The Story of Ending Burnout with Caitlin Donovan

The quarantine has led many to a state of increased stress, depressive feelings, loss of purpose, and anxiety. And for those that are informed, that can be the perfect recipe burnout. And while we’re focused on the invisible threat of a virus right now, the long term implications and reach of burnout may be far worse.

Today, we’re speaking with an expert in Chinese Medicine, a Burnout Coach, and the host of FRIED – The Burnout Podcast. She’s on a mission to end ‘Burnout Culture’ and sees stress management as the true medicine of the future. And with most of us facing more challenges than ever, she wants to teach you how to be more resilient, have more energy, and more fun. This is the story of ending burnout, with Caitlin Donovan.

This is the story of ending burnout with Caitlin Donovan.

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Connect with Caitlin Donovan

FRIED The Burnout Podcast Website:
‘Master Your Own Energy’ Class: LINK
Instagram (Personal): @cait_donovan
Instagram (Podcast): @friedtheburnoutpodcast

The Transcript

Disclaimer: Transcripts are prepared by a transcription service. Refer to full video above for exact wording.

Caspar Szulc: 00:01
Contrary to what some felt like may be a time to slow down and reflect, the quarantine has led many to a state of increased stress, depressive feelings, loss of purpose, and anxiety. And for those that are informed, that can be recipe burnout. And while we’re focused on the invisible threat of a virus right now, the long term implications and reach of burnout may be far worse. Today, we’re speaking with an expert in Chinese Medicine, a Burnout Coach, and the host of FRIED – The Burnout Podcast. She’s on a mission to End Burnout Culture and sees stress management as the true medicine of the future. And with most of us facing more challenges than ever, she wants to teach you how to be more resilient, have more energy, and more fun. This is the story of ending burnout, with Caitlin Donovan.

And this is a topic again that I am just really thrilled to be speaking about because it’s impacted me and I think it impacts so many others. And of course we’re talking about burnout and our guest today, Caitlin Donovan, is going to go into this much deeper about her own story. And I think that’s where I’d like to start because you know your health, your story, I always like to talk about a personal story. So how did burn out impact you and why is this so important, that you made it your mission?

Caitlin Donovan: 01:40
No, and it is. I feel like even more than my mission, like it grows by the day as I continue on this journey. But when I, I followed all the rules to creating a good life. I went to a good school, I got the degree that I wanted to get, I got a job. Well, I created a business in the fields that I wanted to create it in. I originally started as a premed student, but when I was guided into Chinese medicine, even though it was scary and risky and expensive and all of that, I jumped in. I went to Argentina when just before my last year of my Master’s degree and I met a Polish man who I was engaged to in six weeks and moved to Poland once I finished my Master’s degree and I was practicing acupuncture in Poland. I was the very first acupuncturist in Warsaw in the country, really to be working in a fertility center.

So I shifted that completely for the entire country because now there’s a ton of fertility acupuncturist, most of whom I trained, which is really amazing. And I’m really proud of that. But what happened to me and what I didn’t realize was happening was that I was so exhausted by the time I worked at the fertility center for awhile. Then I opened a private practice. I’ve had a three month waiting list. I was up to with people all the time. And I thought that I had good boundaries and I thought that I had decent self care. I was a stress management expert, as is every acupuncturist because that’s what we’re designed to treat by nature. And I, my body fell apart, my thyroid let go, I gained a bunch of weight. I was really angry every time my phone rang. And it was a number that I didn’t recognize because I was like, I do not have time for you people.

Caspar Szulc: 03:29
I totally get that by the way. And I think so many people get that. And we’re going to go into some of these signs because that is a sign quite literally. But yeah, continue on. Cause this is fascinating

Caitlin Donovan: 03:41
And I was just sort of horrified and I told and at the time I’ll get to this a little bit later, but I always believe that burnout has a combination of internal and external causes. And at the time I was not really looking into any of the internal ones because I was doing a life coach training, an apprenticeship with the top life coach in the country. Her name is Eva [inaudible][inaudible] was talking about in talking about it and I asked her if her mother had migraines because in Chinese medicine school we learned this really frequently that migraines get passed down through the female line very often. So I said, okay, well did your mother have migraines? Because sometimes migraine is a learned behavior that we choose that allows us to be alone. It’s like the only time where you can say, well, I have a migraine. I need a dark room. It’s the only time that there’ll be space where you’re totally left alone, but she felt really abandoned by this process when she was a child and she was afraid to be doing that to her daughter. Right. I sat down with her in our very first session and we got into this, I don’t even know how it happened, and I looked at her and I said, you are not your mother. She literally stopped having migraines that day. I did an acupuncture treatment.

Caspar Szulc: 22:05
That’s right. To go along with that, it helps with releasing that correct. Energetic blockages were there, but she also needed to realize that herself consciously, subconsciously, it probably been running this belief system forever until she truly addressed that cleared any energetic blockages. At the same time, you can’t release that altogether. Right. And it is a, I think a an issue with many people that that can lead to burnout. Now I really want to get to the importance of this because a lot of people say, all right, you’re burned out, you’ll bounce back, right? You’ll, you’ll reset, you’ll do everything, it’ll be fine. But what are the longterm health impacts of burnout? Cause I know I see it all the time and I could get into some serious conditions where it all started with burnout. And again, the correlation was just missed by conventional medicine. What have you seen?

Caitlin Donovan: 22:56
I think too, in order to understand the answers to this question, we have to explain the basics of how chronic stress affects the body. Right? That just the really simple parts. Cause I know that the two of us could probably talk about this for a week, but just to go over for people listening, the really simple things that happen, and in my world, the way that I’ve seen the burnout research come through and the things that I’ve experienced in my patients and clients and and myself, is that longterm, unprocessed stress will lead to burnout,

Stress and burnout, not necessarily separate. You don’t have to be burnt out if you’re stressed, but if you’re burnt out, you were stressed. Right? If that makes sense. So when you have that level of stress, even if it’s a very low level, but it lasts a very long time, that can still end up in burnout. But what happens physically is you lose gray matter in your brain. Your prefrontal cortex shrinks, your amygdala shrinks. So when those things happen, you have an inability to react properly to emotional situations, into stressful situations. You lose your ability to transform the new stress that’s coming into your life. So it just sort of bounces out of you in some sort of emotional way, whether it’s crying or anger or whatever it happens to be, and you don’t have the executive function, the logical thinking that will allow you to counterbalance the emotion that’s coming up in your body.

Related: The Importance of Mental Health and Its Connection to Our Modern Culture

Right? So this is a, this is a thing. So longterm, that’s anxiety, depression, mania, bipolar disorder. I mean we could go on and on. So anything where the brain is not functioning at 100% basically. Then we have an impact on gut bacteria. This has been proven over and over and over and over, right? You have stress, especially that’s chronic and it will change your gut microbiome, which will mean that you will gain weight and have issues with digestion. Anything from loose stools to constipation, to IBS, to Crohn’s disease, to colitis, to diverticulitis, two, two, two, two. We could go on and on and on and on. Right? So this is pretty much anything that’s happening in the gut in my mind, always has a component of stress and stress then. And then that affects what you’re choosing to eat. Which makes the problem worse and you’re stuck on this cycle.

Right. And it really is a vicious cycle because I even remember talking to…and all of the impacts of stress that you mentioned. I was speaking to a doctor recently about SIBO, small intestinal bacteria overgrowth. Right. And he was going into that. His belief after dealing with so many patients and seeing them get better as it all started with stress because stress deactivates the parasympathetic system. Sympathetic. So your parasympathetic isn’t going, but when you eat you need to be in a parasympathetic state to cause the, the movement of the intestinal walls. Otherwise they stay stagnant. Food sits there, right. You have an overgrowth. It doesn’t move it putrifies you have an overgrowth of this bacteria. And it all started with you stressing, right. While you’re eating. That’s it. Listening to the news while you are yelling or something, walking, being, you know, answering emails, whatever it is. Stress can be triggered by so little nowadays

By so little. And we don’t have a lot of white noise anymore, especially since the invention of the like personal smartphone. We don’t have quiet space in our worlds anymore unless we create it purpose.

Caspar Szulc: 26:44
Right. So how big are you on digital detoxes? Major? Major. You think it’s absolutely necessary. Everyone goes through some sort of digital detox as most people kind of like joke about it. Like I’ll do it, but then after an hour I just can’t live without. It’s like, well that’s not a good sign.

Caitlin Donovan: 27:01
No. And I actually have a really big issue with this. I’m totally attached to my phone. I love my phone. So I am not coming from like a pedestal over here telling everyone that they just need to like, you know, get over the dopamine rush that they get when they get a new Instagram comment because that’s the, it’s a, there’s a physical reaction happening. Like this is not totally, this is not totally your fault, you know? So and I am definitely in the group of people that is very attached to technology, iPhone. But that means that I create time in my life where I can’t touch it for a week. For instance, my husband and I did an extreme cross country trip above the Arctic circle in Finland. And…

You’re there, it’s negative 13 degrees Celsius. So negative 25 ish no negative 25 Celsius. So about negative 13 Fahrenheit. It’s windy. Your cell phone battery is gonna die if you take it out and you’re in the Arctic circle, like you do not have internet access. There are no phones. It’s impossible because your phone will die because it’s so cold. The battery will die immediately and there’s no connection anyway. Like there was no chance of connection. So I caught myself into scenarios that require me to be away from it because I have no other option. And as soon as the first day is over, it’s like I forgot that I had a phone in the first place. Do not care at all. Yes, yes. You don’t care.

Caspar Szulc: 28:26
I mean, and this brings up something I’m really passionate about and I will talk about also with you and on your podcast, is this idea of, for me it’s about resetting, but how do I do that? I travel. And I don’t travel to places where I know are going to be like a beach in a resort. I do that too, of course. But I will travel to the middle of Jordan and do a nine day hike into Petra. Right. Which is amazing. But ain’t no service out there. I mean, I have to put it away. You’re walking all day, you’re in nature. There is no choice. It’s not nice. You’re sleeping out. You’re, you know, putting up the tent or going to the bathroom and a little hole….

Caitlin Donovan: 29:03
You haven’t showered in three days and you’re wearing the same outfit again. Yeah.

Caspar Szulc: 29:08
But it is so liberating. My stress levels Caitlin just reduced so much. It was like, wow. And that was just after a few days. Right? Like you said, my phone, I couldn’t use it. There was no service. Why even look at it? You know? So it was just a way, and I have to say, if you’re going through some major burnout, the traveling’s cool anyway. Right. It’s something to talk about. It gives you an experience. Everyone wants to do it right, but do it right in a sense. I say, cut yourself off. Go enjoy where you’re going, really live it, and you’ll see your stress levels will go so far down. So I’m so glad you brought that up. Cause I always say travel isn’t about just, you know, going someplace and relaxing. It could be strenuous. Like you said, that must’ve been uncomfortable up there and negative 20 something degree weather.

Caitlin Donovan: 29:58
It was strenuous. I mean we were skiing for four to six hours a day. Yeah. That’s like cross country skiing. Four to six hours a day. That’s, that’s intense.

Caspar Szulc: 30:07
Tiring. Yeah. But that’s a good feeling afterwards. Right?

Caitlin Donovan: 30:10
Right. Which is tricky because I, the, when you’re burnt out, I couldn’t have done this when I was burnt out. It was, it wouldn’t have been possible because one of the things, if we’re going on like longterm health impact with burnout, one of the things that happens when you’re really burnt out and really deep into chronic stress is that you have muscle atrophy. So you, when I couldn’t get up that hill, I physically couldn’t. I have exercised my whole life. I was a competitive gymnast. I was the captain of my field hockey team. I ran track. I’ve always been active. I mean I friggin went to the North pole and skied my heart out like, and I liked it. I mean, I hated it sometimes too, but I liked it. And so being in a place where like everybody says, you know, get out, exercise is healthy, get out, exercise is healthy. But when your muscles are atrophied, you literally do not have the power to do it. So if that is the scenario for you and you just cannot physically keep up with yourself, then you’ve got to go choose. Like if a Vipassana meditation retreat or some retreat where the focus is not necessarily movement but rest without your phone.

Caspar Szulc: 31:19
Yeah. And that brings up a really good point in, I think a huge part of it and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it is understanding your body and who you are. Right? Because you could be listening to us and say, Oh man, I want to go on a really, you know, strenuous adventure now to the middle of Tibet or something and climb Mount Everest. It’s like, no, maybe you shouldn’t because you could barely get out of bed. Listen to your body where it is. Right? Work yourself up. Understand that and understand the small triggers. Understand the little things, the symptomology. Understand when you get a little cold, a little more, your immune system’s lowered, right? So how much do you feel it is about understanding who you are and respecting who you are?

Caitlin Donovan: 32:03
I think that you just brought up such a massive, massive discussion that we could do an entire new episode on. Because for instance, just recently sometime last year I had a surgery for an Achilles rupture and following the surgery I was put on pain meds and they said, please take them for at least three days. Because if you, if this pain starts, you’re not going to be able to handle it. I don’t really love pain meds. So I was not really into that. But I said, okay, if I can do three days then I’ll stop and I’ll just deal with it. So that’s what I did. But those three days, very strong pain meds through my system off for months. So, and I started having histamine reactions. So I went to bed one day, woke up the next morning. My face was like three times the size.

I’m not, I’m not joking. Like I was so puffy. I couldn’t, I opened my phone to check what time it was and I couldn’t open my eyes enough to see my whole screen. So I’m having this crazy histamine reaction and I, at the time I just naturally, I wasn’t really thinking about it. We eat spinach almost every day at our house. Like it’s very common food. And I stopped eating it and I wasn’t really thinking about it. When you have spinach is a food that has high histamine levels in it, so or creates high histamine in your body when you eat it. So I was naturally doing this thing that was good for my body, but try telling someone that’s trying to be healthy, that spinach isn’t good for them right now. So we, we really have a hard time…and this is what you said in the beginning too.

There’s so much information out there. We really have a hard time sifting through the information that’s good for our bodies because we have not been taught to listen. We have not been taught to listen to our bodies. We do not know what that means really. So it’s like is an egg good for you or bad for you? I don’t know. Depends on you. Like I’m not eating right now. I will go back to spinach once everything comes down, but I can’t have that right now. Lentils, one of my favorite food. Very high histamine. Can’t have them right now. And if you told somebody that you’re not having lentils cause they’re not good for you at the moment, it sounds you sound crazy. So what I want people to get out of this is your body really does know and if you’re doing things consistently, if you are quote unquote doing all the healthy correct things and you still feel bad, it’s because they’re healthy, correct things on black and white paper, not in your very colorful body.

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Caspar Szulc: 34:35
And that that, that’s a beautiful point because people like black and white, they like being told generalized statements that this is healthy for you and this is not, and we do not live in that black and white world. And your body definitely doesn’t. You’re right, it’s in the middle. It’s the a hundred shades of gray that really are all the colors that make up the rainbow inside of you. Like you know, to put it in a cheesy way, but it’s very true, right? You gotta be so true to yourself that you could look at the patterns out there, what other people are doing, get inspiration from that. Right? But to honor yourself is to just listen to yourself that someone else did it this way and when Keto and lost weight doesn’t mean you will. Yeah, and it doesn’t mean you have to follow everybody, be yourself. Right? Be really genuine and understand that and appreciate that and I think that’s really hard because we as a society want to be told what is right and wrong and what to do instead of kind of figuring it out ourselves. I did questions. I’m sure you do all the time, right? It’s like, what do I do for this? They’re like, well, I can’t answer that truthfully. Like I’d love to, but I don’t know you like there was no blanket statement here that’ll work for you. And that’s true for burnout too.

Caitlin Donovan: 35:48
It’s true for burnout too, and I think that the, a really important part of burnout is that like tendency toward people pleasing and over-giving, it makes it that much more difficult to listen to your body because you’re so tuned in to what the needs are of the people around you. That tuning into your own needs feels terribly selfish even when it’s not, but it feels that way. So they want a black and white list because they, it’s so uncomfortable for them to be sending themselves that much attention and care and love.

Caspar Szulc: 36:23
But it’s usually the things that make us uncomfortable that are best for us. Right. Unfortunately, unfortunately. But once we get through it, realize, wow, that that really wasn’t that bad anyway. Do you think saying no is a big part of this. I mean, I know I get that too. I get the guilt of like all these requests and everything and I’m like, I don’t have time, but I want to be nice. I want to network, I want to do all these things. There’s FOMO, right? It’s all these things. Right? And you end up saying yes to probably too many things.

Caitlin Donovan: 36:54
My husband calls it mother-effing Teresa syndrome.

Caspar Szulc: 36:58
I like that. That should be the clinical name for it.

Caitlin Donovan: 37:01
Right. And this is the pretty much the crux of everything that I teach and is the main focus of my signature talk that I do at corporate wellness events. And things like that because we have, there’s a lot of information out there about how to say no on the outside, right? There’s lists of how to nicely say no to people and how to, you know, put up your boundaries. And I think those things are massively important and I think we need to practice them. And the, exactly what you said, I want to be a nice person. It’s like welcome to burnout world. Like if when you’re thinking about being a nice person, the only thing you’re considering is your expectation of the other person’s reaction, not even what their reaction might actually be because you have no idea what their reaction will actually be. Right? Right. So you’re making decisions based on an assumption that is controlling what you’re doing in your life. Like it’s totally not. Okay.

Caspar Szulc: 37:58
Yeah. I absolutely hate assumptions because I think that’s the biggest like breakdown of communicate everything and it just leads to stress that is unnecessary.

Caitlin Donovan: 38:07
But being a person that says, I want to be a nice person, you can’t try to be a nice person without making assumptions.

You can’t. Right. It’s not possible. All you’re doing in those moments are making assumptions about what someone will say, think, or feel about you if you don’t give them the answer that you assume that they want. So you’re making like levels, not even just an assumption but levels of assumptions when you’re trying to be a nice person. So I think that learning to say no is incredibly important, but the more important piece, and the thing that I teach the most is learning where your own internal boundaries are and not saying yes or offering when you don’t have the time, space or energy. Right? So like for instance, I, I know this well and I’ve created this as my signature talk because it was one of my main issues. My husband is Polish and can throw a temper tantrum sometimes. There’s a lot of anger in Polish culture, rightfully so.

I understand where it comes from and the generational trauma and all of that. But he often reacts to things in a way that I find unreasonable, which is not his problem really. Like it’s not really his problem. But he was in the office one day and he was doing something on the computer and he slammed his hand down and swore in Polish and immediately I stood up from whatever it was I was doing. I don’t even remember what I was doing and I went to double check if the modem and the router were working properly so that to make sure that his wifi was working well. He didn’t complain about the wifi. He didn’t say I was fixing a problem for him. That a) he didn’t say that he had. B) He didn’t ask me for help with, right. This is though you see your spouse or your partner or your child searching for something in the house and you go reach and give them a sock and they’re like, I was looking for my hat.

Like we’re doing all this extra stuff to be considerate nice people that people are not asking us to do that is not necessarily helpful and that is a huge energy drain on us.

Caspar Szulc: 40:24
And that’s a thing. It’s about energy, right? Yes. It’s, everything is energy and we’re talking about it on multiple levels. Your own physical energy. We’re talking from an energetic standpoint that we are all actually vibration, and we’re giving that away. No reason for no reason. They have so much. Right. That’s all new. Yes, exactly. Ourselves to empty, diffusing all our energy on what? On trying to be nice. I’m trying to be nice.

Caitlin Donovan: 40:49
Yeah. And I realized too that this crosses over also to inanimate objects. So we don’t just do this with people. We also do this with tools. I was ironing my husband’s shirts, which I almost never do, but I was like, you know, he’s had a really tough week and he has a travel coming up and I just want to make sure he’s prepared and do something nice for him. And so I’m ironing his shirts and I realized that it was like a Herculean task for me. Like I must strong person, I can bust out pushups right now. And I was pushing on that iron like it was 1930 and I had to, you know, like, and I was like warming it up over the coals and then really putting gusto into it. I have a brand new iron. I just moved back to the United States and I was living in Europe, so I had to Buy all brand new appliances because the plugs and the, you know, the hertz and all that.

Caitlin Donovan: 41:40
There is no reason for me to be pudding, physical strength, ironing a shirt, I’m just pouring out energy for no reason.

Caspar Szulc: 41:55
We have to be smart about that, right? Where we put our energy, because we live in a time where that energy is always being sapped, right? It’s, it’s constantly, it is right now as we sit here, we’re having an electromagnetic fields that our cells are reacting to and spending some energy on. Even as we sleep. We’re kind of trying to regenerate, but we’re also losing some. So it’s like we have a leak in the bucket, but we don’t want to keep exacerbating that and making more leaks and we’re doing that either subconsciously or trying to be nice. And then, you know, breaking down over it and, and all these things that are leaning to leading to burnout now. Now, how much do you also attribute it to our society’s need to always want more and more and more? Because there are a lot of people out there that are leading themselves. Like you said, I had the money, I had the like, what am I do?

Caspar Szulc: 42:46
Right, but I think we have this kind of, we look at some people having more than we do and we say, all right, I want to get to them. I know that’s going to be the long days and extra stress, but that’s what I want. Why can’t we be comfortable with enough and and forego the burnout?

Caitlin Donovan: 43:01
Because we don’t feel like we are enough.

Caspar Szulc: 43:05
That’s it. Right? We don’t have the sell value to say this is enough. Yes, and that’s a, that’s a problem because I think you see it more and more, especially with social media. I love, listen, I say social media is a tool. There is, there is no good or bad. I’m not going to, in the beginning I said it was bad. Too many trolls, too many, too much negativity, but now I’m on it. Understand this is the way we are. Like I’m not going to change how most of us are, the way we’re going, the way we want to share is different. We don’t use rotary phones anymore. You know, we need to get on with the times. But I also see that so many people on there are just looking at other lives saying I want that. Right. When that’s not real. First off, it’s a facade. That person isn’t truly always happy all the time and traveling nonstop. That’s almost impossible. And you can’t put yourself up against that and then strive for it but burning out because that’s probably not even what you want. Right. So how do you deal with people like that? That are constantly on social media and constantly comparing themselves, wanting more and that wanting of more is leading them to burn out.

Caitlin Donovan: 44:12
Work on self-esteem. Self-worth. There is no other way to get around that. And I think that this is a massive part of burnout. Not feeling enough. So constantly trying to constantly being in a state where you feel like you have to prove something to some unimaginable room of people. When the VA, the VA, whoever they are that you’re talking about, trying to prove it to them. For me in my life, I grew up in a city in Massachusetts that is pretty drug ridden. I didn’t grow up with a lot of extra resources, but we were not on the low end necessarily of the city altogether. We weren’t on welfare. I didn’t have holes in my shoes. I always had clothes that fit me. I always had a winter jacket that kept me warm. I was never worried that we weren’t going to have food or a place to live. So all of my basic comforts, we’re covered. There was just nothing extra basically. And…

Caitlin Donovan: 45:10
I grew up with this idea that in order to be successful I have to be able to take myself out of that city. And out of that scenario, I haven’t lived there in 17 years and I’m still, when I, my day is like people from my hometown who are really proud of me and really enjoy what I do, but I’m still, I still feel this need to say, you know, I grew up in kind of this really not great scenario, but I worked my ass off and like I did something with my, like I did something impressive kind of, and that’s, that was a major driver for burnout for me because I was not focused on my inherent value just as a human.

Caspar Szulc: 45:56
And that, that all of us have day, right? It’s the subconscious beliefs. It’s all like, you know, there isn’t a single person out there that isn’t dealing with this. And that’s also something you have to realize. You got to show yourself some kind of care there and, and not blame yourself or suddenly for yourself into a guilt-ridden negative state because we all have them. We’re all human. Even the people, the most successful like motivational speakers, trust me, I’ve spoken to some, they have it for sure. You know, they’re dealing with a lot of ego issues, self-doubt, every we all do. And it’s that understanding and being more careful with yourself and trying to show yourself more self-love. That I think starts to take us into this place of respecting who we are, not being so influenced by external things and being able to deal with the normal stresses of life and not lead to burnout.

Caspar Szulc: 46:51
Now I really, I feel like we’ve positioned ourselves to where most people like, Oh man, I’m suffering from burnout. I realize that now some form because we all kind of are. I feel, I mean, listen, you and I both live in New York City. If you’re not, I find that weird like good for you, but most of us in a little bit probably, and that lie will probably lead to more burnout, right? Cause you got to carry that energy of that lie. But what are some of the actionable pieces – what are some of your secret weapons, maybe techniques that you’re sharing, and of course they can’t be personalized because we’re speaking to a whole here, but what are some of the things you’re seeing are going to help with people dealing with burnout?

Caitlin Donovan: 47:33
For me, one of the biggest things is to make no of your resentment.

Start a resentment journal and start noticing how often you’re feeling resentful during the day because all of those places will show you where you are, overstepping your own boundaries or not maintaining your boundaries so that other people can’t cross them. Most of the time it will be the former. It will be that you’re overstepping. You know, you’re, if you’re always the first person to raise your hand in the meeting room when the boss says a new task needs to be done, like you need to stop because you’ll write down on your resentment list. I’m so resentful that I have this extra task to do and nobody’s helping me with it. Well, you raised your damn hand. Stop raising your hands, right. So making no of all of the times that we, that we feel resentful is a massively, massively huge tool to help us realize where our boundaries are, where they are not and where they need to be. And without that, you can’t protect yourself enough to heal.

Caspar Szulc: 48:37
Right. And that goes sort of to the idea of a gratitude journal. Being aware of these things. Even, you know, being grateful for the pen you’re writing this with. Right. We’ll switch you. But also being aware of what you’re resentful about. That’s pretty powerful too because unless you’re aware of it, you can’t address it.

Caitlin Donovan: 48:55
You cannot address it and you can not, I have not met too many people that are burnt out that feel really great about gratitude journals. I understand their power. I have used it for years in my own life. I know that it is valuable and I will also tell you that when I was burnt out, I was like, this is BS.

Even though I had had years of experience with it already, I knew how powerful it was. But when you are burnt out and your brain is not functioning the way that it normally is and your amygdala is a mess and your limbic system is a mess and your stress mechanisms are not functioning properly, like thinking about three things you’re grateful for is not helping you grow the gray matter that you need to grow in order to be able to use that tool.

Caspar Szulc: 49:35
It’s, it’s unfortunately very true. Cause I’ve been there too. You’re right and you do kind of say like, this is BS. Like am I really grateful for this pen right now? I’ll write it, I’ll write it up a hundred times, but I’m not feeling that gratitude right now. Sorry. And that’s how a lot of people feel, right? Especially if you’re in that position. But why not do the opposite then you’re saying, why not put what you’re resentful for and kind of, you know, and give that some attention and try to change that, which will lead probably to more gratitude in the end.

Caitlin Donovan: 50:03
At least just notice where the boundaries are. That’s how you find out where your boundaries are and there’s no better way to do it. And there’s, do you know who Gabor Maté is?

Caspar Szulc: 50:13

Caitlin Donovan: 50:14
He’s amazing. So for anybody listening, he’s an author and a psychologist, psychiatrist or psychologist, I don’t remember.

Either way has some really great books. One of them is called ‘When the Body Says No’, another is ‘Feeding Hungry Ghosts’. Really powerful work that he’s done. And one of the things that he found in research was that when we are faced with a decision and we have to choose between feeling resentment or feeling guilt, we should choose us feeling guilt.

And most of us are choosing feeling resentment. Cause we don’t want to believe that we’re stuck in a position where we’re making a decision between like shitty and shittier. But we are, we are.

Caspar Szulc: 50:55
And that leads to even Hawkins’ Scale of Consciousness, understanding the negativity of things and guilt is pretty far. But resentment and apathy are heavier. This is true. You’d rather be angry actually, which actually leads to transformation, which is a higher consciousness level, right?

Caitlin Donovan: 51:11
Yes, exactly. So this is a really important thing because once you find out where all those resentments are and you know where your boundaries need to be, what you have to accept is that it’s not going to feel good to make them, and you’re probably gonna feel guilty doing it, but guilty is a better replacement emotion for resentment.

Caspar Szulc: 51:30
You need to take the small wins there, right? And move up the ladder into a positive state and to say gratitude and neutrality.

Caitlin Donovan: 51:37
That way you can use those other tools. So if you are someone that has been trying to use spiritual tools and the law of attraction and the law of karma and all these things, and they’re just, you’re just not hitting the mark, it’s probably because your brain is not primed to be able to do that right now. And you’ve got to do some trauma processing or some other work to get your brain into a state where it can actually use these tools properly.

Caspar Szulc: 52:06
And I really do like that because it does put a spin where most people are not accepting the attraction factors and the Secret was BS to me. I tried it, I wanted a Maserati. It didn’t show up the next day, right? It’s like, well, that’s not exactly how it works, but okay. But maybe you should start somewhere where you’re just building out of a very low level of consciousness and taking steps, right? It’s not overnight. It’s not linear either. You’ll have a lot of doubt creeping and you’ll go back and forth. Moving in the right direction, taking it one step at a time, and I think what you mentioned there with the resentment journal is really fabulous.

Caspar Szulc: 52:43
Now a lot of people are dealing with burnout also are dealing with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Whether that is addiction, you turn to drugs, you turn to alcohol, sex, whatever it may be. Are there any things, any kind of techniques or advice you have for ridding yourself of those unhealthy coping mechanisms?

Caitlin Donovan: 53:04
The only way to do it is to unwind them, right? And in Chinese medicine there is a belief that when you are sort of kind of in the window between 35 and 45, the coping mechanisms that you created as a child end up costing you more money, more energy than they are saving you at that point. So you created them. They were useful, they protected you when you were in your household. They did all the things that they needed to do. But now, all these years later in your life, you’re using the same coping mechanisms, but they are not helping you the way that they always did. So the people pleasing is costing you more than it ever did before in your life. The over-giving is costing you more than it ever did in your life. These mechanisms that are sometimes the good ones, right?

Like the, the being nice person is costing you more energy than I ever did before in your life because it’s not the way you need to be functioning in today’s world. So the first thing to do is to realize what they are. So I asked a patient recently if she what her like bad coping mechanisms were and she was like, I don’t have any. And I was like, Oh girl, yes you do. And she, but she didn’t realize what it meant. And when I started to explain it, she ended up being able to break it down for you. And people pleasing is a major coping mechanism, right? Right. We don’t think about it as a coping mechanism. We don’t think about it in those terms, but it is. So if you can start to just figure out what your natural reaction is in moments where you feel like you need to protect yourself.

And you recognize what they are and you start to see a pattern, then you can begin to unwind that pattern. But I honestly believe, even though I’m a coach and I love coaching and I think it’s very powerful, I honestly believe that very often this is something that you should be in therapy for or working with, especially with a trauma-informed therapist. Because sometimes to unwind these things, you need an outside perspective that is very highly qualified to help you do that.

Caspar Szulc: 55:05
Absolutely. And this is a part where people can’t feel any shame in doing this. And going to a therapist is incredibly important. Listen, if you want to get truly fit, you’re probably going to sign up to a gym, you’re going to get a personal trainer, you’re going to do a lot of work, all these things. Why would you not do the same for something like this? Cause this is your health. This is longevity, this is actually stopping disease before it becomes the chronic, the cancers of the world, all of these things, right? So you should really be putting your time and effort, money, everything to make sure that doesn’t happen. And going to the right, proper people, to the therapist, to all the coaches out there and different medical professionals that can help you. What are some of the things that you are doing on a daily basis to ensure you don’t become burned out?

Caitlin Donovan: 55:52
So one of the things that you said earlier in the episode is really important. You said that you have rituals and rituals in Chinese medicine are said to calm the heart. Right? Which is so lovely. Such a lovely way to think about it and such a lovely way to do it. And I realized that one of my big issues in my work was that I was always, I, I’m really good at getting back to people on email and it’s something that I’m sort of proud of. And also I had to realize that I didn’t have to always immediately write back when I was not in the office with patients. So when I was not on a call with a coaching client or whatever it happens to be. I just lost my train of thought. So for me, having rituals that are built into my day are totally necessary, but I am not a very one, two, three black, white organized person.

Caitlin Donovan: 56:49
So I do not, the only ritual I have first thing in the morning is drinking a full glass of water full like Pines of water. That’s the only one I have. But I do intersperse during the day when I’m starting to feel a little bit of overwhelm or when my mind starts going too much. Or when I realized that I’ve looked at my phone seven times in a row for no good reason, then I go over to meditation or two yoga or to whatever it happens to be. And I perform my rituals in that way. I use rituals as a way to break up my day when I notice overwhelm.

Caspar Szulc: 57:21
Yeah. And if I could add to that, because one of the things I’ve heard from people is I can’t meditate. I’ve tried it so many times. I can’t do this. Right. Whatever. I find that’s a little bullshit too. But you know, you can if you wanted to, but at the same time find things that bring you joy. There are things there. Right. For me. I remember I grew up, I played tennis, then I stopped in college and afterwards I was too busy, couldn’t find anything. And when I started to feel burned out, like years ago, I remember going to, you know, spiritual gurus about all these different people to try and get help, which is what people do. Go to other people instead of looking inside. And the same thing kept coming up. It’s like, do things that bring you joy, you know, stop worrying so much. So I picked tennis back up and honestly to me that’s like meditation. I get on the court at least once a week, I play for an hour at least, and I just zone out. Yeah. I feel good.

I let it all go. Yeah. And you have to find your own, I’m not saying tennis, is it for everyone? Not everyone play, but what is it to you? Is it crocheting? Is it, you know, playing piano? Is it learning a new language maybe that you really wanted to and just spending 15 minutes on Duolingo, whatever and going through that, right? But finding that time to do things that bring you joy because that is the best, I think, stress reducer that isn’t put on you that isn’t, you must do this for figure. You have to go to the gym. I hate the gym.

Caitlin Donovan: 58:48
Yeah, I totally agree with that. I totally agree with that and I do think that when you have someone who has a trauma, serious trauma, PTSD, et cetera, the chances that they’ll be able to meditate are low. I don’t think that their brains actually can do that very well. So I always, I give an exercise very often that’s called unweirding meditation. And the only thing it involves is choosing a song that you love. I don’t care if it’s heavy metal or Kirtan chanting,

Caitlin Donovan: 59:23
Choose a song that you love that’s approximately three ish minutes in length. Put your headphones on, close your eyes and breathe. Listen to the song and breathe. That’s it. And when it’s over, shut it off and be done.

Because, this is something that helps us to activate that parasympathetic nervous system that you were saying. Right? Being present, being mindful and breathing. Those three things are absolutely paramount to activating the parasympathetic nervous system. And it only takes a few minutes. So if I can get you to listen to heavy metal for three minutes and that’s going to help your body slow down. Wonderful. Like I don’t need you to be, I can’t even sit in Lotus position like it’s my, my hips do not do that. So, and it’s never going to happen. So I don’t sit in Lotus position every day and like chant my life away. Sometimes I’m putting on Madonna and just sitting there and listening.

Caspar Szulc: 01:00:19
Yeah. And that could seriously activate your parasympathetic, right? That, that’s the biggest thing, right? When people are like, how do you meditate? And I’m like, you know, sometimes I do just put on a nice song, just sit there, you know, like, Oh, that’s not meditation. I’m like, it is to me. Are you going to really debate me on this? You know, and I’ve been to like Tibet mindfulness meditations where it’s serious. Your eyes are open, like you can’t move. And I was like, not for me, man. I was like crying. I’m like, I can’t do this is painful. It’s like it’s supposed to be right. And the Llama was just sitting up there for like hours. I’m like, Oh wow. Yeah, this is interesting, but I will never do this again.

Caitlin Donovan: 01:01:04
That is pure torture to me.

Caspar Szulc: 01:01:07
Right. And to others also. And that’s okay because it’s not for you. You didn’t grow up into bed to be a Buddhist. Right. And there’s no shame in that. Don’t think that you have to suddenly go into a state of enlightenment your first time closing your eyes, trying to meditate. That’s cool. Just breathe, right? Just take a deep breath, start there and keep going and see what happens. So I don’t think you have to be so strict with it as most people are, and then give it up when they can’t suddenly feel a big light over them.

Caitlin Donovan: 01:01:38
Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I meditate first thing in the morning. Sometimes I do a guided meditation before bed. Sometimes it’s the middle of the day and I think I’m a little overwhelmed. I’m going to sit for a few. I mean I do not have a set time and I’m probably never going to because as soon as I have a set time it makes me feel anxious.

Caspar Szulc: 01:01:56
Right. And that that could trigger, you know, energy and burnout. It’s really about getting to know yourself but also having these techniques at your disposal. What works for you. So I do say try them out, you know, if you want to go with the guided meditations and the Inscapes and Head Spaces of the world, try and Muse thing if you want. Like for me it wasn’t really necessary, but I liked it too. I understand how some people would get down with that and find it very useful for me too. Other things or just do breathing exercise, just a deep breath. Don’t even worry about the like chanting or Jappa meditation. Right, right. Just breathe in, breathe out. That alone will trigger your parasympathetic. Are you taking any supplements on a daily basis to try and cope with – adaptogens? Anything out there?

Caitlin Donovan: 01:02:43
I drink mud water every day.

Caitlin Donovan: 01:02:45
Okay. Can you go into that a little more?

Caitlin Donovan: 01:02:48
Mud water is a like a chai flavored ish drink that’s made out of powder and it is full of adaptogens and adaptogens are herbs that increase your stress resilience basically. They help you adapt to stress. That’s why they are called adaptogens.

So I think this one is cordyceps, ashwagandha, reishi, lion’s mane, cacoa and there’s cinnamon and something else in it, right? Ginger probably. So I have that on a daily basis. That’s just a normal part of my day. I also take vitamin D in liquid form, I take Omega threes. Right now I’m taking quercetin because I have that histamine thing going on, but that’s not something that I take on a regular basis. That’s just something that’s happening probably for the next month or so until I clear all that out. And those are the things that I take in the morning with my breakfast and at night I take methylated B12. And a probiotic. That’s it.

Caspar Szulc: 01:03:56
Yeah. I mean the, there’s a simplicity to it, but you’re covering a lot of basis there, right? I will say you want to keep it as simple as possible. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Don’t be taking hundreds of pills or things like that. Also adapt. Right? You don’t need to be taking things all, it’s supposed to be a supplement to supplement you and in times of high stress, maybe take something else. Yeah, because that’s another one. It’s usually the simple things people are trying to find the next big thing out there. It’s like your body really needs minerals, nutrients, right? And not the crazy new thing that no one’s ever heard of. And a lot of times your body’s going to be going through those minerals, which are building blocks of cells in a sense much quicker when we are leading to burnout. And then you’ll just be depleted and a new nutritional deficiencies come up. Yes. Are there any books you’d recommend that pertain to burn out or just health in general?

Caitlin Donovan: 01:04:50
There is a book on burnout called ‘Burnout – The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle’, which is written by the Nagoski sisters that really, really, really, really explains well the entire stress cycle and what animals and people have done over the centuries and millennia to end this stress cycle. One of their theories that they put forward in the book is that we’re stuck in the stress cycle and we’re just not ending it ever. Like we’re not making it stop and that we need learn how to go through the full range of emotion and ends the stress cycle so that we can get back to real life. So I really enjoy their book. I think that it’s really powerful and I think that it explains things that most people have not thought of in that way before.

So I think that that’s a really good one. And then of course, you know, everybody, by the time this is out, I’ll be maybe the, the ebook will be ready, but probably not yet, but soon. So we’ll be able to buy ‘The Bounce-Back Ability Factor’ where I go through, it’s sort of, you know, my story mixed in with some of my patients and some of my clients and a series of seven reasons why we burn out most frequently according to me. And then a whole series of what happens in the body, what happens in the brain and how we choose to change and heal. And then a whole extra section that is an exercise or two for each of the reasons that we burn out so that you can go to, well this is probably my primary reason for burning out. And then you can go and there are a series of exercises that you can do, particularly for that reason. So it’s set up in a way to give you that not only is this problem happening, but these are the solutions that you can use.

Caspar Szulc: 01:06:25
Very cool. I’m sure that’ll be an amazing resource for most people as again, where I’ll do, yeah, that’s cool. Let me, let me throw something out here because it came up in my mind and it’s going to be a little weird and I want to hear, because you mentioned the first book about cycles of, you know, getting out of stress. Oh, almost all mammals hibernate at a certain time. Right. I’ve always thought it’s very strange that we keep up, right. All throughout the year are same level of, we stay up as late where in the summer of course we probably, if we’re especially at where a higher level of Northern hemisphere – Southern as well, we know that they’re longer days, shorter days. We know that our body’s hormones are triggered by that and we see in nature as the best example of how health I say are animals that just hibernate for the winter. How do you feel about, and I throw this out there and people look at me like I’m crazy, but like maybe not going into a cave and literally sleeping the whole winter, but slowing it way down in the winter, taking a little more time off, going to sleep earlier, staying, you know, even changing maybe the work schedule around. How do you feel about that? Is that correct?

Caitlin Donovan: 01:07:34
I’m really, really glad that you said that and I don’t think it’s crazy at all. Every acupuncturist that you have will ever talk to will have very strong opinion on this because this is very closely related to Chinese medicine because Chinese medicine works with the seasons. According to Chinese medicine in the winter, you should sleep more, eat more, do less. Very simple. Sleep more, eat more, do less.

It’s, it’s very much a part of our medicine and it’s very obvious to us that the body, when the body has to deal with all the cold, even if you’re just walking across the street, body has to deal with that. It takes extra energy like this is, it’s a very simple thing to understand. I feel like an most people, once they’re given the permission will allow themselves to slow down a bit. Once I, when I tell this to patients that are like, Oh, okay, yeah, I didn’t realize I could do that. I’m like, here’s a permission slip. I’m going to sign it, do less this winter. I think that’s an absolutely necessary part that we should really take advantage of and in the summer when we’re eating more watermelon and cucumber and all these really light foods, we should use that young energy to sort of create things that we want and do things that we want and really go for it.

Caspar Szulc: 01:08:56
And in that way, create a balance, right? Arresting and activation, parasympathetic – everything in breath, out breath, the way the world works. Yang, yang of course. And in traditional Chinese medicine, that’s a movement I’d be so behind. And again, for me, when I really look at everything and go into medicine more and health, it all comes back to how can we really support nature and what we are under the influence at all times. The more we get away from it, the more unnatural things we expose ourselves to the sicker we are. So look to nature for the answers. And when I look to nature, I look at all mammals, almost all mammals that are near what we are experiencing n the seasons. They hibernate, right? Yeah. And to me it’s just like it makes sense. Slow down. I mean the sun isn’t out. Yeah, I mean animals get it. We’re the only animal that goes against that and I think we suffer. And one of the, one of the ways is burnout. That’s what we do to ourselves. Now you have a podcast all about burnout. What has that taught you? How you know you got that start a little while ago. Tell us about that and share that and kind of what some of the insights you’ve learned while creating that podcast.

Caitlin Donovan: 01:10:10
Fried the Burnout Podcast is my favorite thing that I’ve ever done and I’m hoping that the book will turn into my next favorite thing that I’ve ever done. I was not expecting it to be so well received and to grow so quickly and to be such a big deal, but it is becoming a very big deal and I’m very proud of it. And talking to people every week on the podcast about their burnout stories brings me down to some really core information. Self-Worth is always an issue with burnout. Like this, we could talk about the nutrients that we need all day long, but if we do not find a way to allow you to look at yourself in the mirror and say, I am worthy of healing and I deserve to feel good, we’re never going to get there. This is paramount to everything. I think that’s really big one.

And the other thing that I’ve noticed that I, I kind of knew from my acupuncture patients and coaching clients over the years, but it wasn’t so in my face as it was until I heard it constantly on the podcast when we’re people are really getting into burnout, kind of deep into it, we’re wishing for death, we’re wishing for hospitalization, we are desiring car accidents and cancer diagnostics because we need a break and we don’t know how to give ourselves one. And so what I want, the reason that I say it, and the reason that I think this is so important is because if this is the way that you’re feeling, what you need to hear right now is that you can shift your life to be gentle or to yourself. If you’re feeling that extreme, chances are your burnt out. And if you don’t make a decision to heal now, you will end up with one of those problems that you’re wishing for.

But I heard time and time again on the podcast, I was crawled up on the floor in fetal position, crying my eyes out. I was in my car. And I was hoping to, I was thinking about veering off the road suddenly and crashing into a tree because even if I didn’t die, at least I’d be in the hospital for a few months and I wouldn’t have to do anything. I mean, I hear these stories constantly. I don’t want you to wait for that breaking point to choose to heal anymore.

Caspar Szulc: 01:12:27
Right. No, that’s, that’s wonderfully put because I feel like so many people do wait, and unfortunately, that breaking point, it’s hard to come back from that point, right? It’s you’ve, you’ve reached a pretty low point and to climb back out of it, it’s going to take a lot of effort and if you could stop it before it gets there, it’s not going to be as hard.

Caitlin Donovan: 01:12:48
So if you have those things going on in your head now. Talk to somebody like yesterday.

Caspar Szulc: 01:12:52
Yeah. Yeah. Take action. Right? Because health is wealth it’s the most precious thing we have.

Caitlin Donovan: 01:12:57
And it can be dealt with. Like we, I know how to do this. I have whole systems on how to deal with this. Like we can handle it, we can fix it. But you’re probably not going to do it on your own without shifting some of the mindset and some of the health and some of the, some of the…

Caspar Szulc: 01:13:10
Absolutely. No, I agree with you 100% and that’s why I’m so glad you’re doing what you’re doing. Especially for something that I think is underappreciated, under talked about, dismissed too often. Right? There’s almost this, this kind of arrogance I feel like among a lot of people that I’ll push through it. I don’t need help. You know, this is what people do. They sacrifice.

Caitlin Donovan: 01:13:34
Yeah. So they tried to fix burnout alone. Burnout is one of those things that is not a-loanable.

Caitlin Donovan: 01:13:38
Well, that’s the thing. I think burnout sometimes is exacerbated by that feeling of loss of connection. No relationships with people. Right. That that’s a big one too, is isolation leads to burnout.

Yeah, absolutely. Because, well, if you’re the second sign, according to Maslov’s inventory, right, is cynicism and detachment. If you’re detached, how are you going to be in your community? How are you going to have those relationships? You’re not.

Caspar Szulc: 01:14:02
Yeah. Very true. So where could we find out more about you? I mean, you’ve got the book coming out, you got the podcast, you’re busy. What else is out there and where can we learn more about Caitlin Donovan?

Caitlin Donovan: 01:14:14
Well, if you’re in New York City, I would love to be your acupuncturist, which is awesome. My office is in Midtown at 32nd and Broadway. And if you need me otherwise, then I do a lot of things online. I do corporate wellness and you can find everything you need under the umbrella at

Caspar Szulc: 01:14:32
Well thank you so much. Everyone should go check that out and, and learn more about this. And I say if you’re feeling any twinge of burnout and you probably are, look into this stuff, read about it. Empower yourself, build your awareness and then react to it so you don’t lead into a true state of burnout and chronic disease. So thank you for bringing this to light and all the work you’re doing. I know we’re on a very similar path here. Looking forward to connecting again.

Caitlin Donovan: 01:14:58
Yeah, this was really great. I’m so grateful for this conversation and I love talking to people that get it so that we can go a little bit deeper and talk about things that maybe wouldn’t come up in other podcasts and other conversations because of different just knowledge levels. So I’m really happy to have these conversations with somebody who really gets it and I’m so thrilled that we’ll be recording your episode for Fried soon.

Caspar Szulc: 01:15:18
Oh, I’m thrilled for that too, cause I got to share. Yes, I get it. From, from the Polish background to the entrepreneur perfectionist INFJ – like I’m going to share a lot on that one. So if you’re listening to this right now, you haven’t heard that one jump over. I get to share this because that’s going to be fun. Thanks again Caitlin.

The scary thing about burnout as you’ve learned in this episode is that it’s widespread and you may not even realize you’re dealing with it. It’s one of those invisible threats that we don’t take seriously until it’s too late. It becomes a way of life, our new norm. But one that slowly leads us down a path towards chronic disease. But on the positive side, you have complete control to stop it and live a life full of vitality and health. That’s what Caitlin’s on a mission to accomplish. And she’s offering a great course right now called ‘The Master Your Energy’ class at a reduced price. For listeners, it’ll help you identifying, fix all energy weeks in your life, and reclaim the power to create the life you want. We’ve included a link directly to that course and our podcast page on so check that out. Until next time, stay healthy and happy and continue to write your own healing story.

The post The Story of Ending Burnout with Caitlin Donovan appeared first on Innovative Medicine.

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