Podcast: Patricia Bannan: Burnout

In today’s episode, I sit down with Patricia Bannan, a seasoned wellness expert and author of “From Burnout to Balance”, to explore the intricacies of navigating burnout. Patricia shares her own journey through burnout, distinguishing between stress and burnout while offering practical strategies for building resilience. Join us as we delve into the world of wellness intelligence and discover how to prevent and overcome burnout in today’s fast-paced society.

TRANSCRIPT

Patricia Bannan: 

It can be a micro habit of downtime, it doesn’t mean you have to say, okay, you know, no more homework or don’t study for that exam. Like they might still need to do that. But how do you start to incorporate more breaks or more play?

Sheila Akbar: 

Hey, folks, welcome back to the podcast. Here we are getting to the end of May. It’s about to be summer. I know. We’re all feeling like, we just gotta get through a few more weeks. If you have young kids like me, though, you may also be dreading like, what are we do over the summer when school is out? Oh, boy. I was just talking to someone today about how she’s feeling really burnt out. And she feels like she’s got to wait for Christmas to get the kind of breaks she needs. And we were talking about how maybe it’s just a holdover from when we were all in school. And this time of year, we started getting antsy for the end of the school year, because we, you know, got the summer to just rest and recharge and kind of turn certain parts of our brain off. And we’re still kind of conditioned into that rhythm like Oh, summer, it’s going to be easy and lovely. And unfortunately, I know, that’s not always the case, especially for adults who gotta work year round. But today’s guest has something to say about this. It’s Patricia Bannon, who is an expert on burnout, she is a nutritionist who I first learned about because she recently published a cookbook called from burnout to balance, which includes recipes, but also simple strategies for boosting mood immunity focused on sleep. And she has a new project that is just being released this month. That is all around wellness intelligence. I’m not going to tell you too much about that right now. And I’ll let you listen to the interview. But I do want to say I think this toolbox that she’s got, is so vital for all parents, all adults to introduce to young people, the messages are twisted in our society, the media makes it seem like, you know, you’ve got to go to one of these schools in order to be successful at all, in order to go to one of these schools, you have to do all of the things at the highest possible level. And you know, sitting from where I’m sitting at the head of a college admissions advising organization, I can tell you that that is not only not true, it is also not healthy. And I think is really contributing to the challenges that we’re seeing young people face right now in terms of mental health, stress levels, and burnout. So I invited Patricia to come and talk with me about how the work that she does relates to teenagers, and what are some simple things that we can do, to start staying aware of the kind of warning signs, but also helping people come back from a place where they’re feeling burned out to take a listen. Hi, Patricia, thank you so much for joining us.

Patricia Bannan: 

So great to be here.

Sheila Akbar: 

So I met you several months ago, and you were on a panel talking about burnout in your recent book. And so I definitely want to talk about both of those topics. But before we go into that, I want to set the tone a little bit. The reason that I was so excited to have you on the podcast, was to talk about how the work you do around burnout and wellness, mostly with adults is really relevant to our conversation about teenagers, especially with the increased academic pressure, you know, the craziness, we’re seeing about the college process. And of course, the increase in mental health challenges for young adults, especially young women, it does seem to start early and earlier for kids. And the fact of the matter is, whatever the parent is or is not doing, it seems to just be in the air, this feeling that you always have to do more. So I’m really interested in how we can apply what we’ve learned about wellness and what we’ve learned about burnout, specifically how to come back from it and how to avoid it, how we can introduce that to teenagers before it is inevitable. And they have to learn that kind of thing. So, you know, I want to connect what you’re doing with an adult population to the teenage context. And I also recognize that adults more than ever are feeling burnout and really high levels of stress. Maybe we want to start there. Is that just my perception, or is that something that’s really happening?

Patricia Bannan: 

Yes. So, so happy to be here. It’s such an important topic. I’ve experienced burnout firsthand. I know how alienating and debilitating it can be. But also some ways to not only get out of it, but what can we do day to day to not fall into the burnout trap. And that’s so true for teenagers and kids too, because they’re under more pressure than ever at younger and younger ages both, you know, put on by themselves and the environment around them. So I think we can talk about burnout in terms of prevalence. 33% of women are currently saying that they’re burnt out. I think it’s slightly less for men, it’s in the 20% 23 or 28% of men are burnt out. And we can even talk about like, what is burnout in terms of the difference with stress? Because there is a difference.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, well, let’s back up. So can you tell us about you and your story and how you got to where you are today?

Patricia Bannan: 

Yes, so I am a registered dietitian. And I also love to do like healthy recipes and cooking. I’ve done this for over 20 years, I’ve combined it with media work. So I write for magazines, I do TV segments on healthy eating. But about 10 years ago, even with knowing all these wonderful wellness skills and information and sharing it with so many different people in different ways, I fell really hard into the burnout, trap, or symptoms and so forth. And it was you know, what the World Health Organization defines it in terms of work related stress, but really, I mean, how do you even it’s so intertwined, right, your personal life, your work life, and then also Personality type, I find like being like very driven, I’m an A type Personality, so I’m going to be much more prone to burnout and not so apt to just let things go.

Sheila Akbar: 

And how do we define burnout? What was it like for you, if you can give us a real example.

Patricia Bannan: 

So for me, what was interesting was, I didn’t even know I was experiencing burnout until in a sense, I came out the other end, because you’re just pushing, pushing, pushing. So what burnout is, it’s a feeling of mental and physical exhaustion, it’s when you start to disconnect from things that are meaningful to you from your work, or from even people or hobbies that are meaningful to you. And it’s when you start to even doubt your own self worth or your own capabilities. And so for me, I just kept pushing through things. But then once everything seemed to be okay, I was trying to figure out some financial stresses and how to create a blended family and how to have a child in my 40s, which involves IVF, which can cause burnout on, you know, in and of itself. And so, finally, I was like, Oh, my goodness, everything’s okay. This community I was so concerned about is thriving, and I can’t move like, I am so depleted. And sometimes when your plate is clear, and everything’s okay, and the people around you, okay, you’re like, Okay, what’s next, and it was like, Oh, my gosh, I don’t have energy, for anything. I don’t know what’s meaningful to me anymore. And I am burnt out. It’s almost like that feeling when you’re just studying for exam, and you’re pushing and pushing through, and you make it through, and then you’re just checked out, you’re utterly exhausted, I felt like, I had, like 10 years of studying for a really hard exam. And I was just burnt out. So since I had this knowledge, I started to figure out just how do I heal myself how you know, and it’s really just getting back to basics, saying no to everything, that’s not absolutely important, simplifying your life, food, just back to basics, simplifying that setting strong boundaries. And then I also started to talk to women in my life about it. And I found it that almost everyone I talked to had their own experience, either they’re experiencing burnout, or at some point in their life they had, and they hadn’t really shared it. Because we’re programmed just to push on through.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, we are programmed to hide it, especially women, I think we feel the need to be strong all the time. You know, I was talking to somebody a few months back, it was a mom who had a teenager with a ton of stuff going on their life. And she kept saying how she had to be strong. At some point in the call, it was like, Can I be honest with you? I think for women, strength is used against us, it’s like a double edged sword, where obviously women are extremely strong, we do so much we get through so much. And at the same time, the expectation that we will always be strong, makes us sort of harden our hearts to not be vulnerable, not even connect to other people who share our experience, or who could actually help us. So I want to be careful about that a little bit. What do you think?

Patricia Bannan: 

We applaud in our society that pushing through, even when you’re burning the candle at both ends, like you can do it, you got this I believe in you. And it was interesting when I interviewed some of the women for the book, and the American mentality seemed to be just that and as if, you know, saying no or not following through when you’re just at your wits end was a sign of weakness rather than self love and self preservation. But one of the women I interviewed from France said she got two different opinions because she’s French she was working in the US she was in this burnout cycle, toxic corporate culture she was in and she just like every part of her being was falling apart and her American friends said I believe in you you can do it push on through you’re in this amazing position. And her friends from France so what the heck are you doing come home? This is not healthy. This is not worth it.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, and I think parents who are listening probably see this happening to their Kids, you know, I can’t tell you the number of kids that are in this boom bust cycle falling behind with their grades, missing assignments. And then they pull several all nighters. And it’s like a miracle, they’re able to catch up, and they’re prepared for the exam. And then they have the exam, and then they are so exhausted that they just crash, and they fall behind again, and then the cycle repeats. And I know, parents are really wavering between saying, You got this, we just got to push through to the end of the quarter. And hey, maybe it’s not that important. Maybe your health is more important. Maybe your mental health is more important. Maybe it’s okay to get a B, maybe we take this B and we learn the lesson. And then we you know, find the find a way to tackle this problem at its root. So, talk to us about what happened when you kind of realize that you were burned out and you started applying the learnign learnings. How did you come back from that?

Patricia Bannan: 

You really is not going to heal itself. Like you really have to say what do I need right now? How do I simplify my life from being burnout and deciding like after I wrote the book, what’s next now I’m working on wellness intelligence, and that has three pillars of health. And so this is one of the things not only can you hopefully prevent falling into burnout, but also things that if you aren’t, burnout can help you heal. mindset shift, like you just said, maybe sometimes the B is okay. Sometimes we need to teach kids resilience and push on through and don’t give up. I mean, there’s valid times and places for that to the line is not always clear. But I think just being aware of some of these dynamics can start to create a healthier dynamic. The second one is putting micro habits into place wellness micro habits into place that can help you stay in a stronger place, so you’re not so prone to burnout. There’s six pillars of that in the book in terms of mindfulness nutrition movement, I added one in working with you, Shilo, there were five, I talked about five. And I recently added a sixth one, which is play Oh, because you did a value exercise in a women’s circle that we’re in together. And it was like, wow, I need more play. And I watched some TED talks on it. And just in terms of, you know, not only is it important for our own well being, but if your goal is really to be creative and productive, whether you’re in a job or you’re studying for an exam, it’s so important for that as well. So whether the micro habit, depending on where you want to focus, sleep is also really important. And then the next one is community support. That is so key. And so for a teenager, you might see it that they are not sleeping as well, they’re not eating as well, mood wise, they’re irritable, they start to isolate, they don’t care as much. And as I say these things, you might think, well, maybe they’re just depressed, maybe it’s something else. But really, when it comes to burnout, the sign is that it’s very much related to work overload, or pressure overload, related to performance. And that’s where you really know it’s burnout and not something else going on.

Sheila Akbar: 

So related to that, can you talk to us a little bit about the difference between stress and burnout?

Patricia Bannan: 

Yes. So stress, when you’re really stressed, sometimes it’s you are just pushing through, you’re doing more, it’s like that adrenaline rush. Burnout is when that stress has taken such a toll that you start to check out, you start to disconnect, you start to numb out it’s a whole different ballgame.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. And hopefully listeners are not familiar with it. But you know, I think about this, and a couple of students come to mind, I’m not going to name any names. But I’ve definitely seen students who are completely disengaged, they’re having trouble finding friends or meaningful activities. They don’t even want to play video games, or just I don’t want to do anything, nothing is bringing them joy, there seems to be no motivation. And on the other side of this, I also see students who are disengaged, but they are still doing all of the things. They’re just doing them somewhat blindly, or like robotically, they’re going through the motions, because they feel this is what’s expected of them. And inside, they feel so misaligned and disconnected, not even sure who they are. And I know there were definitely times in my life where that’s how I’ve been operating just like on autopilot, and I don’t know who I am. But I am capable. So I’m going to do all of the things I’m gonna take care of people work, my job, whatever. Is that what we’re talking about when we are talking about burnout?

Patricia Bannan: 

Yes, I mean, I didn’t even know I was burnout till after the fact. So I was clearly doing exactly that. I was going through the motions. I was getting stuff done, but my inner Julie, and who am I and what makes me feel good. I mean, that was just stripped down to just get it done. But I have a stepson who’s in college, he’s a junior in college, and he came into my life when he was eight. So I’ve also seen his trajectory in terms of applying for schools and getting really stressed out his freshman year or trying to get into the School of Chemistry. If he didn’t get into the School of Chemistry, his life would fall apart and nothing would pan out as it should and it was like Do or die. And he did get in but I’m If he didn’t, his life would have been fine, too. And so, you know, we see that too.

Sheila Akbar: 

You know, my instinct from a mentorship perspective is to model good habits for the young people in our life. And I love that the third pillar of wellness intelligence is community, because we can also model it for other people in our community, our friends or family. Tell us more about the community aspect. How do you see it playing into wellness? Intelligence?

Patricia Bannan: 

Yes, so in the program I created, it was a women’s group, just that safe space to be vulnerable, to give people space to talk about their fears, or what they might consider even like failures or confusion, as well as celebrate them, and help guide them. So that’s so important for teenagers it can be if they need that, you know, professional health, it could be a tutors or things aren’t so stressful, it can also be again, like bringing back some downtime, that’s really going to be important. It can be a micro habit of downtime, it doesn’t mean you have to say okay, you know, no more homework or don’t study for that exam, like they might still need to do that. But how do you start to incorporate more breaks or more play. So that could be joining an activity that’s just for fun, not for you know, applying to a school, it’s, it’s going to look good, but just what is something or someone to hang out with or activity that’s just for fun, even if it’s three or five minute, little time spread throughout your day or throughout your week?

Sheila Akbar: 

Oh, that’s so important, you know, reminds me there’s a student I’m working with and she’s, you know, experienced a mixture of depression and stress and burnout, all of the things is high school. So it’s an emotional roller coaster. Anyway, I remember in some of our early meetings, I asked her when you were little, what were some of the things you did for fun. And she told me she used to just draw all the time. And so I asked her, How much are you drawing these days, and she was like, I don’t have any time for that. That’s not a priority. For me, I don’t draw at all. You know, she’s an athlete. She’s very studious, she’s got lots of other responsibilities, she’s involved in a lot of things. And she just didn’t see the value in making time for it. And as we have worked together, one of the things that I always encourage my students to do is community service, not just because colleges love to see it, and it shows them, you know, how engaged you’re going to be in that community, that college community. But it also is a great place for students to find personal growth and discover interests and, you know, build a sense of who they are. I also think it’s a place for play. And it’s a place where people can take things that they love doing, and share them with other people. So, you know, with this student, I’ve been working with her for quite a while. And we had this conversation a long time ago about how she really loved art. And we were working on Well, what are you going to do for community service, we came up with a couple ideas, she came back to the meeting, it was like, I found what I’m gonna do. And she was really excited about it. She’s teaching art, she’s gonna be teaching art to young kids. And it just made me so happy that she found a way to reconnect with something that brings her a lot of joy, and also is a great way to connect with a broader community and, you know, fulfill her high schools, community services, requirements.

Patricia Bannan: 

I love that. And I told you, I listened to one of your podcasts this morning on a walk, and it was about what to do in the summer, and how to choose things not that are gonna look good on a resume, but are meaningful because as you’re talking about them to even a school, it’s like, what what did it bring you what values did it show that you liked, or hobbies or whatever it might be, or something you really wanted to learn about. And so you can actually use those opportunities. Like you just said, it’s a wonderful opportunity rather to contribute to the burnout, oh, I have to do this summer program that I might not want to do or might not align with to something that super aligns with you. And not only is it going to fuel you, I mean, when you just said that about she’s teaching in our cars, it could tell like you lit up probably cuz she lit up. Yeah, what are those things that light them up?

Sheila Akbar: 

And of course, it’s not just for teenagers. I think if you step back, the reason we want young people getting involved in clubs and having hobbies and doing community service is because people who do that stuff, go on to become really interesting adults who do that stuff. You know, we forget that it feels like adult life is all about work and family responsibilities. But making it a priority for adults is such a great way number one to protect from burnout and increase wellness. But number two, to model this to everyone else.

Patricia Bannan: 

It’s true. I mean, I think modeling is so huge in every aspect of parenting. Plus, when you are, you know, when your inner core is strong, when you have joy in your life, and you’re not stressed out all the time, life is better for you and everyone around you. I mean, there’s that trickle effect, right? So whether they adopt some of those behaviors or energies of like playfulness, even aside from that, just having a parent who’s embracing that is going to create a more healthier, happier Bumble for them to be and that in and of itself can reduce the burnout or stress that their feelings.

Sheila Akbar: 

Oh, so true. And you know, I have to be honest, I have lots of aspirations, you know, living a life that’s full of all these wonderful things, but the reality is my life is mostly work and family responsibilities. So I’m still on my journey. What advice do you have for people who are like, oh, man, this all sounds really nice, but it’s just not realistic for me, I don’t have time.

Patricia Bannan: 

I’m the same way, you know, I know the importance of these things. And I teach them and I do embrace them. But at the end of the day, like a lot of my day is work and getting through it to do list not usually mostly enjoyable. So that’s my love micro habits. You know, it can be what bring one of those, you know, six now, we added play, do you most want to work on you know, what, what would excite you to have more of that in your life? And then, what does that look like? And then can we start with one minute a day? What does one minute a day look like, and then build from there five minutes a day. And what I love about these habits too, as you start to incorporate them, whether you’re a parent listening, or it’s for your child, when you start to incorporate in a way that feels effortless, and not like the to do list item, I like to say as it’s effortless as brushing your teeth, it could be even coupling it with something you do. So it could be you know, when I’m a dietician, right, so sometimes it’s like, if you want to take like, you know, a supplement or something, like put it next to the coffee, if you have a coffee every morning or whatever you’re drinking in the morning, something that you remind you, my husband, I started with him he wanted, he has some ailments from playing sports. And I said, What’s one thing you could do that would change your life in terms of like wellness? He’s like, Oh, I would do like, you know, a 30 minute stretch every day. So can you do one minute and and so every morning, he turns off the alarm before he does anything, he does a one minute search on the floor, which has now turned into three minutes stretch, but it’s just a great way to start the day and he feels better. It really helps. I mean, simple things like that. It’s also like you feel good. Like I’m doing something nice for myself, I’m really aligning to my core.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, Patricia, I feel like I could talk to you about this forever. But I think we’re coming to the end of our time here. So what’s one little piece of advice you want everyone to take away from today’s conversation?

Patricia Bannan: 

I’d say when it comes to burnout, or even stress, stress is unlikely to turn into burnout when adequate support is available. And it can be support that you’re giving yourself like these micro habits you’ve already integrated or can just be like asking for help or with your teenager noticing that it’s really gotten too far. Now, you know, we really need to realign because they’re really starting to check out. And burnout isn’t just, you know, the result is you’re numbed out you don’t feel good, but it affects every part of your body and your health and your sleep. And it’s no way to live.

Sheila Akbar: 

I mean, life is meant to be lived not survived. Right? Let’s all aim for that. Absolutely. Well, Patricia, thank you so much for joining us. If people want to learn more about you and what you do, where can they go?

Patricia Bannan: 

Yes. So for wellness intelligence, they can go to my wellness intelligence.com. and my website is patriciabannan.com. bannan.com. And yeah, on Instagram at Patricia Bannan.

Sheila Akbar: 

Fantastic. I’ll make sure all of those are linked in the show notes. Thank you again.

Patricia Bannan: 

Thank you, Sheila.

Sheila Akbar: 

Oh, I love talking to Patricia about this. As she mentioned, she and I are in a women’s circle where we get to kind of work on these things every two weeks in community. And it is so liberating and uplifting and wonderful to just know that, you know, we’re not the only ones going through this and other people may have figured some things out for themselves, and they can share that knowledge. Or we could just commiserate together and have a nice friendship. So I hope that this was helpful. I hope you will check out Patricia’s website. And if you’re worried that your student is struggling with burnout, please help them get to the proper resources. I’m always happy to talk to anybody. And we’ve got some resources for academic burnout on our website that you can search up. Alright everybody, thank you again for your time. We’ll see you next time. Bye.

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