by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac.
These days I’ve been seeing a lot of people suffering from burnout. Often times they’re looking for a quick fix for their fatigue, insomnia, headaches so that they can keep on going like they used to. But even if I can help relieve someone’s symptoms in a few acupuncture treatments, the symptoms are likely to return unless the patient commits to taking better care of themselves. Those headaches may have only sprung up in the last couple weeks, but they’re the product of decades of burning the candle at both ends.
Looking through the lens of Chinese medicine and the Five Elements, there are a few general personality-types that tend more to burnout. First, there are the Wood types. They know what needs to be done and just go out and do it. Wood types are strong, but even they can deplete their reserves. Then there are the Fire types who revel in the enjoyment of the moment and who have a magical, infectious enthusiasm about them. They usually have trouble slowing down and can neglect to give themselves enough downtime to recover.
Woods and Fires can really wipe themselves out, but I can work with Woods and Fires—they listen to me (usually). It’s those Earth types that can drive me crazy.
Earths are the quintessential caretakers and providers in our lives—they take on the role of being midwives to other people’s struggles and transitions. The pater familias who’ll give you the shirt off his back is an Earth. The mother who is always there to offer sympathy and a hug is an Earth. Notable Earths include Pope Francis, Princess Diana, Disney’s Snow White, and Dolly Parton. Golden retrievers are a very Earth-like breed of dog. Earths are great at offering compassion and support for others—they’re drawn to those in need and having an amazing capacity for unconditional love.
Where they struggle, however, is that they’re reluctant to receive help from others—they don’t want to be selfish or a burden to others. But when you’re giving and giving and giving and others aren’t reciprocating, that’s a recipe for burnout symptoms like chronic fatigue, insomnia, headaches, depression, weight gain, and even autoimmune diseases.
Earths are some of the sweetest, warmest people you’ll meet, but taking care of everyone else for too long without appreciation or reciprocation can breed resentment. Earths aren’t always aware of this resentment, but I find it’s usually there. The core problem, however, is that giving expression to that resentment feels likes selfishness to them.
But a little selfishness is just what Earths need. In-balance Earth types have borrowed some of the assertiveness of Wood so that they’ve learned to stand up and speak up for themselves. And they’ve also borrowed some of Metal’s ability to set boundaries and detach themselves from unhealthy situations and codependent relationships.