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Breaking Free: My Journey so far from NHS Mental Health Nurse Burnout to Holistic Health

The Noose Around My Neck

Working in the NHS as a registered mental health nurse was a profoundly humbling experience. From the outset, I witnessed the weight of responsibility and the sheer volume of work felt by colleagues and the people we were supporting. Day after day, I found myself in a system that seemed more focused on managing symptoms than truly healing patients, because of the sheer volume of people needing support and limited staffing. I was fortunate to work with some outstanding practitioners across all of the public sectors, who all wanted to do the best they could however the system in which we all work and live under cannot promote health and wellness. It is working in just the way it is meant to, built from a place of oppression, labelling undesired behaviours according to privilege, and prescribing compliance. All of this results in celebrating conformity and scraping the surface of symptomatic crisis management. I now recognise how this approach, given all of my own personal, ancestral, and developmental experiences, left me feeling like I had a moral noose around my neck. And I know, I am not alone in this, many NHS and public sector workers chose to work in the field because of their own experiences of familial or personal challenges, they want to give something back and help others.

The NHS, despite its many strengths and the dedication of its staff, operates within a framework that is heavily regulated, bureaucratic, and racist… yes, I said it. This structure often prioritizes quick fixes and adherence to protocols over addressing the root causes of mental health issues. As a nurse on the front lines, I saw firsthand how those we worked with were given medication and talking therapy sessions, but rarely the comprehensive care they truly needed. This piecemeal approach felt increasingly misaligned with my values, inner knowing and experience of what genuine healing entails.

The Toll of Burnout

The relentless pace and the moral compromises I felt I had to make began to take a toll on my own health. As a highly sensitive and intuitive person, I felt drawn to help others and at times put others before myself and my family for a greater cause. I experienced the classic symptoms of burnout: emotional exhaustion, a sense of detachment, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. It was becoming clear that I was not just failing to help those I was supporting in the way I wanted but was also jeopardizing my own well-being.

Burnout among healthcare professionals is alarmingly common. The constant pressure to perform, coupled with a lack of sufficient resources and support, creates a perfect storm for mental and physical exhaustion. For me, the realization that I was becoming part of a system that often failed to provide real, lasting solutions was the tipping point. I knew I had to make a change—not just for my sake but for the sake of those I worked with.

The Colonized Approach of Regulated Professions

One of the most significant issues with the current healthcare system is its colonized approach to health, wellbeing, and wellness. This approach often leads regulated professions to forget the holistic roots of their practice. Historically, healing was a comprehensive practice that integrated physical, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of health. However, the rise of modern, regulated healthcare systems has compartmentalized these aspects, focusing narrowly on symptoms and standardized treatments.

This colonized approach can be traced back to the dominance of Western medical models, which have historically marginalized indigenous and holistic healing practices. These traditional practices, which often emphasize balance and interconnectedness, have been overshadowed by a system that values measurable outcomes and standardized procedures – which are based upon mostly Western male bodies and ideals. As a result, healthcare professionals are often trained to prioritize clinical efficiency and cannot find time or space to offer holistic patient care.

Sadly, this reductionist view not only limits the effectiveness of treatments but also disconnects healthcare providers from the true essence of healing. By focusing exclusively on physical symptoms and neglecting the broader context of a people’s life, we risk perpetuating a cycle of incomplete care. Reclaiming the holistic roots of healthcare involves recognizing and integrating these diverse, time-honoured practices into modern healthcare.

My Turning Point

At the time this burnout was felt in every part of my disconnected mind, body and spirit, I was managing some challenging family situations in which I had the insight of seeing the situation from the care-seekers perspective. My turning point was sitting with somebody I was supporting, listening to them and using all of my learnt skills to stay on model as a nurse and in the therapy modality, whilst feeling so detached and disenchanted about that persons chance of achieving their goals because of the systemic barriers, and wishing there was somebody there for me, to listen and support me through my family’s challenges. I stopped listening, nodded and agreed, then took the decision to go on sick leave as mu family situation became unbearably upsetting.

Once I was able to pause, not rushing from one thing to another, I began paying attention to the universal messages around me. I felt a little more in-tune and had began thinking about going back to work. I was in the car with two of my children, and kept hearing the word “STOP”, it became louder and louder, making me wonder what it meant. I was looking at how close the car was behind me, wondering if this was it. I was considering stopping the car when we were hit by another car and overturned. Now, I cannot be sure my message to stop was related to this happening but it certainly made me slow down even more, helping me recognise I was nowhere near ready to return to my NHS post. Being employed by the NHS during this time of post-traumatic stress was so supportive, I accessed short-term talking therapies including EMDR and I was paid very well on sick leave.

I felt such conflict between morally feeling like I could not longer be part of this systemic one-size fits all, feeling so grateful for the support I had received, yet also feeling more at dis-ease with the fact that so many people needed the support I had but could not access, either for a very long time or at all in certain areas. This survivor’s guilt continued and become bigger in my body, causing more inflammation, pain, and feelings of stuckness. I feel so fortunate that I had trained in reiki and conscious connected breathwork, both have supported and complimented my recovery greatly. I also, had the insight not to take prescribed medication for my symptoms, as these would only serve to get me functioning to somebody else’s ideal but would also mean I would likely forget what my body was keeping hold of, which would likely result in another crash, in one way or another.

Tending to the Root Cause of Health Issues

One of biggest lessons I have learned in my journey is the importance of tending to the root causes of health issues rather than merely masking surface-level symptoms with treatments or interventions. In the conventional healthcare model, the focus is often on quick fixes—prescribing medication to alleviate symptoms without addressing the underlying issues that cause these symptoms in the first place. This means the original issue still exists, putting lots of plasters over this will not make it go away, but will make it come back bigger and stronger than ever making it harder for the person to feel well again. We only need to look at the rising number of mental health and inflammatory issues of our population to recognise the sheer weight of masking symptoms.

This approach can lead to a cascade of additional problems too. For example, while medication can provide temporary relief, it can also come with side effects that necessitate further treatment. This cycle of symptom management rather than true healing can lead to a situation where patients are juggling multiple medications and dealing with a host of new health issues brought on by these treatments. Somebody close to me is currently prescribed 22 medications for symptoms, the root cause of their issue is clear for me to see however they have been so indoctrinated to listen to the medical and government advice, they cannot and are unwilling to alter their perception of health, and do not know how to face the root of their problem or indeed know where to find support. People really need to understand the system, have the ability to find out what is needed, to get what they need. Rarely do people access what they need, so they turn to friends and family for support, and more frequently now holistic practices.

A holistic approach seeks to understand and address the root causes of health problems, but can be difficult for people and regulated professionals to understand. The approach might involve looking at a patient’s lifestyle, diet, stress levels, and even their emotional and spiritual health, and will use ancient practices which cannot be visually observed to “work”. Yet by addressing these fundamental aspects, we can promote true healing and prevent the recurrence of health issues.

Turning to Holistic Healing

My journey towards a more holistic approach to health was both a professional and personal transformation. I now explore alternative therapies and holistic practices, which has led me to understand the profound impact of treating the whole person in a different way—mind, body, and spirit. This approach was a breath of fresh air compared to the restrictive and often myopic view of conventional medicine.

Holistic health is about looking beyond the symptoms and considering all aspects of a person’s life. It involves integrating physical health, emotional well-being, social factors, and even spiritual health into the care plan. This philosophy resonated deeply with me and reignited my passion for nursing, which I had felt during my training, which promoted that of a whole person approach to mental health. Mental health challenges rarely start in the mind, they begin elsewhere and effect the mind, therefore it makes logical sense to give people a narrative for this and support them in alternative ways. I realized that by adopting a holistic approach, I could provide more meaningful and effective support.

Saving My Health and Others

Making the shift to incorporate mainstream and holistic health not only saved my own health from the brink of burnout but also allowed me to help others in a more profound way. As I began incorporating holistic practices into my work, I saw remarkable changes in people I work with. They are not just managing their symptoms but experiencing real improvements in their overall wellbeing.

Holistic practices such as mindfulness, nutrition, exercise, and alternative therapies became central to my approach. By addressing the root causes of mental health issues and promoting overall wellness, I was able to see people thrive by finding their unique balance of what is needed. The transformation in their lives mirrored the transformation in my own—both of us breaking free from the constraints of a purely symptom-focused approach to health.

Unifying Holistic Practitioners and Regulated Professionals

Today, I use my nursing background and multi-agency experience to unify holistic practitioners and regulated professionals. This approach ensures that people receive comprehensive information and support that addresses all facets of their life and health. By fostering collaboration between these two worlds, we can provide a more balanced and effective healthcare system.

The integration of holistic practices into conventional healthcare not only enhances patient outcomes but also enriches the professional lives of healthcare providers. It allows us to return to the core reason many of us entered this field in the first place: to genuinely help and heal others. Although it is also worth saying the best types of healing for long-term health come from within, in a person-centred approach, rather than a practitioner telling a person what will heal them.

A Whole Person Approach to Health

My journey from feeling morally constrained within the NHS to embracing a holistic approach has been transformative in all aspects of my life. By focusing on the whole person, we can achieve true healing and wellbeing. This shift has not only rejuvenated my own health and passion for wellness but has also had a profound impact on the lives of those I work with.

In a world where burnout is all too common, adopting a holistic approach offers a path to sustainable health for both patients and healthcare providers. By unifying holistic and regulated practices, we can create a more compassionate, effective, and liberating healthcare system—one that truly heals.

If you’re a healthcare professional feeling the strain, consider exploring holistic practices. And if you are a holistic practitioner pondering why things are the way they are, find a space to research and openly discuss this. It might just be the change you need to rediscover your passion and provide the kind of care that truly makes a difference.


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