Do I have burnout? | how to recover
Burnout, is a word that can be spoken about often but what does it actually mean?
Burnout is a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion that is often caused by such things as; prolonged periods of stress, overwhelming demands in work and life, unmet expectations, lack of control, chronic illness and an imbalance between work and personal life. In a nutshell, it’s a sign that your HPA axis is working overtime and needs support to keep working effectively.
Our bodies are designed to deal with a great deal and are able to bounce back after adversity, but there comes a tipping point when the demands of life become too much for an individual to cope with and you’re in a state of chronic stress. This is when burnout occurs.
According to research conducted by Westfield Health around 46% of UK workers are close to burnout, with those who work from home being more likely to experience burnout, compared to those who go into an office to work.
The main signs of burnout are:
- Exhaustion. A feeling of depleted physical, mental and emotional energy. You may find yourself getting up in the mornings struggling to function, feeling it’s a challenge to get through the day and feeling drained and frazzled, even when you feel you have had enough rest.
- Isolation. You can find that you start losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy and withdraw from colleagues, friends and family as you feel overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done.
- Cynicism. You may find that you have a negative and detached attitude towards work, yourself and others.
- Reduced productivity. You may struggle to focus, concentrate and struggle with your memory where making even simple decisions can be overwhelming.
- Physical symptoms. You may find yourself experiencing more headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, panic attacks and changes to your appetite or sleep patterns. You may find you pick up more coughs and colds as your immune system gets weaker. You may find you are craving more sweet and salty foods and gaining more weight, especially around the midsection.
- Neglecting yourself. You may find you stop looking after yourself, eating well, exercising, undertaking relaxation and doing things you enjoy doing.
I can understand if right now you’re reading this and feeling overwhelmed wondering how you can support yourself in the midst of trying to do everything that needs to be done. I promise you though that hope is not lost and when you give yourself and your HPA axis some love, how your feeling will change and you will find your zest for life again.
If you’re reading this and feel that you’re not currently in this place, I encourage you to read on because the following tips are useful to support you not getting to a place of burnout and let’s be honest none of us want to experience it!
It’s time to give yourself and your HPA axis some love!
First things first, celebrate yourself for recognising that you need to support yourself. Remember it’s about taking things step by step and doing what you can bit by bit.
Start by writing down everything that you feel is causing you stress right now. Look at the tasks on the list that you don’t really have to do and get rid of them through delegation.
For example, do you need to make apple pie for pudding? Do you have to host a family lunch every Sunday? Or volunteer for another event even with a full diary?
Don’t get me wrong, all of those are commendable and worth doing, but consider the often-used metaphor of the oxygen mask on aeroplanes, you’re required to put it on your face first before helping others. Another way of looking at this is to think about your car, if it has a warning light you take it to the garage to be fixed as being without your car can cause all sorts of problems! Think of the symptoms I shared above as warning signs that your body is telling you need to be sorted.
Resting isn’t being lazy, it is ok to look at your diary and prioritise what needs to be done and let go of activities that are draining your energy, even if it is just for a short time whilst you get your energy back.
Think about what is restful for you. Sometimes in burnout, individuals can end up watching lots of TV thinking this is rest but often it’s a way of distracting yourself from what’s going on. When you figure out what rest is to you, such as painting, reading a book, a cup of tea sitting in the garden, talking to a friend or family member or a walk, find time to schedule it into the diary. Start with 5 minutes every day and build from there. If you’re finding yourself saying I don’t have 5 minutes, I’ll challenge you to make 10 minutes every day as you probably need it more!
Rest can be a challenge to start with but it is important to allow your HPA axis to move into the rest and relax state in order to support your physical and mental wellbeing.
Sleep is so vital and not just something that can be skimped on and caught up on at the weekend. When we sleep our body gets a chance to repair itself and recover from the effects of too much cortisol. Your body thanks you when you sleep!
Did you know that when you sleep the spaces between brain cells widen and get ‘rinsed’. That way, the body cleans away waste products of metabolism and cell debris. This process takes approx. 8 hours, so do not cut back on your sleep, even if you think that you don’t need it. Also, you cannot make up for lost sleep, and a chronic sleep deficit significantly increases cortisol. In one study, sleeping 6 hours or less for seven consecutive nights raised cortisol levels in adults by between 50-80%
Exercise increases endorphins (the feel-good hormones) and improves mood, reduces anxiety and depression, burns that excess sugar and oxygen circulating in your system, and improves sleep quality. It even impacts the HPA axis and thus increases your resilience to stress. What’s not to like?
Studies found that rhythmic, aerobic exercise of moderate and low intensity that uses large muscle groups (e.g., jogging, swimming, cycling, walking) was the most effective when done for just 15 to 30 minutes a day for a minimum of three times a week in programmes of 10-weeks or longer.
What’s important when you’re stressed, however, is not to overdo it. Over-exercising stimulates cortisol production, which is the opposite of what you want right now. What is ideal is gentle exercise, such as walking, pilates and tai chi, because they encourage movement and support the rest and relax state your body needs to be in.
My favourite topic! When you’re under chronic stress, the body needs more nutrients to support rest and repair. Calorie restriction isn’t recommended at this point as restricting your calories can put your body under more stress and will add to any symptoms you’re experiencing.
What I would recommend is that you eat real food, that is food made by plants not in a plant (or factory). Let’s think about your car again. You wouldn’t expect your car to run well if you put the wrong fuel in it and it’s the same with our bodies. Our bodies struggle to function on a diet based on ultra-processed foods packed with salt, sugar, trans-fat and ingredients you can’t pronounce! As a rule of thumb if you read the ingredient list and you don’t recognise some of the ingredients then don’t eat it! Our bodies need proper fuel like Fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, seafood, herbs and spices.
When you’re eating, be sure to eat mindfully and chew your food thoroughly to aid digestion and ensure your body can make use of all those nutrients you’re taking in.
Ask for help
Once you have put the above suggestions into practice and I recommend undertaking them one by one, so that no new stress ensues, you are likely to feel considerably better. The longer you stick to the plan, the more you will feel the benefits. However, sometimes there is very little or even no improvement, even when diet, sleep, movement and relaxation are taken care of. That’s when you may need to go into detective mode to find the culprit(s) and you may need support from someone like myself, a nutritional therapist.
If you need help, I offer a free 30-minute health and energy review where you can talk through your current symptoms and give you an opportunity to explore other ways to support your health. To book click here. As a reader of this blog, I’m also offering you 10% off a personalised health plan. This hour session gives you an opportunity to have your diet reviewed with advice given on how to improve it. To book click here and enter PHP10 at the checkout.
Christian Nutritional Therapist and NLP Coach
Empowering you to look after yourself and enjoy life by making personalised nutrition and lifestyle changes.