TOTALLY STRESSED OUT? FEELING RUN DOWN? IT MIGHT BE BURNOUT.
Feeling super tired and stressed out lately? You are not alone! There are a ton of factors that influence your energy levels. All of these things can create a recipe for burnout, which is also referred to as “adrenal fatigue”. This is something that I get asked about a lot and see happening in so many people’s lives. Read on to learn more about what burnout is, things you can do to help manage it, and what you can do to help prevent it from happening.
WHAT IS BURNOUT?
Basically, burnout is a set of symptoms that occurs as a result of mental, emotional, and/or physical exhaustion caused by an excessive amount of stressors in our lives. Stressors on the body can include emotional stress, a diet that may not provide our bodies adequate nutrients, insufficient sleep, chemical toxins (think household and self-care products), chronic illness (asthma, diabetes, and other diseases that put a constant strain and stress on our bodies). Our adrenal glands, which are small organs located above the kidneys, usually deal with stress by producing hormones like cortisol. However, when individuals are exposed to chronic stress, the adrenal glands can get into a state where they cannot keep up with the body’s need for these hormones, and burnout or “adrenal fatigue” can occur. While burnout hasn’t been found to be a scientific medical condition, the state it puts the body in can lead to real health complications that warrant intervention.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BURNOUT
Burnout involves much more than just having an extra busy week. It often becomes a whole state of being that can negatively impact your ability to function properly in things like your career, relationships, and even in things that usually bring you joy. People with burnout usually find it challenging to cope with stress and handle day-to-day responsibilities.
Signs of burnout may include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Brain fog
- Weight gain
- Low libido and signs of hormonal imbalances (think: skin issues, lost menstrual cycle, digestive distress, etc)
- Mood changes (think: depression, irritability, low resilience and patients)
- Hair loss
- Cravings for sweet and salty foods
- Decrease in performance (either at work, school, home life, or a combination of all)
- Sleep issues (think: trouble falling asleep, waking up at night, insomnia)
- Frequent illnesses (remember that stress impacts the immune system)
The negative effects of burnout can easily spill over into every area of life—including home, work, and social life. While anyone can experience burnout, some people are more prone than others due to things like their career field, personality, and daily responsibilities.
If left untreated, burnout can lead to serious health issues like depression, hormone imbalances, gut disorders, and more. But there is hope! With some awareness and modifications, the condition can be managed and even prevented.
TIPS FOR MANAGING BURNOUT
While there will always be things in life that are beyond your control, there ARE steps you can take to help treat and prevent burnout.
Here are some things to focus on:
Diet – Our bodies burn through more nutrients during times of stress, so this is a crucial time to pay extra attention to feeding yourself well. Focus on consuming a variety of minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods every day such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, eggs, fish, poultry, beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds. As tempting as it may be to load up on sugar and caffeine during this time, neither is going to help with stress, and both can lead to even further hormonal imbalances, crazy blood sugar levels, sleep disturbances, and more. So while sugar and caffeine are still okay in moderation, be sure to not let either be the bulk of your diet.
Exercise – You’ve probably heard that exercise is good for stress management, which does hold true. We all need to move our bodies daily, but when you’re in a state of burnout it’s important to be careful with the types and frequency of exercise you choose. Stick with light exercises like walking, yoga, pilates, and barre, since these will provide the benefits of getting your blood flowing and help clear your mind but without the risk of overdoing it and potentially putting more stress on your body (since exercise can be a form of physical stress).
Supplements – Your body requires more nutrients to power your brain during adrenal fatigue. In addition to eating a balanced diet, it may be helpful to supplement with the following nutrients:
- Vitamin C- Supports the adrenal glands and stress response. Since it is used up more rapidly during times of stress, extra is needed to support the body. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can protect our bodies and brains from damage associated with stress. Consider supplementing with an extra 500-1000mg/day.
- B vitamins– These are also key nutrients for the adrenal glands and needs are increased during stress. These can be taken as part of a combo multivitamin, or separately as a B complex.
- Resveratrol- This plant compound has many health benefits, including anti-stress properties.
- Anti-inflammatories (think: omega-3 fatty acids, beet powder, and turmeric) – These are crucial for brain health and reducing inflammation in the whole body, which often happens as a result of chronic stress. Studies show that they also may help treat and/or prevent depression in people who don’t get enough.
- CoQ10- This supplement can help decrease oxidative stress and improve mitochondrial function (helps us produce energy and fight against infections).
- Vitamin D- important for our immune system to function properly, and it can also be helpful in regulating our mood.
- Adaptogens (think: cordyceps, ashwagandha, and eleuthero) – are supportive for the adrenal system
- Prioritize sleep – Sleep often goes to the wayside when there is so much to do and you feel like you can’t turn your brain off. Yet sleep deprivation will only make burnout worse, so it’s super important to do what you can to get at least 7-8 hours/night.
- Set boundaries – This includes the things you commit to as well as the people you choose to interact with. It also involves possibly changing your routine to better support your lifestyle. Think about what you can say “no” to, and work on rearranging your priorities as needed to reduce stress.
- Stress reduction practices – Make this part of your daily routine. Include things like meditation, journaling, or yoga.
- Engage in self-care – There is a saying that says “You can’t pour from an empty cup”, which holds so much truth. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, it’s essential. Think about what activities you enjoy but might no longer be doing, and make time for a variety of them daily. Ideas include a bath, exercise, cooking a nourishing meal, journaling, reading for pleasure, watching a good movie or show, or being out in nature.
- Ask for help – You can’t do it all, no matter how much you may want to or feel like you need to. Seek support from loved ones in whatever ways they can provide, even if it’s just a conversation that allows you to share your thoughts or seek advice.
Want to learn more about burnout and adrenal fatigue? We have three more blog posts you may be interested in!
SAMPLE MENU FOR BURNOUT
Breakfast – 2 Eggs with sauteed baby broccoli and half an avocado, or a slice of gluten free bread with mashed avocado and hemp hearts.
Lunch – Large green salad, tomatoes, carrots, squash, and your protein of choice (chicken breast, salmon, tuna, beans, lentils, etc.)
Dinner – Roasted salmon filets topped with pesto sauce and a side of roasted sweet potatoes and sauteed greens like broccoli, brussels sprouts, or zucchini, seasoned as desired.
Snacks – Sweet potato paired with tahini or avocado, or a piece of fruit paired with a hard-boiled egg or nut butter.
Burnout is an unpleasant condition that occurs due to chronic stress leaving you feeling exhausted, sluggish, and just not yourself. As difficult as stress can be, remember that the sense of being overwhelmed is a signal to take action, and not a long-term sentence. By understanding the symptoms and causes of burnout and implementing these steps to help overcome it, you can recover and build a road map for prevention. Your experience can serve as a turning point that launches you into a happier, healthier, and more sustainable life.
Struggling with burnout? CLICK HERE
Written by Alison Richman MS, RDN