can discover so

many things about yourself that

you may not have noticed before.

You can keep noticing what's nourishing

you and what draining you, what lights

you up and what's depleting you.

And this deeper awareness of yourself

will help you stay clear of falling

into the funnel's black hole.

Through these kinds of more mindful

living, we can make wiser choices, keep

things in balance, and then we can live

more happy, healthy, and nourishing lives.

And life is meant to be nourishing.

It's meant to be enjoyable.

After all, life isn't just a to-do list.

It's meant to be enjoyed.

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