There’s something in us that tells us to keep going even to the point of burnout when we are working towards our goals. Perhaps societal pressures are to blame, but we seem to believe that pushing harder and further at all times is the only way to truly succeed in life. It’s no wonder more of us are over-stressed, burnt out, and on the brink of collapse! Well, we have some solutions to help you bounce back from burnout and keep you far from it in the future! Hint: contrary to popular belief, more caffeine isn’t the answer.
Signs That You May have Burnout
Burnout is defined by the World Psychiatry Journal as “… a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.”
Look out for the following signs and symptoms:
- Excessive fatigue despite sleeping your normal amount
- Spending more time alone than normal/avoiding social situations more than usual
- Feeling overwhelmed/fearful/anxious/self-doubting and not being able to shake it off
- Feelings of brain-fog/inability to focus on work tasks
- Experiencing panic attacks, dizziness, or increased heart rate
There are many more symptoms that will vary from person to person, but the above are red flags that steps urgently need to be taken before total collapse occurs.
Healing through Food
Burnout is pretty much a symptom of chronic stress. It’s almost as though we’ve had our brains signalling “stress, stress, stress…” for so long that our bodies get so revved up before eventually going into total shutdown.
1. Slow/Gentle Carbohydrates
Blood sugar balance goes out the window in times of stress due to the over-secretion of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol leads to a spike in blood sugar, which in turn leads to a large insulin secretion. The insulin then works to rapidly remove the excess sugar from the blood stream, thus dropping our blood sugar to very low amounts in a seesaw effect. This effect is what triggers “emotional eating” or sugar/chocolate cravings. In order to combat this, we need to make sure to eat foods that are considered low glycaemic index (low GI). This means avoiding refined sugars, white flour products, alcohol, and fruit juice.
Focus on getting your carbohydrates from fiber-rich, wholegrain sources and from whole fruits and vegetables to balance your blood sugar. Adding a source of protein and/or healthy fats (like avocado) to your meal will also slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream.
2. Omega 3 Rich foods
Healthy fats like Omega 3 Fatty Acids will help with blood sugar balance, as well memory and overall cognitive function. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are also associated with mood benefits. These powerful nutrients have been linked to reduced depression symptoms, anxiety and overall improved feelings of wellbeing. We should all aim to have a serving of fatty fish (salmon/sardines/mackerel/cod/herring/anchovies) 2 – 3 times weekly. If you are vegan, you can get omega 3 fatty acids from chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, or walnuts. Then if you are still not able to eat the above, consider an omega 3 supplement.
3. Skip the Caffeine (even if only temporarily)
I know, coffee is life. However, it will do you a WORLD of good to give it a break for a while if you have burnout. If you are struggling with chronic stress, caffeine can be the equivalent of adding fuel to the fire because it is a stimulant. If you are already facing anxiety/high-stress, the caffeine may rev you up even more.
Some people are affected more than others when it comes to caffeine. In fact, there is some evidence to show that caffeine helps with depression, but this may only be the case for genetically “fast metabolisers” of coffee and not the average person. If you are struggling with insomnia, skip the caffeine in the afternoon and see if it makes a difference. Some delicious alternatives would be teas such as chamomile and chai, coconut water, kombucha, or chicory coffee.
Supplements for Burnout
1. Reparative Nutrients
During periods of high stress, our bodies can go into hyper-drive and burn through our nutrient stores, leaving us depleted and unable to go into repair mode. Some of these readily-depleted nutrients include Magnesium, B Vitamins, Zinc, and Vitamin C. You can get these through foods such as leafy greens, wholegrains and vegetables, seeds and shellfish, and red fruits and vegetables respectively. Sometimes foods can be enough, but more often than not you may need supplements to boost your nutrient levels therapeutically.
2. Digestive Support
Another nasty side effect of chronic stress is indigestion. You may want to consider supplementing with betaine hydrochloric acid (HCL) or digestive enzymes temporarily to address this.
Finally, there are a group of herbs that work specifically on the stress pathway to bring hormones back into balance. They are known as Adaptogens and can be really helpful to heal your body from burnout. Some of the most beneficial herbs include Rhodiola Rosea, Ashwagandha, Maca, Reishi and Chaga, and Siberian Ginseng.
Supplements and diet changes will make a HUGE difference in terms of how your body copes with the stress, however lifestyle changes are essential. Make sure that you protect your sleep, and start carving out time in your day for stress-relieving habits such as gentle exercise. Remember the analogy on flights, that you need to strap on your oxygen mask before helping others? This is true for all aspects of our health, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you’re not able to give your best to your work/loved ones either!