We’re living in a world with no off switches and our burnout is at a boiling point. Powered Down explores how the system has failed us and what we can do to find our way off the hamster wheel — for good.
The last few years have been rough on my soul. As we entered year three of this never-ending panorama, I found my burnout reaching new levels of crispiness. I felt listless like I’d never felt before. And though my career had been on the rise over the last three years, I’d been struggling to complete the most simple of tasks — let alone write the thousands of words that once came pouring out of me. It was also becoming increasingly difficult to feel even the tiniest slivers of joy. I’d been in therapy and on medication for years and tried every mindfulness technique in the book, but nothing helped. So when Canyon Ranch, one of the original luxury wellness resorts specializing in physical, mental, and spiritual transformation, reached out to me and asked if I wanted to experience their burnout-alleviating program, I ran towards the light.
As I dug deeper into the initiative, which they’d dubbed the Reconnecting to Joy Pathway, I learned the offering included a two-hour "detoxifying" ritual, a private sound bath, and a meeting with a spiritual guide. I was deeply intrigued. And then, I saw the price. After taxes and fees, a five-night winter stay came in around $6,300 (not including transportation to and from Lenox, MA). That’s more than I make in a month. (Full disclosure: As an invited guest, my stay was free.)
The price is part of the appeal. Canyon Ranch pioneered the now $436 billion wellness tourism industry and its melding of self-betterment and luxury is what has made it the spot for rejuvenation — it’s exclusive inclusivity. Everyone is welcome, as long as they can pay the entry fee. You arrive with a heavy heart and burdened mind and leave with lighter spirits — and pockets. Money, I theorized, as I dreamed of an idyllic walk in the New England woods, could be the ultimate cure to burnout.
First, my hypothesis. While burnout is not something that can be cured (more than one expert in burnout told me burnout is not a medical condition but rather a symptom of today’s nonstop capitalistic hustle culture), I was pretty sure that a stint at the original wellness resort, with its plethora on healing workshops and two-hour massages, would absolutely alleviate some of my burnout symptoms. I also decided to define what burnout meant to me (because “feeling like I’m endlessly falling through space while trying to balance my laptop on my head and also being on deadline for a story I forgot to report” is not the most scientific), so I settled on five categories: exhaustion, lack of motivation/ability to focus, depression/hopelessness, detachment, and brain fog.
Next, the experiment itself. Just going to a wellness resort for a week didn’t seem like enough to answer a big question about money solving my problems, so I set myself a nice round goal — spend $10,000 in a week. If I was going to lean into luxury, I was going to go all out. On top of the $6,300 pathway and stay, I added $300 worth of additional services, which included a facial and an aerial yoga class and I took a business class Amtrak train both ways from NYC to Albany (and then a car transfer to Lenox, MA), which added up to $200. The rest came in the form of the fanciest workout gear Rent The Runway had to offer (plus a few gifted outfits), a brand new pair of Merrell hiking boots, and a pair of Meta x Ray-Ban sunglasses with photo capabilities. I was ready to be as comfy, cozy, and bougie as humanly possible. With my budget set and my bags packed, I set out on my journey of healing and joy reconnection.
Before I even got to the ranch, I was set up with a “wellness guide” named Heidi, who told me to start taking deep breaths as soon as I arrived on the property, and to leave my preconceived notions at the door. But I’m a nihilistic journalist with a chip on my shoulder so I thought I’d stay smug — I didn’t know then about the power of a crystal singing bowl. Before I knew It I was plunging headfirst into healing, ready or not.
The first thing I noticed about Canyon Ranch was they had the teensiest snacks (I’m talking three-carrot-sticks-and-a-spoon’s-worth-of-hummus small) and portions. The place was full of vague “diet culture” vibes — the menu told me to try to “distinguish between physical hunger and anxiety,” which made me want to scream. But, I’ll hand it to them, the food was also absolutely delicious and by day three, my IBS-riddled GI system, which has worsened over the last few years due to stress, was regular for the first time in four years, so you win some you lose some, I guess.
The most healing part of the dining experience wasn’t the food though, it was how normal it felt to eat alone. Out of both panic and curiosity, I had signed up to eat at the community table all five nights — which allowed single travelers to meet one another over dinner. Maybe it was my luck or maybe it was an act of the universe telling my introverted ass to sit in silence for once in my life, but I only ended up having a dinner companion one night. And while I could literally write a book about the dinner I shared with Kathleen, being set up to eat alone for roughly 15 meals was my first indication that I might be getting something out of this experience.
I was eating slower, and instead of my usual throw-down-lunch-while-watching-eight-TikToks-and-FaceTiming-my-mom, I was spending each meal staring out the window, taking in the scenery; spotting foxes and wind patterns and big fluffy snowfall. It also gave me dedicated space to reflect on my internal findings throughout the week. By night two, the quiet of eating alone felt indulgently spectacular. I was starting to sip the Kool-Aid, and it didn’t taste half bad.
This brings me to my first spiritual guidance session on my first full day at the Ranch. This was the part I was most skeptical about — the part I joked about with everyone from my editor to my therapist. I’m not super religious and I haven’t felt very connected to spirituality beyond telling people I get shit done because I’m a Capricorn. So when I started to tear up 20 minutes into my spiritual guidance session, I was quite literally too stunned to speak.
Maybe it was a spiritual breakthrough or maybe it was the first real introspective time I’d had in years, but after this moment, I was, as they say at the Ranch, invested in my journey.
My guide, Barbara*, helped me perfectly articulate my burnout and trauma and crispiness, and then turn it around into an actionable plan for the real world. But what hit me straight in the heart, was when Barbara, a whole-ass G-d-certified, PhD. in ministry, told me that my number one assignment as a human being was to take care of myself first. I’m not sure what kind of magical powers she had, but after years of taking care of others being one of my main personality traits, for the first time in my whole life, I actually fully believed it. Maybe it was a spiritual breakthrough or maybe it was the first real introspective time I’d had in years, but after this moment, I was, as they say at the Ranch, invested in my journey.
I spent the next few days fully immersed. I did a ritual where I wrote down my past stressors on paper and then ripped it up and set it free using a crystal singing bowl. I spent 90 minutes expressing myself through dance and watercolors. I took an aerial yoga class and a bungee resistance class and a vibrating foam roller stretch class. I got my pores cleared and my cheeks jade rolled. I had a private sound bath that made me feel like I was floating. I went for an hour-long solo spiritual walk in the snow. I had a tarot card reader tell me I was going to be rich. I made friends with two New York City moms and stayed up gabbing by the fire until the lights automatically went out at 10:30. I had a two-hour massage. By the time I hit day five, I was a clearer, brighter, more enlightened version of myself. When I called my wife, she told me I looked happier than she had seen me in years. I tried desperately to bottle the feeling and never let it go.
On my last night, I had an hour to kill between my sound bath and dinner, so I decided to sit in the eucalyptus inhalation room for 15 minutes and then take a dip in the pool to watch the sunset. When I got to the pool just after 5:30, it was completely empty. I slipped into the perfectly heated water and did a few laps before fully submerging. Underwater, I took in the quiet and watched the setting sun dance on the surface. When I came up for air, I started to uncontrollably laugh — big belly chuckles that swam through my heart and filled the still air around me. I looked around at the sunset and the snowy trees and the giant pool I had all to myself and I giggled, “This is my life and I am so lucky to live it.” As I pulled myself out of the water, I felt my crispiest layer fall away. Underneath, was a shiny, glowing version of me I didn’t realize existed.
By the end of my stay, I honest to goodness wrote in my journal, “I did it, I’ve reconnected to joy.” I had chugged the Kool-aid. The New Yorker in me wanted to vomit just thinking about it, but this newly enlightened me was laughing at past-cynical-me. Past-me was stuck in an overlapping cycle of drama and trauma, Ranch-me had been detoxified through a series of mantras, rituals, and scrubs.
When I got home and got past the first hours of beaming reunion with my wife, I fell asleep dreaming of my new enlightened self. I woke up still feeling the warm-and-fuzzies and held on to the feeling as long as I could. My burnout symptoms that I’d so carefully defined were gone. I felt re-energized and awake and I started to pull out of the depression fog I had been sulking in for months.
And then, a few days later, something annoying and dumb happened at work and I felt myself snap back. The truth is, while I do think my experience was net-positive in terms of mindset and relaxation, no amount of gem facials and singing bowls can change the realities of work drama or health scares or the general doomed state of the world. I might have added a new mediation ritual to my morning cup of coffee, but spending $10,000 in a week didn’t save me from the non-stop burnout world we’ve created over the last decade.
And that, of course, brings me to the actual financial reality of spending $10,000 in a week — for me, and most people, that is an unfathomable amount of money to set on fire for the sake of wellness tourism. That’s a solid chunk of my annual rent in NYC. That’s more than I’ve spent on self-care in my entire life. That’s the fucked-up cycle of capitalism that we’ve been forced into by hustle culture.
If I actually wanted to feel this rejuvenated and alive — and actually maintain the burnout relief, I think I would have to go to Canyon Ranch three to four times a year on top of the at-home measures I take, such as exercising and going to therapy, the latter of which is also a privilege many people can’t afford. If we’re being conservative, that would cost about $40,000 a year.
And while yes, there are things you can do at home to try and mitigate stress and burnout (i.e. meditation, breathwork, exercise, etc.), this is where it all comes crashing down. In what world does it make sense to work people to a state of extreme burnout only to charge them their yearly salary to feel any kind of relief? Why should only a privileged few be granted access to such transformational moments?
So, to answer the question I asked at the start — money can definitely soothe burnout, especially in the immediate aftermath. Also, the experts were right, ritualistic release and body-melting massage can’t cure burnout. The cure only comes with fundamental changes to the workplace and culture; a kind of adjustment I don’t foresee happening without cataclysmic change. So am I fully cured of my trauma-induced, work-obsessed burnout? No. But is my skin and chakra alignment better than ever? For now, it appears yes, money did clear my pores.
Some names have been changed to protect privacy.