Healing Burnout on the Gender Transition Journey: A Somatic Approach

Person blowing bubbles

Over the past four weeks, I’ve been blogging about a type of burnout that ventures away from the usual work-related discourse and identifies that stuck feeling that may afflict us right smack dab in the middle of gender questioning or social transition. As trans* and nonbinary folx, we’re not just tasked with coming out and exploring the individual needs that’ll help us transition socially and/or medically, we’re also facing a growing tide of isolation and anti-trans hate. Local, national, and international legislatures, our workplaces, and even our communities aren’t working alongside us as much as they might’ve promised in the recent past, and so we’re often left to fend for ourselves. Add this to intersecting marginalization and oppression, and we need to remain vigilant about recognizing when our brains and bodies are stressed beyond easy repair.

How do you know if you’re at the point of gender transition-related burnout? Consider how many of these questions elicit a positive response from you: Have you become cynical about your transition? Do you drag yourself to show up at work, attend peer support meetings, or find time to be with your chosen family? Do you find yourself unable to reach out and connect? Have you become hardened by the process of navigating social and medical support in a world that wasn’t made with you in mind? Do you find it hard to focus? Are you unsatisfied? Do you feel disillusioned with work, relationships, or the transition process? Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach problems, or fatigue? If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you may be experiencing transition-related burnout. If you’re feeling burnt out, you’re not alone.

I invite you to read these blog posts to learn more about gender transition burnout and how it affects your mindbody. 

My intention for writing this fourth blog post on gender transition burnout is to show you how to use simple somatic exercises to help you bring your brain, nervous system, and entire body back to a more balanced state of functioning.

As you’ve read, you’ve learned that fixing the physical and emotional triggers that come with burnout cannot be something that is fixed after a good night’s sleep or a weekend in the woods. Burnout recovery—whether it’s related to workplace issues or gender transition—requires a multi-faceted approach that includes consistent rest, reliable support systems, and routines in place that help you eat well, exercise regularly and attend to thoughts and feelings that arise from transition-related stressors and setbacks. While recovery takes regular dedication and a bit of time, there is an abundance of peer-reviewed evidence that burnout is reversible. So how can we jumpstart the burnout recovery process? Let’s begin with rest.

Before you assess your stressors or draw up a more sustainable daily routine, close this page, turn off the lights, call in sick if you can, and rest for a couple of days. If you need peer support during this time, consider posting to Vancouver Queer Spoon Share. If you need inspiration, read Rest Is Resistance by Tricia Hersey or download the Balance app for a body scan or a guided meditation that just might lull you to sleep. Once you start to restore your well-being and start protecting your health, you gain more focus to evaluate your options, reach out to your chosen family, seek community support, and maybe even move your body. Keep in mind: The key to success often involves making small changes, tackling one task, to-do, or habit at a time. Rest leads to making routine changes and each small but mighty routine change leads to recovery.

“Yes, but do I have to exercise?” you ask. I hear you. As someone who suffers from chronic pain, the thought of moving my body often doesn’t turn into actually moving my body. The thing is, there is a tall stack of evidence that points to sustainable movement as a key ingredient of burnout recovery. In their Burnout book and new Burnout Workbook companion, Emily and Amelia Nagoski name exercise and other manageable movement practices as essential to “completing the stress cycle.” When you complete the stress cycle, you burn off the stress instead of the stress burning you out. What feels good to do?

While most mental health professionals work diligently to help identify your stressors, learn stress management techniques, build a support network, and set boundaries—and their support is critical—I feel that it’s equally important to learn somatic resources to help you get the rest you need, move through burnout feels, and eventually recover with a sense of ground you can feel alongside that amazing new boundary-setting talent. Are you ready to say “Hell no!” to burnout?

Before we say “Hell yeah!” to recovery, wrap up in your favourite “gender expressories” and brew your favourite tea. Go on. I’ll wait. Bookmark this post just in case your bestie uses this web browser to search for Dupli_City cheat codes.

Grounding: This is a good place to start when you’re bogged down by the stressors of coming out at work, going on with normal life, and getting past your past. A sense of ground helps you stay present, which can help take your mind away from past harm and future fears. So how do you establish a sense of ground? Here are a few techniques that have helped others:

  • Focus on your breathing and, if it feels OK to do so, learn to control the inhale and the exhale.
  • Run cold water over your hands or splash cool water on your face for a moment or two to reset.
  • Dance, practice yoga, or find a way to move your body in a way that feels most comfortable to you.
  • Follow a body scan guided meditation or practice tensing and relaxing different parts of your body.
  • Listen to music that comforts you or, if you’re feeling up for it, sing or hum something to yourself.

Mindfulness: This doesn’t require that you master some great technique or empty your being of all thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. This is more about noticing what you’re thinking, feeling, and sensing. There are two key components of mindfulness: awareness without judgment and acceptance without trying to fix what’s there. Here are some techniques.

  • A mindfulness walk keeps you present by noticing what’s going on inside your body and around you as you walk
  • The five senses exercise encourages you to notice the present moment through each of your five senses
  • A body scan-guided meditation helps you pay close attention to the physical sensations of your body
  • Meditation is the practice of noticing, which begins with sitting comfortably and noticing your breathing

Resourcing: This involves thinking about the opposite of what’s on your mind. This is a an advanced technique for grounding and mindfulness during difficult situations or upsetting circumstances. Usually, you will learn to use these skills through working with a somatic therapist before you set out on your own. Still, I think it’s essential to know about these, here.

  • Create a safe place in your mind
  • Think about people who care about you
  • Learn to challenge negative thinking
  • Practice emotional regulation skills
  • Develop a wider window of tolerance

Connecting: When you think of connecting, you might think of connecting to others, but in somatic practices, the aim is to first connect to yourself. This is more than just hugging yourself or tapping your body, it’s about showing up for yourself in a way that 1. acknowledges your pain; 2. connects mindfully to where you notice it; and 3. responds to it with compassion.

University of Texas at Austin professor and prominent self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff, PhD calls this the Self-Compassion Break. Give it a try when you really need to show up for yourself and address your pain and suffering.

When implementing a thorough recovery program that includes somatic practices, you can begin to slowly work back to a place where you feel rejuvenated and ready to take on what comes before, during, and long after gender transition. If you find yourself with persistent symptoms like the ones discussed in this series, it may be time to consider seeking professional help. This can help you feel equipped with the skills you need to begin to feel more like yourself again.

Want to learn more about gender transition-related burnout? I invite you to read these blog posts to explore how it affects your brain, nervous system, and body. If you’d like to discuss what you’ve read about here, contact me.

Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.

Related Posts