Silhouette of a sailboat on the horizon in a late evening sky with storm clouds roaring aboveGoing through the motions is a phrase that we’ve all heard. Maybe you’ve experienced it, or seen a loved one experience it. Somehow, in the face of the unimaginable, you’re still able to get the everyday things done. 

What if going through the motions isn’t an ability—but a survival mechanism rooted deep in our subconscious? Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems that allow us to “keep going” for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations. It’s what helps humans survive natural disasters, but it can also take over after a workplace tragedy, an automatic response to loss and trauma. Particularly if you’re a caregiver (of children, of someone with an injury or disease, or of other loved ones), surge capacity might help you be the glue that holds it all together. 

But here’s the catch to surge capacity: it was only ever designed to help you with short-term survival. You might notice as time passes, that it’s harder to go through the motions, to keep calm and carry on. The everyday things feel harder and harder. Or maybe you don’t notice it at all, until one day you just can’t keep going. This failure, sudden or slow, of surge capacity is what we know as burnout. 

We know that a workplace tragedy isn’t a short-term situation—it’s a forever change. So what is the solution to this burnout?

Whether or not you’ve experienced this before (or are experiencing it now), there are three steps to starting to move through this storm:

  1. Understand your surge capacity systems. How do you keep going when it seems impossible to move forward? Where are the areas of your life that you are able to carry on as normal? Where are the areas that you can’t?
  2. Learn the signs of burnout: where can you first notice the little signs that are pointing to things maybe not being okay? How does your body react?
  3. Take just one action that builds your resilience bank account: the little actions add up. Even if all you can do is one thing that brings you peace (whether that is reading a favourite book, prayer, or time in nature), know that it is enough.   

Looking for ideas? Check out Threads of Life’s self-care resources online.

Emma Morris
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