When I heard Roshi Joan Halifax use the term Vital exhaustion I had a visceral experience of recognition. A profound part of me resonated with those two descriptor words which are also a metaphor. Experimenting with the term, trying it on so to speak for the last few months, I am sharing it with you to help you nuance your understanding of where you may be at in terms of Self care, burnout, compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction. Next week’s blog will address the last 3 experiences and working with assessments of these experiences to begin addressing the symptoms and underlying causes. The term is not new and it has an interesting history, let’s take a peek.
Metaphors help us articulate and understand our experiences as sentient beings. Merriam-Webster defines vital as, “concerned with or necessary to the maintenance of life”. The term Vital exhaustion touches all of our interpenetrating fields: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual- and maybe especially the last. When I heard the term Vital exhaustion it was as if the spiritual part of me felt heard too.
In the early 1990’s the concept of Vital exhaustion was explored by cardiologists Appel and his associates. They reported three defining characteristics: (1) feelings of excessive fatigue and lack of energy, (2) increasing irritability, and (3) feelings of demoralization that precedes myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death. “Therefore, it was suggested that Vital exhaustion is a mental state at which people arrive when their resources for adapting to stress break down.” (my italics)
In 2010 it was reported that European psychiatrists have been using the term Vital Exhaustion as a possible way of defining a nervous breakdown “which is defined by its temporary nature, and often closely tied to psychological burnout, severe overwork, sleep deprivation, and similar stressors, which may combine to temporarily overwhelm an individual with otherwise sound mental functions.”
Research in Heart Math, in “the past two decades has shown that the heart is an information processing center that can learn, remember, and act independently of the cranial brain and actually connect and send signals to key brain areas such as the amygdala, thalamus, and hypothalamus, which regulate our perceptions and emotions.” Though we don’t know where Spirit lives, it is based in a unitive experience and sages refer to the wisdom of the heart. Vital exhaustion seems to relate to the organ of the heart, and to other fields of human experience. Maintaining Vital energy needs to be ongoing and planned. By putting Self care into my calendar daily it has become a habit. Otherwise, it is easy to act on automatic pilot focusing on lengthy “to do lists” moving to exhaustion and becoming drained of Vital energy.
When you contemplate the term Vital exhaustion, what is your experience? What part of you responds- your mind, body, emotions and/or spirit? Over time you may notice that it takes on different meanings depending upon different stressors in your life and your ability to tune in and care for your Self.
Next week we will contrast Vital exhaustion with burnout, compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction and look at measuring them. In the meantime, notice your experience of your Vital energy. Can you give it words? What strategies and tools do you employ to manage the stress in your life? What do you do to maintain your Vital energy? Do you take time in nature? Maybe you meditate, pray, journal, spend time with pets… Share with us what do you do to nourish your beautiful, kind, generous, courageous Self?
Some find our Self Care for Vitality a free Virtual Connecting Weekly Call-in for Nurses a form of nourishing Self care. There is a short guided relaxation, followed by a short time for silence in community and optional sharing.
Wednesdays 6:30-7:00 pm EST Phone 712-432-3066 Pin 177444 You are welcome to join us.
Vital Exhaustion, pp 2032-2033, ©2013, Douglas Carroll, http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-1-4419-1005-9
Benedict Carey, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/health/01mind.html
Awareness Begins in the Heart, Not the Brain, http://www.mindfulmuscle.com/heart-has-consciousness-knows-before-brain/