The Human Exposome And Your Pathway To Buoyancy
See the Glossary of 10 Words to Move from Burnout to Buoyancy here.
“One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.” – James Baldwin
Dr. Christopher Wild coined the term “exposome” in 2005. As an epidemiologist, Dr. Wild saw that the genome was insufficient to explain how illness, infection, and disease spread. He recognized that there had to be additional measures to identify environmental exposures, as well as emotional and psychological stressors, from conception onward (Wild, 2005). The exposome and the metrics associated with it are still evolving. Adapting the concept of the exposome to individual human development and using it to chart a path to resilience is my innovation.
Dr. Wild saw the necessity for public health to include exposures that incorporate the broader contexts of diet, behavior, and other exogenous and endogenous agents. He led the way towards including epigenetics as well as genetics in understanding health, healthcare and the responsibilities of public health. Taking these indicators into individual life and looking at them as the metrics of stress in an atmosphere of climate catastrophe is the ground-breaking conceptualizing that inspires me. I am interested in shifting how we view allostasis and allostatic load, the terms brought into common parlance by Bruce McEwen in his groundbreaking book The End of Stress as We Know It, published in 2002, and applying them in this unprecedented time. In particular, I want to reframe how adults take responsibility for resilience and cultivate it as stewards for the children of the future and the earth.
The original intention for Dr. Wild’s formulation was data collection. The exposome concept is still considered challenging and questionable in some circles. Therefore, it is not being used consistently in toxicology or referenced in biomedical science journals. The inclusion of epigenetics, recognized more and more as a stronger influence than genetics, is also thought of as radical in some settings. In the context of this exploration into burnout, however, I am going several steps further in the radical direction by reframing the exposome for individual, personalized assessment and regeneration.
It is privilege to deepen one’s self-awareness in the framework of the exposome with the goal of manifesting resilience. Statisticians and data collectors can draw their own generalized conclusions. What I am interested in is how each individual can readily reclaim health and buoyancy by, in part, assembling their own exposome as a resource in protecting themselves from burnout. I also want to encourage the widespread use of the process of constructing one’s own unique exposome as a path to preventing burnout and/or recovering from it. This is a component of the Regenerative Health for A Climate Changing World design that I am promulgating. This design is a program of the Planetary Health Lab of the University of Edinburgh.
My premise is that we can take active responsibility for our personal, family and community health data and chart paths that antidote burnout. This is the way of prevention and awareness. It results in alchemizing collective, cultural themes of passivity and victimhood into respite and buoyancy. This is an innovative, grounded and practical approach to the epidemic of stress that is global.
The Dynamic Exposome and the Wounded Healer: A Transformative Invitation
I invite you to consider the exposome as a dynamic construct that is an alternative to the chart or file that you physician maintains for you, and which you rarely see. It is, in contrast, a chart of your exposures and vulnerabilities that leads to their transformation into resources. The model for this kind of transformation is the model of the wounded healer. I invite all of us who are exposed to the potential for burnout every day, and those of us who have experienced burnout, to use our exposures to expand consciousness and health.
The Wounded Healer concept originated with Carl Jung. In it he proposes that one’s wounds become the source of one’s giftedness (Jung, 1951). Recently I heard youth speaking to their growing battery of mental health challenges and recognizing that by speaking directly to these challenges they were uplifting their peers. This is an example of the wounded healer. This is also why I consider expression a form of respite. Expression is frequently the medium of alchemy for the Wounded Healer.
Capitalizing on the use of expressive mediums as antidotes to burnout and allostatic load and as preventative medicine is an emphasis in Regenerative Health for A Climate Changing World. Expression is one of the most powerful ways to sequence unresolved motoric action that when suppressed is a disease attractor through patterns of compression, rigidity and inflammation.
In charting our own exposome from conception onward we can identify the deep-rooted nature of our vulnerabilities. Compassionately and consistently differentiating from habituated self-sabotage allows us to meet the quest for satisfaction in the original expression that has been buried and for which compensations have accumulated. When we meet authentic need directly, the new behavior, movement and action, fires into the satisfaction centers of the brain and rewires compensatory mechanisms with greater rapidity than we thought possible. This liberates the capacity to articulate the process and thereby make it a resource for others. This is the path of the Wounded Healer.
When we recognize the emotional needs that have been held in abeyance and masked by compensatory addictions, and meet them in the present, the need to over-extend, the key impulse for burnout, evaporates. This interruption in habituated behaviors dissipates and we are freed to live in the spontaneous and highly individuated way that is our birthright. This makes it possible to fulfill our passions, even in the midst of chaos and world collapse, and to be of service to others without burnout. We recognize, easily and with common sense, that over-extending is Sisyphean and endless. We let go of the burden of heroic rescuing and instead embody our collective partnership as voices for our living earth and all beings, seen and unseen. We allow ourselves to be helped, and to be collaborative. We surrender to the truth that we are part of a movement, not the sole sacrificial hero.
How To Construct Your Exposome
1) Starting with what you know about your development and beginning with the earliest time (preferably conception), indicate exposures to toxins of all kinds, with dates or general time frame.
2) Note the frequency of exposures. For instance, were they daily, or for restricted periods of time? Exposure to lead paint or pesticides, as examples, would be for the duration of time in which you lived in the environment with lead paint. The same would be true for toxic relationships.
3) Exposures also include genetic influences. For instance, if there is a history of inflammatory disease, like Rheumatoid Arthritis, that is an exposure.
4) In a parallel column note that antidotes you have explored or received. If there are none yet, note that as well. Antidotes could be resourcing relationships and activities, healing processes, dietary and herbal antidotes, etc.
5) Another parallel column contains the impact of the exposure. Using the lead paint example, this could be hyperactivity or neurotoxicity in the form of learning challenges or headaches.
6) The self-constructed exposome continues to the present moment, including more recent exposures.
Once the exposome is created, there is a period of reflection and debriefing, extracting from it the patterns that lead most directly to the potential for burnout. Looking at the associated behaviors that compensate for those vulnerabilities requires healing and care. The resources for that healing are contained within the Regenerative Health for A Climate Changing World library. Additional resources include methodologies for accessing personal data, particularly that key data that resides in connective tissue and the unconscious.
Constructing Your Own Exposome
The following is an example chart of an individual’s unique exposome. This could be expounded upon with more details exploring specific dates and time frames to correlate the various exposures, or to investigate more specifically the details of the impact and the resources that were either supportive, unsupportive, or unavailable, etc.
The Respite Niche Is The Antidote To Burnout
“True respite regenerates you completely. It is built around the resources that have kept you going, kept you alive and focused, kept you open-hearted and that have given you peace. These resources are unique to you. There is no formula for them. Identifying those resources and building a respite plan around them that becomes your lifestyle prevents burnout forever, under all circumstances, no matter what happens.” – Stephanie Mines, PhD
The respite and resilience I speak of here is not just an interval of time. It is about claiming identity, clarifying boundaries and sustaining self-respect. Without a strong sense of self, we are always vulnerable to burnout, regardless of the context. Burnout, or allostatic load, using McEwen’s terminology, is the byproduct of skewed priorities and a loss of self.
Respite is fundamental to life. It is a birthright. It is not just a break from another activity. It is a healthcare necessity and a path to the evolution of consciousness. The best respite is a time and space that unconditionally welcomes the unpacking of whatever is bottled up inside you, compressed and unexpressed. Telling your story is central to respite, in whatever way is easiest for you to tell it.
Inviting Expression As Respite
Many of us were trained in family and social environments that stifle individual expression. To benefit fully from respite, we unlearn those resistance practices and give free reign to personal truth. These energy medicine self-care applications create the space you need to tell your story. Energy medicine practices such as these are essential resources in the alchemical process of recalibrating one’s nervous system. These practices come from an ancient Taoist art called Jin Shin, an art that is sometimes referred to as “the mother of acupuncture.” It does not require special or even precise touch. It just asks us to make contact with bio-electrical fields in connective tissue that take us out of habituation into what is deeply organic and spontaneous.
Sites #19 and High 19
The names of these areas translate as Boundaries and Really Good Boundaries. Boundaries are energetic spheres of selfhood. They are self-respecting choices that honor individual purpose and intention. They elicit our innate sense of being worthy, deserving of respect, kind regard and honoring. Holding these areas can melt years of repression. These sites open the voice, the throat and the chest, and align expression with intention.
Telling Your Story Is Respite
Whatever medium works for you to tell your story is a major part of your respite. It may sound counter intuitive to propose that telling the story of your burnout will lessen it, but it does. Once you claim your own story you make space for yourself and contribute to the knowledge that your story is worth telling. This also opens up the possibilities of sharing your story with others because you recognize its value.
Touching the 19 and High 19 sites moves us in the direction of making space for ourselves and our truth and feeling the inspiration to tell our stories.
This site, just outside your armpit (on the back) contains all the information you have stored in your cells about self-acceptance and self-worth. When we hold these sites bilaterally and receive 36 complete breaths of life, with the focus on the inhalation, then we restore the innate, embodied worthiness that is our destiny and the key to having a healthy, intelligent and creative approach to overwhelm.
Your Respite Niche is Your Library of Resources
You can upgrade your resources so that they become tools for conscious evolution and move you closer to embodying Original Brilliance. Here is a working definition of Original Brilliance.
“Original Brilliance is synonymous with Entelechy. Entelechy refers to an inner urge that drives unique manifestation. The word entelechy originated with Aristotle. An example of entelechy that is often given is the acorn as the entelechy of the oak tree.”
Cultivating and upgrading your resources requires active engagement. Here are some examples referring to resources that are fairly common. Itemizing your resources is a key step in antidoting burnout. These tools will aid in building our resilience.
Nature: Consciously shift from being in nature to being part of nature. Instead of watching as if outside the natural world, enter it. Experience your kinship. Enter the mycorrhizal underworld of trees and plants. Comprehend the coded messages of birdsongs. Let nature enter your bloodstream, your organs and your connective tissue.
Writing: If you are writing from your inner child space, unfolding from your true voice, do not be distracted into writing about other people. If you start to get into analyzing or creating interpretations of why your mother or father or someone else did something, catch yourself. Return to your voice. Plumb the depths of who you are. Do not be satisfied with what you already know. Open beyond cognition to sensory language.
Painting, Drawing, Movement: As you engage in these expressions, keep your Witness or non-judgmental observer with deep perceptual skills present. Invite the Witness to articulate your needs and sequence those needs in your expression. Go deeper than you have ever gone before in these engagements. Then stop and reflect; integrate what you have learned about yourself from these resources. Enhance their capacity to be evolutionary instruments.
Resources serve a variety of functions and are best utilized as evolutionary tools that are amplified as you grow. Some resources are comforting and soothing. Others are stabilizing. The newest resources are usually the ones that are transformative. This means that they not only validate you, they go beyond that. They help you evolve and go beyond even your wildest expectations. For instance, in my case:
- Hands-on self-care (energy medicine) and yoga are soothing and stabilizing resources that I build into my morning respite niche, consistently, even religiously.
- Meditation and being inwardly still and non-doing is stabilizing and grounding, reorienting and embodying.
- Writing, on the other hand, is alchemical. It deepens my surface understanding by taking me beyond awareness into vision, poetry, and spontaneity.
Resources can serve multiple functions as well, and their purpose may evolve over time. For example, reading has always been a resource for me. Reading fiction is simultaneously transporting and soothing. Reading poetry is inspiring. But reading neuroscience, research on embryology, and neuroendocrinology is expansive and stimulating. It awakens the wild student researcher scientist in me who is unlike any other scientist I have ever met. I weave poetry and science– like the image of the Caduceus.
Finding nutrients for our Original Brilliance is exciting. The literature that does this is growing, and I am thrilled when I find it! Directing myself to the alchemical resources is where my evolution really happens, but I also have to be sure that I include the comforting and stabilizing resources in my respite niche.
See the Glossary of 10 Words to Move from Burnout to Bouyancy here.
- Wild, Christopher Paul. “Complementing the genome with an “exposome”: the outstanding challenge of environmental exposure measurement in molecular epidemiology.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 14.8 (2005): 1847-1850.
- Jung, Carl G. “Fundamental questions of psychotherapy.” The collected works of CG Jung 16 (1951): 111-125.
- McEwen, Bruce S. “Stress, adaptation, and disease: Allostasis and allostatic load.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 840.1 (1998): 33-44; The End of Stress As We Know It (2002).