Ofosu and Leah chat with former United Nations emergency responder Nadine McNeil about how to stop burnout before it starts, even during high-stress situations.
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While working as an emergency responder for the United Nations, Nadine helped people recover from natural disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. She now uses those skills as a coach, yoga instructor, storyteller, and humanitarian. You can learn more about her work, and how you can get coached by her, at https://www.universalempress.com/
OFOSU: Hey, what's up. I'm a Ofosu Jones Quartey
LEAH: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. And we're the meditation coaches on the Balance app.
OFOSU: And this is our weekly show Well-Balanced.
LEAH: Yeah. And today we're talking about burnout and ways to prevent it before it happens, even when we're in really stressful situations, because you know, there's a lot of crisis going on right now in the world.
A lot of people are under high stress and it can put a strain on all of us.
OFOSU: Absolutely. I mean, like on top of all of the different things that are happening in our daily lives, like in my daily life, being a parent and juggling all kinds of different, you know, entrepreneurial responsibilities - I went to the gym today and just what was on TV, like what's happening in the world.
I did start to feel a little overwhelmed and I was feeling if I don't manage how I take information and I feel that being on the edge of overwhelm is very easy to get to these days.
LEAH: Yeah. I mean, nobody wrote a book on how to manage your life and find balance during a global pandemic and the situation, you know, we're kind of in unprecedented times and we're all just trying to figure it out, family and career and personal wellbeing and social life. And you know, all the other concerns that we have - money. So. I think we should all have some compassion for ourselves. And I'm really excited to have this conversation because the struggle is real.
And I know our guests today, she's got personal experience with this and a lot to teach us because we're talking with my good friend, Nadine McNeil, and currently she's a yoga teacher and a wonderful coach reaching communities across the entire globe. And I've also had the honor of leading courses and continuing to lead courses with her on teaching women how to lead women's circles. That's been really exciting. But before this career of hers, she actually worked for the United Nations, responding to emergencies like the earthquake from Haiti in 2010. And she's handled a lot of pressure in her life after that and has come out better for it.
So I'm excited to see what we could learn from her. Hey Nadine thanks so much for joining us.
NADINE: Oh, I'm excited to be here. Thank you.
LEAH: So Nadine you're in Jamaica right now?
NADINE: Yeah, I am. Yes.
LEAH: I think it's such a beautiful place. So it was Haiti by the way, I came there two weeks before that earthquake happened.
Um, I remember hearing about it in the news and just thinking, oh my gosh. And just remembering all the people there and the beautiful spirit that they had and just feeling a whole lot of heartache for it. And I know that you were right in the middle of that disaster relief and it sounds super intense.
Can you perhaps, tell us about a time with that work when you did feel overwhelmed.
NADINE: Wow. You know, layer, the overwhelm tends to come kind of afterwards because when you're in the midst of the crisis, you're trying to juggle and manage a million different situations or scenarios. You know, in my case, working as a first responder in emergency response and logistics, I kind of had to hold myself together to get the job done, you know, at a practical level, one tries to make sure they're hydrated, et cetera.
But I think something you also said in the intro is that recognizing that chaos, crisis and uncertainty is the vortex that we're swimming in. So with that level of awareness, we then monitor the information that we take in, you know, it's funny what you said also about being at the gym and, you know, we have these monitors and stuff blaring at us.
The thing we've absorbed because we're absorbent beings. You know, we are products of our environment. So for example, you know, I don't have a television in my room. I have a television in the house I happen to be in because it came with one and I've covered it. So I'm super mindful of the intake of information from social media to conversations with people in my community. Cause that's one of my self preservation things.
OFOSU: Yeah. I'm really fascinated by what you said, Nadine about the overwhelm happening after the event, after being on the ground. And could you speak a little bit more about that huge question?
NADINE: Um, you know, we hear the term post traumatic stress disorder and what does that really mean?
And, you know, in the most basic interpretation of trauma for me, trauma is when an incident occurs and I do not have the emotional vocabulary in that moment to translate what's going on. So I go into either flight freeze or fight, and so recognizing what's happening there and, you know, three years ago when my father was very sick shortly before he died on one Friday afternoon at 5:00 PM, we had to get an ambulance to rush him to the hospital.
And so my emergency response person kicks in. And, you know, I know how to manage crises, cause I'm really good at that. But I remember being in that ambulance and it was like, I was having an outer body experience and I'm going, okay, this is a traumatic event. My father is in front of me. He's dying. The sirens are going.
We're trying to move through traffic. I'm going, Dad. Dad, can you hear me? One, two, Dad, watch your name. 1, 2, 3. Are we getting closer? And I'm going through all that. And, um, it appears that I'm functioning until 2020 and I go, oh ish, here comes the trauma. And then it all comes rolling in.
LEAH: You know, it's interesting when we talk about burnout, as it relates to what you've been sharing.
You said the overwhelm doesn't happen in the exact moment of the crisis, because at least in your case, and probably in the case of a lot of people, we get mobilized to do something. Our nervous systems respond and it's like, oh, I've got to fix this. I've got to get to action. But then it's only after that, that we recognize the impact in our bodies.
I heard it said that 30 minutes of real acute stress is the same to your body as working a hard job for an entire day. I mean, that's the epitome of burnout to me is that you don't realize what is going on in the moment and how it's impacting our bodies until after. I'm just curious, like, when you did realize that you were in burnout, or that you've hit that wall of overwhelm - how did you take care of yourself?
NADINE: My first acute crisis, as it were in fact, I was in Indonesia in 2006 and there was an earthquake in Carto and I was working with UNICEF at the time and doing that emergency response. We've loaded up the C1, 60 aircraft and some things really weird. I don't feel well.
I was seeing stars. My stomach was going flip-flop. My knees were wobbly. I had no idea what was going on, but I just knew I didn't feel right. So we get on the aircraft, we're going down the runway and I get up and I go to the person. I said, I actually cannot do this flight. And she goes, do you realize what you're asking me to do?
I said, I know exactly what I'm asking you to do. You're going to turn this plane around and you're going to take me off the plane and when they did, they got me to some little clinic in, you know, the boondocks in Indonesia. I had blood pressure, like at one 90 something over 130 something.
And so my response when I, when I'm scared is that I laugh and that was my first wake up call. You know, things have changed a lot in international organizations since 2006, but no one really recognized the impact, the physical impact of the stress that we were all working on today, which is what took me out of the UN to where I am today.
And I'm so grateful for it. Having said that, look at what we're living in. Now we tend to think of crisis and trauma and stress as you know, we have to be in a state of war in a pandemic. I mean, trying to feed five children on $3 on a regular basis, that's chronic stress. And ultimately it's going to affect our adrenals, our endocrine system, how we're sleeping, our livers, our internal organs, and that gives rise to the disease.
LEAH: So what do you recommend? I mean, what are some of the ways that you found helped you in that recovery of that stress?
NADINE: Acknowledging that I'm not perfect. And I can't do it all, cutting myself some slack and that I don't have to do it all. No one says I have to save the world. I can try to save myself and, you know, look at what's really important.
If it won't matter in five years, then don't give it more than five minutes of your thought. We get so eaten up with things that really don't matter. And you know, just less is more making sure that I'm eating properly and really hypervigilant about everything that I'm taking in from the water I'm drinking to the people I'm engaging with, to how I'm sleeping to where I'm traveling.
Really becoming a responsible human being. You know, I think it sounds trite, but it really isn't the simplicity that we then get to take care of ourselves and routine routine routine, you know, make sure that you're doing these practices consistently. We are where we are today because we have shown up each and every day, no matter what -humbly with gratitude with reverence, with vulnerability saying I don't have all the answers and going out there and seeking the help when and where we need it.
OFOSU: Wow. What you are talking about, Nadine, about how you manage to work with overwhelm, work with burnout. What stands out to me as self-compassion is that, that first piece of life, it's not on me to be the, be all and end all of this situation.
And I think a lot of us tend to go into that mode where we feel like if we don't fix it all, it won't get fixed. And then the simplicity, the emphasis on simplicity that you are sharing here, it actually takes work. But I think that between self-compassion, managing your intake and making things a little bit more simple.
These are really powerful practices for anybody to engage with.
NADINE: Wow. I loved how you really just crystallized it to indeed self-compassion and less is more. And you know, that analogy that we've all heard puts a gas mask on self first before assisting anyone including the children, because if we are out of whack, then we're of no use to anyone.
Most of all ourselves.
LEAH: And I wanted to ask you one final question, if that's okay. You talked about laughing as being assigned to you that things are going downhill. Um, I'm curious if you noticed any other signs of burnout in yourself or in others, like ways that we can start to, um, maybe prevent or see those red flags before the burnout happens and help to prevent it.
NADINE: Um, excellent question. Um, start to notice your sleep patterns. Most of us are not resting. We're collapsing into bed at the end of the day from sheer exhaustion and overstimulation to the very gadgets that we're on. So be mindful of how you go to bed. That's one thing. The other thing I noticed within myself is when I start to get short tempered, when I start to snap at things that are disproportionate to actually what's going on, I look at that.
The other thing also is my digestion. Your body will start to give you signs. Even before you're able to articulate it. So one of the things for me, for example, I'm on 14 days, no coffee and loving it. Is that the worst thing I can do for myself when I've gone over the edge and I'm super tired is to drink coffee?
[OFOSU: same!] Oh my God, it's the worst thing I can do. Yeah. And I go, oh, the coffee isn't helping. I mean, and then I get aggressive over the coffee like, whoa, Nadine. And my digestion, you know, around that, um, belly button area. Is where I tend to hold a lot of my attention. So I start burping. I'm not digesting food so, well, then I go, okay, there's something going on here?
LEAH: You know, that makes sense with what we know about the nervous system, when you're in a, even a somewhat fight or flight mode, your digestion shuts down. Your body utilizes all the resources of energy, it would apply towards digesting and it goes towards emergency response instead.
So indigestion is definitely like from a scientific perspective exactly one of those signs.
NADINE: Yes. And you know, you probably remember this Leah in the early days of the pandemic when I would be gripped with fear. We know that depression is in the past, anxiety is in the future.
That's it. And so if I can just be here and now, and I remember moments, heightened uncertainty, you know, we felt we'd been in this little pandemic for about three months here. We are coming up to almost three years and I would literally be going down the road and I'm saying to myself in this moment right now all is well in this moment right now all is well.
And I would keep repeating that to myself and it works. It definitely works.
OFOSU: Yeah. It's a mantra of mine. If I can be so bold as to say that it's the name of my album In This Moment, so yeah.
NADINE: Wow. There you go.
OFOSU: I so appreciate this talk because some of what has been discussed here has been heavy, but it's a heavy time in our world right now.
And like you said before, chaos, confusion, uncertainty are the vortex that we currently are in and it makes sense that people would be experiencing burnout. So taking time to be kind to ourselves to be present. And to watch out for the signs. Yeah. Those are the big takeaways for me.
LEAH: And to know there are things within our control, you know, like if you need to land the plane, land the plane.
NADINE: Land the plane.
LEAH: Yeah. I think that's going to be the new, new hashtag - land the plane.
NADINE: I liked that. I liked that. And if I can just say, turn the volume down, you know, just turn the volume down on everything for a moment. That alone and just exhale. And it's like, ah, I got this.
LEAH: Thanks so much for talking with us today, Nadine.
You're amazing. And a powerful woman.
OFOSU: Really appreciate you. Thank you so much.
NADINE: Thank you. Thank you for all that you're both doing.
LEAH: So that's Nadine McNeil. She's a yoga teacher and a transformation coach and a great friend based in Jamaica. You can learn more about her work and how you can get coached by her at her website, universalempress.com or check her out on Instagram at universalempress.
OFOSU: I just loved everything that Nadine had to say, hearing like land the plane. I mean, that's just going to be a mantra anytime I'm about to get into deep water and, um, and it's not the right thing to do. I'm just going to say to myself, land the plane.
OFOSU: All right, y'all listen. We're going to be coming with another episode next week like we do every Monday, subscribe or follow on whatever podcast app you use to get notified. When that goes live until then please be kind to yourself and we'll see you later. Holler back!
LEAH: Have a beautiful week!