Episode #15: Running on Empty Series (Part 2)

The episode is the second in a series exploring signs that stress is starting to wear away at your effectiveness, health and overall well-being as reflected in different areas of life and health. Each episode also presents one, research-based recovery practice that can help you start to restore your equilibrium. In this episode, I explore running on empty in relationship to work. I also discuss the proven benefits of meditation and some the ways I have made meditation feel more accessible in my own life.



Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.

This episode is the second in a 5-part series exploring some of the life circumstances that can lead to burnout and how to identify some of the signs that stress is starting to wear away at your effectiveness, health and overall well-being. Each episode also explores one of the research-based well-being activities or rituals that can help you recover and begin to restore your equilibrium.

We have 4 sources of energy--mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Each of these sources can be challenged, much like a muscle, but also just like a muscle, recovery is where the growth actually happens. Most of us overexert and fail to recover in some areas and underexert in others. Overexertion without recovery can lead to injury and illness, while under-exertion leads to atrophy.

This episode explores what it might look like if you are running on empty at work. It also explores a restorative practice--meditation--which benefits all four sources of energy.

At the conclusion of this podcast, I hope you will go to @theboothandrews on Instagram and comment how YOU know that you are starting to run on empty, and what type of recovery rituals help you start to recalibrate.  

So why does well-being at work matter?

There is “growing evidence that the long-term health of a company’s bottom line and the health of its employees are, in fact, very much aligned, and that when we treat them as separate, we pay a heavy price, both personally and collectively. Individually, we compromise our health and happiness. For businesses, the costs will be exacted in dollars and cents, talent retention, and diminished productivity. But the reverse is also true--what’s good for us as individuals is also good for business and [actually] for countries [too]. Sick care is a lot more expensive than real health care.”

“Studies show that U.S. employers spend 200 to 300 percent more on the indirect costs of health care, in the form of absenteeism, sick days and lower productivity, than they do on [the] actual health care payments. In the United Kingdom, stress results in 105 million lost workdays each year.”

So, what are some signs that I’ve seen or experienced that indicate someone is running on empty at work:

When we get to a place where we believe that we cannot actually unplug from work.

When we get to a place where we believe work-life balance is a joke that someone made up and it is not funny.

When we haven't taken a real vacation in years.

Or when you do go on vacation, it actually takes 3 days to wind down, and then you start winding up 3 days before re-entry. So let me tell you what this looked like in my life. When I did go on vacation, which was once every few years or so, the vacation usually starts what, Friday or Saturday? I wouldn’t actually start to decompress until Wednesday. And by Friday? I would start gearing up again. And this was not a voluntary behavior on my part. It just happened.

Monday anxiety sets in on Sunday. I’ve used this phrase with audiences, and so many people come up to me and relate and say they start worrying about work on Sunday night. They completely miss part of a day or part of an evening because they’ve already started to worry about what’s coming next.

If you feel a sense of dread about what is piling up while you are away from your office, and it’s easier just to stay connected because you are afraid when you go back you are going to be totally overwhelmed.

If you pride yourself on being busy or a workaholic. Workaholism is one of the only “isms” if not THE only “ism” in this country that seems to be completely socially acceptable.

When you start to feel burned out on or the verge.

Or when you know that just because of the circumstances that are happening in your place of employment--maybe there’s been a merger, maybe there’s been a significant transition in the business or the leadership, maybe there’s a transition happening at every level and in every aspect of the organization--all of that chronic change results in change fatigue. And it can also result in burnout.

One of my other episodes talks about the difference between stress and chronic or toxic stress. But the short answer is, when we are living in a state of constant stress and we do not recover, that stress becomes toxic and starts to break down every system in our body.

For me, much of what drove my workaholic tendencies was anxiety related. As human beings, we often feel anxious about things we cannot control. In my first career, the anxiety was grounded in being afraid I was going to get caught not being perfect. I had a perfectionist boss, and I did everything in my power to meet his expectations. It took me at least six months to completely unwind after leaving that job.

When I began my second career, I was much more grounded in how I wanted to show up in the world and as a leader. And for the first couple of years, I was very intentional about managing the inputs that would allow me to be the leader I aspired to be.

But after I got pregnant with my third child (whom I desperately wanted but had no idea how I was going to manage) and then my mom’s cancer diagnosis changed to imminently fatal, I found myself unable to sit still.

And work was a place I felt I had efficacy and influence over my circumstances and outcomes. At home, everything felt out of control. I liked the way I felt at work. I didn’t like the way I felt at home. And I was compelled to keep moving to hold those negative and scary feelings at bay. Our anxiety is grounded in our brain telling us that something is terribly wrong or is about to be terribly wrong in the future--even when, in truth, everything in that moment is absolutely okay.

And this is where meditation comes in for me. In the present moment, connected to our breath, all is well. And we also learn to observe and allow ourselves to feel scary emotions, without fear and without judgment.

Meditation has been found to:

  • Decrease mortality

  • Decrease death due to cardiovascular problems

  • Increase levels of antibodies to the flu vaccine

  • Decrease the severity and length of colds

  • Lower pain intensity

  • Meditation actually changes us at the genetic level. It switches on genes related to augmenting our immune system, reduce inflammation and fight a range of conditions from arthritis to high blood pressure to diabetes. And because of these benefits, it correlates to reduced yearly medical costs.

  • “A study using the MRIs of the brains of Buddhist monks showed that the trained mind (or brain) is physically different from the untrained one--and when the brain is changed, so is the way in which we experience the world--and this automatically changes how you respond to what is happening in your life, your level of stress, and your ability to tap into your wisdom when making decisions.”

  • “The building of your strength, equanimity, and wisdom is actually very tangible and measurable, which is how Matthieu Ricard earned the moniker ‘the happiest man in the world.’ After placing more than 250 sensors on Ricard’s skull, Richard Davidson found that Ricard exhibited gamma wave levels (which are high-frequency brain waves) ‘never before reported in the neuroscience literature,’ indicative of an atypically high capacity for happiness and reduced tendency toward negative thoughts and feelings.”

  • Meditation also helps lower feelings of loneliness among the elderly

  • It helps military veterans experience lower levels of PTSD.

  • It reduces depression among pregnant women and teens.

  • And it increases positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, compassion, self-acceptance, positive relations with others, and amusement.

“Meditation may be a wonder drug, but it does need to be regularly refilled. To get all the benefits of meditation, we need to make it a part of our everyday lives.”

So, I have found the practice of meditation to be challenging in my own life. I’ve actually believed in the benefits of meditation for many, many years. And I have struggled, until recently, to actually have a regular meditation practice. I heard someone say yesterday--and it is so true--that knowledge does not by itself beget action.

For me, my brain likes to tell me that meditation is “hard” or it takes too much time. So I have an exercise I would like for you to do with me right now. If you are not operating a vehicle of some sort, I would like for you to close your eyes and focus on your breath with me for the next 10 seconds. (ten second silence) CONGRATULATIONS!! You just meditated!!

There are a number of apps out there that provide both guided and unguided meditation exercises. So of those are: Buddhify, Calm, and Headspace. I like to lean on the Calm app, because I don’t have to “think” or “plan” my meditation, I just have to press the button on the app and follow along.

While in the perfect world that lives in my imagination I would meditate 7 days per week, I actually set a goal for myself to meditate 5 days per week. And now, I have actually gotten to the point where I notice a difference in how I feel on the days I do not meditate.

The cultural norms that celebrate overworking, never taking a vacation, and being always accessible are making us sick--as individuals and as organizations. If you are a leader, your employees are going to follow your lead. Take your vacation--and when you go on vacation--truly disconnect.

Set boundaries for yourself--blocking off a certain number of hours each day when you are NOT going to be checking your email or immediately available unless in the event of an emergency.

Stop sending emails at 4 in the morning.

I finally started turning off the forward on my work email when I went on vacation, so I wouldn’t be tempted to check it on my phone.

And I encourage you to explore a meditation practice. You don’t have to meditate for hours on end every day or every week to get the benefits. Even with a few minutes per day, done consistently, meditation will generate a multitude of positive benefits.

I hope you will go to @theboothandrews on Instagram and comment how YOU know that you are starting to run on empty, and what type of recovery rituals help you start to recalibrate.  

For more information about the work that I do with individuals, groups and organizations go to boothandrews.com. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @theboothandrews.

Thank you for listening. If you haven’t already, please hit subscribe and remember to rate this podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I look forward to being back with you next time!