How Jon Kabat-Zinn Saved Me From Stress and Burnout

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Are you often stressed out while working? Do you fear you might end up making a burnout? Maybe you consulted many doctors and tried many stress-reducing techniques that did not work for you. And you feel a bit helpless after trying all those solutions.

I was in the same place for many years, until I tried Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn’s relaxation techniques. In this article, I will share my story and introduce you to the practice that had the most profound impact on my stress levels.

How my life became poisoned by stress

In my late 20s, I started a French productivity blog called ceclair.fr. It was quite successful and I spent much of my spare time working on it. But I’m also a software engineer, and it can be very stressful at times. Many times, you must resolve bugs quickly, as the customer pesters and laments about the disastrous effects that the bug has on the users.

Unfortunately, you have very few occasions to relax as you sit down at your desk pretty much all day. I managed to bear the pressure of this busy agenda for a couple of years, until I physically got sick, and started developing a nervous stomach. In short, I had tightness and cramps in my stomach each time my stress level was too high.

A curse and a blessing

As you can expect, I was upset by this condition. I thought I had developed something terrible like cancer. I first consulted with my doctor. Then I went to the hospital to consult a bowel specialist.

The result? They found nothing. My blood analysis was normal, I did a gastroscopy which did not reveal anything abnormal, and I did not have any stones in my kidneys. Finally, my doctor told me I simply had to reduce my stress levels.

I was relieved. This was not cancer after all. I also felt this nervous stomach was a blessing in disguise. My body could not take anymore the terrible pressure I put on its back. So it simply found a way to warn me when I abused it.

Fair enough! Here was at least a tool I could use to nudge me into behaving myself and taking care of my body before it was too late. But I also felt helpless. Of course, there are obvious solutions to reduce your level of stress. For example, taking enough pauses. But for me, this wasn’t enough.

Discovering Autogenic Training

When I was 18, I consulted a psychomotor therapist, in the hope he can help me improve my awful handwriting. The first thing he did was make me draw 5 doodles, and he found out I was probably a frustrated leftie.

That was a remarkable point, but I wondered how reliable was the test.

Then he asked me to lay down on a couch and concentrate on what he said. I could not help laughing. He was reminding me of the hypnosis magicians on TV. He said things like: “Your body is heavy, real heavy.” I had to apologize because it made me laugh so hard!

After a while, I managed to behave and brought back my focus on his voice. I was desperate for a solution so I figured I’d better give it a try.

Then something remarkable happened: I started to float in my own body. And I tell you this from the perspective of a hardcore scientific mind. In the end, he managed to relax my whole body using his voice. I later learned this was called “Autogenic Training”. Unfortunately, this did not cure my handwriting. But it was a great discovery.

Discovering Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work

So when I later developed a nervous stomach in my 30s, I thought about Autogenic Training. I tried it a couple of times, but somehow, I could not get the same effect I had during my encounter with the psychomotor therapist. Maybe I did not have the right resources. It’s still a valid relaxing practice, and I would encourage you to explore it.

But I moved on to further solutions, and I thought about meditation. I had never done meditation in my life and as a scientific mind, I can’t stand spiritual practices. So I was a bit skeptical. I explored transcendental meditation briefly, and it was exactly the kind of mystical nonsense I hate.

Then I stumbled upon Jon Kabat-Zinn. I thought to myself: “Meh, that sounds like another guru name”. But I was wrong. Jon has founded several stress-reduction clinics. And he teaches meditation stripped from any obscure spiritual term or mystical concepts. What a breath of fresh air, exactly what I was looking for!

Practicing the body-scan technique

Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches many meditation techniques. I would encourage you to explore each one of them. He covers them in his famous book: “Full Catastrophe Living”.

But one practice stood out particularly. This is a technique called “Body scan”. And it is closely related to Autogenic training.

To practice Body Scan, you need to lay down on a bed. Then you start listening to a recording that induces body sensations, just like Autogenic training. But instead of saying “Your body is heavy, real heavy”, the recording makes you “breathe” through each part of your body until the body parts dissolve in your mind.

The effect is the same as Autogenic Training: it makes you float in your own body. As the recording progresses towards each part of your body, you start to feel totally relaxed.

Starting your practice

If you want to begin practicing, just search for “body scan” on YouTube. And you will find many recordings. You might even stumble upon the one from Kabat-Zinn himself.

Since I discovered this, I must have listened to Kabat-Zinn’s body scan a thousand times at least. Each time, I thank myself for investing this time to relax.

Although I still have a nervous stomach at times, it occurs much less now. And I can always count on Jon Kabat-Zinn to deliver me from the poisonous effects of stress.

I hope you enjoyed this relaxation technique. If you are an ambitious achiever or have a side hustle in addition to your full-time job, I would warmly recommend you give it a try. It will help you cool down regularly and relax your body in a profound manner. And it will probably save you from burnout in the long run.

Featured photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

About the author 

Alex Philippe

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