Burnout is a blanket term referring to a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. When you begin to feel like you’re burning out, everything in your life is affected – your career, social life, family and relationships as well as the image you have of yourself. You may feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet the demands of life. Our ‘always on’ modern-day culture coupled with the daily stresses of life and the high expectations we place upon ourselves create a clear recipe for burnout.
Stress and burnout are closely related. The stress could be a result of anything, including trauma (for example retrenchment, divorce, bereavement, accident and injury, etc.), financial issues, work pressures, an abusive relationship or illness. When we perceive ourselves to be under threat physically or psychologically, the adrenal glands activate the sympathetic nervous system and release a flood of hormones including adrenalin and cortisol. This instinctual acute stress response is sometimes called ‘fight, flight or freeze’. The primitive response to stress prepares the body to react to the danger as it did for our ancestors, and it may become a default pattern.
Under extreme or prolonged stress, this cascade of hormones floods the body constantly and overloads the adrenals. This eventually results in a depletion leading to adrenal burnout or chronic fatigue. It can also lead to systemic inflammation, making you susceptible to illness and chronic health conditions.
Burnout is not plain exhaustion or job dissatisfaction. The truth is that you may not even realise that you’re suffering from burnout until you’re presented with a health crisis or a mental or physical breakdown.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BURNOUT
Feeling irritated and argumentative, or losing your temper often
Reacting irrationally or disproportionately
Strain in personal or professional relationships
Chronic fatigue, exhaustion, lack of energy and feeling ‘flat’
Depression, decreased motivation and discouragement
A weak immune system or constant illness
Feeling tearful, overwhelmed and anxious, or suffering panic attacks
Feeling numb or empty
An inability to focus or concentrate, poor memory or foggy thinking
Poor decision-making or unhealthy choices
Weight gain or loss, or an increase or decrease in appetite
Increasing or new medical conditions
Despair, loss of hope or faith, cynicism or negativity, and self-doubt
RECOVERY FROM BURNOUT
First, acknowledge that you are burnt out! Pushing through won’t fix the problem. Working on discovering the root cause of your burnout rather than just treating the symptoms is known as the functional approach. A functional wellness coach will nurture, guide and motivate you to explore and recover from burnout and offer nutritional, supplementation and movement suggestions as well as mindfulness tools and strategies for lasting transformation. You may see both a coach and a therapist as a compatible dual treatment for burnout.
CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL
It’s important to see a doctor (preferably a functional doctor) to check for any potential underlying health conditions, such as Epstein Barr Virus, autoimmune conditions, anaemia and thyroid issues, etc. A therapist or coach may guide you to ask deeper questions, like: “What changes do I need to make to reduce my stress levels?”; “Why do I believe success means working until I drop?” and “How can I improve my self-care to avoid burnout?” This can lead to amazing and useful discoveries!
Are you getting between seven and nine hours of quality sleep per night? Running on empty is not a badge of honour. Poor sleep has dire consequences for your body and mind, including a weakened immune system and poor cognition. If your sleep is compromised by insomnia, intermittent waking or sleep apnoea, this can exacerbate or even lead to burnout. Practise good sleep hygiene by avoiding screens one hour before bedtime, keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom, having a light early dinner, practising relaxation exercises, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol at night.
Get in touch with your emotions! Being able to process emotions constructively is crucial. Breathing techniques, meditation, visualisation and other stress management tools can help. Becoming aware of what’s happening in your body and mind under stress and training them to respond differently can calm the sympathetic nervous system and reduce anxiety.
Poor nutrition (processed and junk foods, sugar, hydrogenated fats and chemicals, etc.) leads to a greater chance of burnout. Your diet impacts everything, including your emotions. During burnout, you might not have the motivation to make healthy eating choices. But your body needs the right amount of crucial nutrients as fuel to function optimally. Avoid fad diets, and focus on your unique needs with a personalised eating plan instead.
Scheduling regular time out is essential for recovery. Nature is a wonderful healer! Spend some time in the outdoors every so often, even if it’s just a walk in the park during your lunch hour. While social connections are vital and being around supportive friends and family is necessary for healing, it’s also important to make time to be on your own.
Movement or exercise increases feel-good hormones like endorphins, induces relaxation, and promotes energy and mental clarity. Make time for movement in your life even if you don’t feel like it and time is tight. Find the right movement for you, whether it’s yoga, pilates and ballet or trail running and cycling. Just remember that exercising when ill or fatigued may increase the stress response. Exercise gently when you feel you can. Only you can be the judge of what’s right for you.
TRASH THE TOXIC
Get rid of toxic relationships or situations in life and seek those that uplift you. This includes the people with whom you choose to interact, as well as environmental toxins. Become conscious of chemicals (including parabens, pesticides, plastic, synthetic chemicals and pollution in air, food and water, etc.) and avoid them as much as possible by making better choices.
ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE
Obstacles in life are unavoidable. We can’t change the things that happen to us, but we can choose how we respond to them. Take control with a more problem-solving, optimistic attitude. Setting and achieving goals is a great motivator. Make necessary small changes. If you’re not thrilled with your job, talk to your employer about a different position, start your own business or get the degree you’ve always wanted. Having a purpose that’s fulfilling and makes you feel valued for your unique gifts is an antidote to burnout. If you’re willing to work at it, lasting change is possible.
*While supplements are not intended to replace a healthy eating plan, they can be helpful in supporting your recovery from burnout. Here are some options your healthcare practitioner may recommend…
*Melatonin, magnesium (glycinate or threonate), GABA, lavender, chamomile, passion flower, Chinese skullcap, glycine, tryptophan and ginko biloba promote relaxation and sleep.
*L-theanine, an amino acid, may reduce anxiety.
*Omega 3 (from fish oils, hempseed or flaxseed) supresses constant adrenal activation and inflammation.
*Coenzyme Q10 supports energy levels.
*Probiotics help treat the gut.
*A high-quality multivitamin that includes vitamin C, B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12) and Vitamin D (also naturally produced by 20 minutes of sunlight) is essential.
*Herbal adaptogens such as licorice root, holy basil, siberian or panax ginseng, rhodioloa rosea, ashwagandha and maca root may improve adrenal function.
*CBD (without psychoactive THC) can reduce anxiety, promote sleep and relieve pain.
*Cordyceps has been shown to improve immunity and support energy levels and adrenal function.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nikki Temkin is a functional health and wellness coach who helps her clients recover from burnout and other imbalances to achieve balance, joy and vitality. For more information, get in touch at [email protected] gmail.com or follow @nikkitemkinwellnesscoach on Instagram and NikkiTemkinIntegrativeWellnessCoach on Facebook.