Jul 21st, 2021
Last week I hit a wall, and had to admit I was expereincing burn out. So many of us have reached that stage due to the pandemic so it felt important to do a podcast episode on it.
So, in this I talk to Sunday Blake all about burn out. Sunday was the President of the University of Exeter Student's Guild and has just joined the University's Strategic Delivery Unit - they know a thing or two about burn out. We aren't providing you with answers, as we both admit neither of us are very good at preventing burn out. But hopefully the discussion will resonate and provide some reassurance that your experience is valid and you are not alone.
Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
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Hello and welcome to R, D and the In Betweens, I'm your host, Kelly Preece,
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and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers, development and everything in between.
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Hello and welcome to the latest episode of R, D in the In Betweens for this episode, we're going to be talking about burnout.
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Why are we going to be talking about burnout?
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Because last week I hit a mental and physical wall and I know I'm not the only one that's ever experienced burnout.
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And I certainly know that I'm not the only one experiencing it right now.
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So it seemed a really good time to talk about it on the podcast.
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And I'm thrilled for this episode to be joined by a colleague and good friend Sunday Blake.
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So Sunday was until the end of last week, the president of the Student Guild.
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So the student union at the University of Exeter, and they were also the VP for postgraduates for a year before that.
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So they had a two term office. And Sunday has just joined the strategic delivery unit at the university and to work as a strategic advisor as well,
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and is an ideal person for me to talk to about burnout.
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So I hope you enjoy this conversation. I hope it resonates with you.
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And I hope it perhaps reassures you that these experiences are normal and everything's going to be OK.
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So, yes, the idea was to chat about burnout because I hit a wall in the middle of last week after going back to campus for the first time.
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And my body and my mind just went, nope, yeah, this is this isn't good.
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I feel like your body goes before your mind goes. Like, I'm I've been in this body for three decades now, and I'm still like one more day do you know what I mean.
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And, you know, I don't think I'm the best guest actually to be on this podcast because I don't manage my own burnout, too.
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And that's the that's the thing. And like I was chatting to one of the PGRs about it because I said, oh,
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you know, on Friday, I took the day off as I've hit a wall and I'm going to take the day off.
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And they sent me a message on teams and I replied to it. And they were just like, what are you doing?
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Like you do? Yeah. I mean, I had got I got to a place where I was really quite good at kind of setting the boundaries because I,
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like, completely burnt out and had a breakdown back in twenty twelve and I'm sorry to hear that
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So it's okay. I mean it was, it was a big learning experience and it was the combination of so many different, so many different factors at the time.
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But like I learn a lot from that and I've been like on a on a journey ever since to try and kind
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of figure out how to put the right boundaries in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.
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So it's one of the reasons I stopped being an academic and I changed my job and moved to Devon.
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It was whole kind of right. What can I shift in my environment to make this work? And usually
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And I've been really good at managing that. But something about the pandemic has just.
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And not the early days of the pandemic, like since January, do you know
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Well, I divide the pandemic up into like good, good times and bad times.
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When the pandemic when it first came in March, I was having a great time because I would go and sit my cats in between meetings.
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All my laundry would get done. I haven't done laundry. I don't do laundry for weeks now.
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And the thing is, I keep a I blame myself for and I get angry at myself because I think you managed this really well in March.
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What, in March? Twenty twenty I should say. Not March this year. March. Ugh it has been so long hasn't it.
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You managed this really well. Why, why can't I try to almost like push myself to get back to how it was at the beginning when I was like I'm at home.
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I learnt to sew. By the way, I think I remember asking you which sewing machine to buy all this stuff.
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And now I just I just exist. And it's I don't know how long I'm going to bring this on for because I started a new job this week when I turned up.
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You know, I love it it is areally good job, and it's going to be amazing.
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But like, I walked into the office and they were like, oh, most people only come in two days a week, which is great.
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But I find that I get almost like I get burned out from, like, just seeing the same four walls every day.
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That makes sense. Yeah.
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I've literally just had a conversation with someone about this and saying about because I was I was really pleased because we were,
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because they were talking about us going back to work one day a week from next week.
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But I would potentially be in an office with twenty eight people and I was really not comfortable with that.
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Yeah. But, you know, really lucky, really supportive managers who I've said, no, I can't do that.
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And of course you don't have to do that. You do what you do, what makes you feel comfortable.
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Nobody's going to pressure you, which is brilliant. But we were talking about it and I was saying, you know, it's a real it's real tear.
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I'm really torn because in some ways, particularly somebody that's chronically ill, I feel really safe in my house at the moment.
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I feel like I am in control of this. I can control who's here and how distanced we are and all that sort of stuff.
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And like you say, I can just go if I'm kind of having a moment, I'm going to lie with the cats, just kind of chill out.
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But at the same time, it's driving me insane.
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And I know that my mental health is worse because I'm not interacting with people and different people and yeah,
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walking around campus, yeah, I picked up a stone on.
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in lock down and I'm eating exactly the same. I'm not not change my diet, nothing like that.
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I know some people out on quite a lot of weight and they'll say because they eat when they're bored. I have been eating mainly the same stuff.
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In fact I under-eat, I forget to eat my meals because I back to back my meetings, which is bad, but I'm still put a stone on
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I cannot shift it because I'm not moving. I don't think that that's kind of like where I am at the moment with being burnt out.
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That's kind of where I've where I've got to kind of looking at, like you say, all of the things that this time, not even this time last year,
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I was finding it so much easier to manage and I was doing much more kind of in terms of
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hobbies and self care and spending lunchtimes outside when we had the nice weather.
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I'm not doing any of that now. It's just like you say, we've got so into this kind of back to back meetings because we can do that in a way
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that we couldn't when we were doing things face to face and just kind of constant,
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constant work and constant worrying, constantly being on. And I think the like.
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I heard quite a few people talk about the fact that so when we went into the pandemic in March last year,
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it was like, you know, our brains essentially went into fight or flight mode, you know, because that's I mean.
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It's it's a it's a stress reaction. It's it keeps alert to my, you know, when there's a threat.
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But the problem is we've never really come out of that. And so our limbic system is just completely overrun.
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Yeah. And the reason that so many people are struggling with the mental health and feeling burnt out,
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like I talk to no one at the moment, that isn't like the end of their tether with it.
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I am. And it is like this is and it was a neurologist actually who had talked about it on a podcast.
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And they were like, this is actually affecting our brains and the way that our brains function.
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Yeah, yeah. My therapist told me about this saying that it's like to do with your brain plasticity, like all brains, are really, really flexible.
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I don't know the terms, but basically like this is why cognitive behavioural therapy works, because you literally carve out new pathways of your brain.
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It changes physically changes. I, I mean, I said it when I overshare too much, but the beginning of the pandemic, I started fainting a lot.
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Yeah. or collapsing and a lot of people are really worried about it.
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I was worried about it and it kind of annoyed actually, because it would happen at really inconvenient moments, stood in the queue at Poundland and stuff.
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And yeah, you know, they did so many tests on me they were doing blood pressure.
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They would do it everything. Like what could it be? They would ask me if I'm eating
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I mean to be fair, I never eat enough, but like, I wasn't eating not enough to faint.
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And like basically the doctors and the psychiatrist put it down to the fact that I
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was going into shops and having to think about who was and wasn't wearing a mask,
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because this is before masks were mandatory, you know, because we went through,
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like, we went through like half year without them being mandatory, which is crazy.
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I know that they came in so late when you think about it.
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So I was having to think who was wearing a mask because I was looking at what people picking up.
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So I didn't pick it up because we didn't know if it was passed by surfaces or airborne.
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And I was having to calculate two metres, you know, all this stuff was going on.
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And basically it was just overloading my brain and my brain was going, you know,
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well, we could just turn off and I'd faint, which is crazy that that's the impact.
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You feel like a lot of people are like that. When I'm walking around the shop, I don't know that I'm stressed, so I'm not walking around going.
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I'm so stressed about the two metres and the masks. I'm not thinking that.
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But obviously I am somewhere. And I told you at the beginning of the phone call that obviously my right eye has burst or the blood vessels in it.
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And the doctors are like, yeah, that's your stress. But obviously I'm like, I don't wake up thinking, oh, I'm really stressed.
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And I think this is this is one of the really sinister things about stress is it doesn't have to be
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like a cognitive thought then it can actually just like be there like latent and dormant maybe.
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But yeah, I think this is one of the things that the pandemic has really highlighted.
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Yeah. Is that we we actually don't we actually don't really understand on a on a layman's basis how
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much stress can have a negative impact on your body without even mentioning your mental health.
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You know, and I've I've been the same in particular over the past week, you know, family and friends.
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And I've been saying to me, you know, like what? What is it that's really bothering you and I'm like, it's it's not a thing.
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It's not like I'm sat churning over the state of the country or, you know,
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it's not a thing that I'm sat there thinking about or ruminating on or particularly anxious about.
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Yeah, it's this kind of whole picture. And I've I've had the same so I've been over the course of the pandemic, I developed a restless leg syndrome.
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So like it's a neurological thing that causes my legs to twitch and particularly
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when I'm trying to sleep so I can't sleep because my legs won't stop moving.
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And the one I originally talked to the doctor about it back in January,
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it's one of the it's one of those wonderful things that doesn't have kind of a known cause.
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And he's like, you would be surprised how many people are reporting very similar kinds of problems, not necessarily restless legs, but like you say,
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what you were saying with fainting and stuff that don't have an obvious cause are actually like he actually said to me at the time,
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like the likelihood is that this is a stress reaction. This is this is your body's way of reacting to the pandemic.
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And I said at the time, but I'm not like I'm not actively worrying about it.
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And it's like it doesn't matter. You don't need to be your your body is responding to it.
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And so I'm terrible for that because I, I tell myself stuff that stresses me out is really bad issue where I think that I'm really hard.
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So I think I'm tough. And I actually think this is not good because I set myself almost like emotional, personal bests.
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So if I go through something really stressful and I'm like, you know what?
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Instead of going, that was really stressful, I hope I never had to go through that again. I'm like, well, at least I know I can handle something that's stressful.
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So do you know what i mean like it's when we see it as a as a well I've done it, so I can do it again.
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And actually I think that, I don't think that's a great way of looking at it.
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I think you should be, I think you should be looking at it going Oh I did that.
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And it was horrible and I never want to do it again because I want to look after myself.
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But the I, I'm, I'm awful because I'm like, I'll tell myself I'm not stressed.
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Like, I hate when stuff gets to me. I get annoyed at myself about it and I'm like, no, don't don't let it get to you.
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You're you're hard. And I think that because I because I don't give myself that time to be like, you know what?
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This is actually really impacted on me. Yeah. I think it just I think it hides away somewhere in my body.
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And then I end up. I know. Well, like I said, getting burned out or having a flare or something like that.
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Your blood vessels in your blood vessels in my eye burst
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Yeah, no, exactly. Exactly.
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And I actually I'm one of these people who I actually find relaxing stressful or meeting because I'm always got multitask when watching the TV.
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I'm also playing a game on my phone or I'm I'm the same or like I can't stop.
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And so, like you say, when you're like when I lay in the bath or read or have got to be on my phone or say, if I don't, I start to think.
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And if I start to think, I start to worry and find problems that aren't really problems.
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But it's like my brain. It's like, you know, like search, search out and what can I what can I get?
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Really anxious about. And I think, you know, it's it's a symptom of. Anxiety, anxiety.
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Yeah, but also, I think kind of like trauma and partly trauma from the.
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Pandemic and the impact of that, but also part of a longer term kind of, you know,
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back to childhood kind of trauma and all of that, where you're just kind of have this sense of.
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There's got to be something for me to worry about or something for me to be concerned about.
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Or panic about and so like that kind of switching off that apparently people can do.
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I'm not I'm not 100 percent sure. I believe they can, but I just my brain doesn't do it, just doesn't do it.
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It well, the last time I switched off was August twenty nineteen.
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It's now like twenty twenty one like I.
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Yeah. So me and my partner,
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we went to Scotland and I remember I put the pictures up and basically we had no signal we stayed in a shepherds hut and the first couple of days was absolute agony.
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But actually I after a couple of days I ended up feeling like a sort of like like an inner peace, you know.
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Yeah. I have to have this stem of a similar thing happened to me in twenty sixteen.
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I went to a silent retreat for four days, but.
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Yeah. And you know what, like I was awful. I thought it was going to be boring but you end up just I can't describe it you haven't
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Spoken to anyone you ever see people around you, you go for walks meditation.
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Is has libraries. You can read and stuff. Yeah. And it's in a sort of big manor house, almost like a national trust.
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Beautiful location, like acres and acres of land.
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And I cannot describe it, but you end up just happy, like not talking to anyone, you're not laughing with anyone and then you just have this happiness.
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And it's really difficult because I think when I'm at work, I get a lot of my I get a lot of my ego boost from being important
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Right. It's really important. You know, this is why I did elected roles.
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This is why I have quite public facing role, because it tends to be it sounds bad
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But like, I like to feel that I'm at the front of things, fixing things and doing stuff and serving my community,
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and I'm going to be serving my community, you know, and that's where I get my kicks from.
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Yeah. And and I think I think that really, just to get really deep on the podcast,
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I think that I need to rewire my brain away from your valuable because you serve others.
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Yeah. To the way I am at the silent retreat, which is you literally just existing not talking to people, not impressing people,
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just existing because they give you food and that you sleep in these amazing beds and stuff.
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And I think I think what it does without without even speaking to you, the monks that live there is that they show you that you're all valuable.
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Yeah, literally. you're just existing because what you're doing is you're just breathing.
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And obviously when part of Scotland, we obviously were chatting to each other and stuff,
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but like, I would wake up, we'd get some food, we would go to like, you know,
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some ruins or we'd go to like, you know, like a fairy fountain or one of the one of the beautiful places in Scotland,
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Inverness, Loch Ness, that sort of thing. Yeah.
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And I think that's definitely something to do if all well being that if we can if we can just get away from
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all the things that make us valuable to other people and we can just exist and know that we are worthy,
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I think that I think the people like you and me might find it better to relax,
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because the anxiety for me is I'm not doing I'm not I'm not earning my place in the world by having a bath.
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I'm not doing anything like that. Yeah, it's why, like all of my hobbies and all of my, like, relaxation stuff,
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it's like I like I build lego and I sew because it's all productive, I have to feel like I'm being productive.
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And there's a sense of like contribution and like you, I'm I'm really driven in what I do about making,
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you know, making a difference and that being really important to me.
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And like you say, you know, there is that really important thing to me that actually feeling valued and valuable to other people.
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But that is it's an incredibly exhausting way to sort of define yourself and define yourself worth.
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And I think that, like, so often with like research and being in academia,
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that kind of relationship to to something, whether it's to service or it's to your research or something like that,
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is so often the kind of driving force behind your identity that, like you say, actually then pulling away from that and relaxing and valuing yourself differently.
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And it sounds like from the silent retreat and in Scotland,
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it's that kind of actually really having to go through something quite difficult to push through and have it be really difficult.
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Yeah, it's difficult. Thank you so much to Sunday for taking the time out of their really busy schedule to talk to me about this,
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I think it's a really important topic right now.
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And so I know that we haven't really had our conversation, provided any answers, because, as we said, we're both really bad at this.
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But I think that that's the important message, is that. Dealing with these kind of things in these kind of stresses, particularly in the pandemic,
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it's really tough and we're all feeling this, so don't be too hard on yourself.
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Take the breaks where you can and find the mechanisms that work for you.
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And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to, like, rate and subscribe and join me.
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Next time. We'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.