Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Wellness Advocate Teaching Us How To Heal From Burnout With Te Ao Māori

Wellness advocate Maia Gardiner is using her platform Wellbeing with Maia to share how using a Te Ao Maori lens, and the hauora health model, is helping her heal from burnout. She talks to Capsule about how glimmers of joy and learning to slow down can help all of us avoid the productivity trap.

He uri tēnei o ngā tātai whakapapa o Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Kahungungu me Tainui waka anō hoki. Ka tū pakari au me ko tōku maunga a Tongariro, huri atu aku kamo ki ōku wai ora o Rotoaira me ngā wai marino o Tauranga moana. Ko Maia Aroha Svadlenak-Gardiner tōku ingoa

As part of her work with her platform Wellbeing with Maia, Maia Svadlenak-Gardiner (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Kahungungu) is passionate about centering her approach to health around te Ao Māori (Māori world views), values and tikanga (methods/techniques), as they address health through a holistic perspective. And it’s also the world view that’s helping her recover from her own experience burnout.

In her work, Maia refers to the most common Māori health model, Te Whare Tapa Whā, developed by Sir Mason Durie in 1984. Te Whare Tapa Whā was created to provide a culturally safe and inclusive environment for Māori within the health system and address the structural issues/barriers Māori were facing. “We needed a model of health that was culturally reflective and appropriate for Māori because the system is currently inequitable and isn’t set up for Māori, to thrive” Maia says. Though it was initially developed for Māori, it is a beneficial model for everyone. Maia believes if people view their Hauora (wellbeing) more holistically, it can further support them with their burnout recovery

Essentially, Te Whare Tapa Whā represents the four walls of a wharenui (traditional Māori meeting house) – each pillar representing an aspect of a person’s overall Hauora (wellbeing).

Hinengaro – mental wellbeing

Whānau – family, social network, friends and community

Tinana – physical body

Wairua – spiritual health

‘Spiritual’ can take on different meanings from a western context – Maia jokes that it’s easy to assume a woo-woo interpretation of tarot cards and astrology, which is fine (god knows we love a moon chart). However, a te Ao Māori (Māori world view) perspective can also include the spiritual connection tāngata (people) have with their ūkaipō (place of belonging/homeland), and how enriching being on your ūkaipō is to your wairua (spirit/soul). Returning to our whenua (land) and letting our spiritual connection to the land refill our cup is a powerful tool. But strengthening your spiritual Hauora (wellbeing) can be as simple as going to your favourite place, be that in nature, within a community or the comfort of your home.

Now, burnout is… everywhere. Somewhere among the pandemic, burnout went from being a new term, to a buzzword, to a way of life. The pace of life is relentless and the psychic toll of the world around us feels like it’s reaching damaging new levels on a monthly basis. But one of the misconceptions around burnout is that it only comes from bad things – whereas the reality is the opposite.

As we found out in our 2020 interview with Dr Lucy Hone, the co-director of the New Zealand Institute for Wellbeing and Resilience, if you love your job, you’re at a higher risk of burnout. It might be because you’ve got so many good opportunities, you want to push yourself to say yes to all of them, like Brodie Kane wrote about in her column.

Or, you might be working in an area with great need, where you’re passionate about going the extra mile because so many people need help, like The Kindness Collective’s Sarah Page talked about, about the burnout crisis hitting charity workers.

Both of which applied to Maia, whose enthusiasm for helping people in the health sector saw her working 20-30 hours a week, on top of full-time study, on top of a year of big personal milestones, including getting married. She also became the co-host to the globally popular Girls That Invest podcast. So many blessings, but so little time.

“My attitude was ‘I’m going to power through life, and take on all the opportunities I can,’” Maia says, which will be relatable to anyone blessed with finding a career path they love. The irony of suffering from burnout while working in the wellbeing sector is not lost on Maia, but she says she started to realise she was running on fumes when even the good parts of life seemed too hard.

“At first, I knew I was really tired, but it was when I started to… not resent, but not look forward to fun activities with my friends, the kind of social activities that I would usually be looking forward to,” she says. “Instead of feeling excited, it was more like ‘I can’t think of anything worse, because I just don’t have the energy to do it.’ My fun things ended up being just another ‘to-do’ on my list.”

From her work, Maia knew that was a warning she had to pay attention to. But the idea of slowing down is so foreign to most of us, and particularly those in the growing stages of their career. While Maia had found work she was super passionate about in the second half of her 20s, she admits she felt lost for the early parts of it. And because it felt to her that she had taken longer to find a groove in her career path, she was pushing herself at a more relentless pace to catch up to where she wanted to be in her career, to make up for lost time.

“I’m a very determined person, so I got everything done… but it was to the detriment to my health, which I will never, ever do again.” Months later, she says she’s still dealing with the physical, mental, and spiritual repercussions of that. It’s one of the reasons she wanted to be upfront about it on her Instagram platform – to not only provide advice on how to heal from burnout, but warn about how the productivity trap can lead people to push themselves too far.

It had got to the point where Maia was so used to coming home from study and going straight into mahi – or vice versa – that she never felt like there was any time off. “Even when I would take a bath, I would be thinking, ‘I need to be doing something!’ I was so used to doing something to fill those extra moments of time.”

Chances are, that sentence is ringing some bells for you. How often are we gifted a few minutes in between appointments, only to spend it sending out emails, replying to messages, setting up reminders or even scrolling on Instagram. When was the last time you just… sat? Most of us are not brain surgeons, world leaders or ambulance officers, but we run a schedule as if we are. The productivity trap has slowly come for us all.

So, for Maia, her burnout recovery revolves around slowing down and utilising tikanga (methods/techniques) Māori and perspectives of health, such as the Te Whare Tapa Whā, to address her burnout and reclaim a sense of overall ora (vitality) and wellbeing. It’s prioritising movement that’s enjoyable, good food, social connection, and gratitude – but taking them slowly, rather than creating a wellness to-do list to balance out your work to-do list.

She’s a big proponent of looking for ‘glimmers’, the small, mundane moments throughout a day that we take for granted. “One of my favourite daily rituals for myself is just grounding in the backyard, with my juice. I stand there for about five minutes, I soak up the sunshine and it’s so healing, that time in nature.”

Once you start noticing those daily glimmers, Maia says, they easily add up to a good life. “The words you speak become the house that you live in – everything is in the small, slow details of your life,” she says. “The big moments are wonderful, but they’re fleeting. The small habits, the daily routines, they build a sense of contentment, joy and love within your life.”

The Motherhood Diaries: ‘I Went to My IVF Embryo Transfer… Then Drove My Friend to Get An Abortion’

On the same day that Capsule reader Belle had an IVF embryo transfer appointment, she volunteered to be the one taking a friend to...

Can You Eat Something at the Supermarket Before You Pay For It? Or is It Breaking the Rules? We Get a Definitive Answer…

Is it ever okay to eat something at the supermarket before you pay for it? Are you disrupting some sort of social code of...

Would You Attend A ‘Death Cafe?’ The Meet-Ups Helping Kiwis Talking About Death & Dying

For people who want to talk about death and dying, it can be hard to know where to turn. That's why the initiative of...

How to Choose a Wedding Venue in NZ – An Expert Reveals the Things That REALLY Matter

Picking a wedding venue in NZ is usually the first big item on your list when it comes to wedding planning. As someone who...