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STRONGER TOGETHER: The F words leaving us feeling a little frayed at the edges

Last updated: 03/07/2023

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses burnout, and the three Fs to look out for.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Damian Hadwick, Mark McGowan, David Koche, and Jacinda Ardern have one thing in common: they all recently quit high-profile jobs because they had enough. While job resignations have become common during the pandemic and the "great resignation" trend, their cases go beyond the usual reasons. Something more sinister is leaving them feeling worn-out and unstable.

Jacinda Ardern summed it up perfectly when she said, "I am human. We give as much as we can for as long as we can and then it's time." This sentiment aligns with psychiatrist Gordon Parker's analogy of an elastic band. Just like an elastic band loses its elasticity when stretched repeatedly, humans lose their ability to bounce back when pushed beyond their limits. This can lead to burnout, where individuals feel completely depleted.

Recognising the symptoms of burnout and acting before losing the ability to bounce back is crucial. Personally, I’m always mindful of these three F’s: fear, friction, and fatigue, which can hinder my physical and mental wellbeing, and to address them before running out of fuel.

People are feeling more stressed and fearful than normal, with the media continually showering us with stories about the escalating cost of living, housing shortages, war in Russia, relations with China… it feels like we’re being bombarded with new and escalating challenges, many of which feel (and often are) outside our control.

Fear is an innate reaction within us all. It’s a mechanism to keep us safe, yet when we register a threat stimulus it triggers a response in the amygdala (part of the brain) that prepares us to fight, flee or freeze. The issue is that the mere perception of threat is enough for the amygdala to be activated. In the current environment, the perception of threat can be constant, creating layer upon layer, and resulting in a genuine sense of concern and overwhelm.

Friction is a force, a feeling that we can encounter when interacting with people, systems or things. These things can be outside of our power, and could be related to toxic workplaces, people or the feeling we get when something does not quite align to our values or beliefs. When the force pushing on us exceeds the energy we have, or are willing to push against, friction can leave us feeling stuck and powerless. Too much friction can be painful and destructive, both physically and emotionally.

And then there’s fatigue, which refers to our emotional and mental muscle when it’s overused or not exercised enough and so stops working at its best. Imagine pulling away from social events, friends, family, because isolation feels simpler. Shutting down from the outside world - physically, mentally, emotionally - because everything feels too hard, and you just crave some quiet. An escape from the relentless bombardment of life.

Many of us have experienced fear, friction, and fatigue at some point. The key is not to avoid these feelings but accept them as part of the human experience, knowing they will pass. The challenge lies in not allowing these feelings to consume us and prevent us from experiencing other positive emotions.

If fear, friction, and fatigue seem to be taking control, reflect on three important questions: Can I still recognise and accept things beyond my control? Can I distinguish between behaviours that help me and those that harm me? Am I still engaging in activities that energise and support my emotional and mental wellbeing? Answering "no" to any of these questions may indicate a need to make changes to ensure the three F's are not hindering your ability to live your best life.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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