In today's day and age we are working longer hours, not getting enough sleep and turning to coffee and sugar to push through the exhaustion. Only to wake up the next day and do it all over again. This my friend, is a recipe for burnout.
Burnout otherwise known as adrenal fatigue, is a chronic negative response caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion and occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to cope with the constant demands of life.
Burnout is a serious condition. So when I realised I myself was headed down the adrenal fatigue path, I knew I needed to be proactive in order to replenish my own health and to help others experiencing the same.
The Adrenal Glands & Burnout
The adrenals are two small glands situated on top of the kidneys that secrete hormones to maintain homeostasis (balance within the body). One of these hormones is cortisol. Cortisol should rise in the morning to wake you up and peak roughly an hour after waking. As the day progresses cortisol declines as our sleep hormone Melatonin rises to allow for a restful nights sleep. Cortisol also plays a role in reducing inflammation, regulating blood sugar and blood pressure.
In cases of chronic persistent stress the adrenals are firing on all cylinders to continue to pump out high levels of cortisol throughout the day and in some cases the night.
This prolonged exposure to stress causes a dysfunction of the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, causing a blunted response of cortisol and aldosterone. Aldosterone is another steroid hormone required for regulating blood pressure and minerals potassium and sodium.
This low or flattened adrenal response leads to extreme exhaustion and if not addressed can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome.
Other non specific symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
difficulty getting to or staying asleep
Waking feeling lethargic
Sugar or salt cravings
Increased central weight gain around the abdomen
lack of motivation
Low mood and anxiety
Dizziness when standing quickly
Blood sugar imbalance or insulin resistance
Alterations in sex hormones. For more on this check out my blog “How Stress Impacts the Female Reproductive System”
Although it may seem like adrenal fatigue is a permanent condition. There are ways to nourish the body and mind to restore energy and vitality.
Think of your body as a bank account. If you want it to stay nice and healthy you need to make sure whatever you withdraw your replenishing. If your constantly using up energy, you need to make sure to be replacing that energy with nutrient dense foods, good quality sleep, down time and stress management techniques.
6 Ways to Support Your Adrenal Health & Banish Burnout
Before you begin working on supporting your health its important to understand what your stressors are. This will make it easier identify your needs.
Here are my top 6 ways to support your adrenal health and banish burnout for good.
Work with a practitioner who can perform adrenal function testing to understand exactly what's going on with your body specifically. This is a saliva test completed at several times throughout the day to look at that 24hour cortisol picture.
Other testing that may be of use include methylation testing, thyroid testing, DNA stool testing or food intolerance testing. This will ultimately depend on the individual.
#2 Eat A Healthy Balanced Diet
I am a big believer of food as medicine. This should be the first step in improving any health condition and burnout is no different.
There are two principles when it comes to improving nutrition for adrenal health.
1. Remove those items that will make you feel worse i.e caffeine, refined sugar, & alcohol.
2. Increase items that will aid in replenishing the body i.e lean meats, a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and healthy fats.
Other considerations when developing a healthy nutrition plan include:
Eating regularly throughout the day.
Getting a wide amount of variety, not just sticking to the same foods every day or week.
Identifying any food intolerances or sensitivities that may be contributing to fatigue.
#3 Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers to the routines and habits that can be implemented before going to bed each night that ensure your getting the best quality and duration of sleep. This is incredibly important for repair, memory consolidation, and the release of hormones for growth and appetite.
Good sleep hygiene can be anything from limiting your screen time, creating a relaxing environment, ensuring your room is nice and dark and an adequate temperature, and going to bed at the same time each night. Ideally before 10pm.
#4 Address Any Underlying Nutrient Deficiencies
Nutrient deficiencies such as iron, vitamin D and magnesium. In fact magnesium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in Australia. Magnesium is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, supports the nervous system and adrenals, relieves stressed and tense muscles and nerves and promotes quality sleep. For more on magnesium see my post “Why We All Need Magnesium”
#5 Herbal Medicine
This is where it's best to work with a practitioner who is qualified in herbal medicine as many of the herbs labeled as supporting stress actually work in very different ways depending on what’s happening in the body on a biochemical level. Some work to reduce cortisol, increase cortisol or by acting on the nervous system.
Some of my favourite herbs include:
#6 Reduce Stress
The last and one of the most important aspects to burnout is reducing your stress where you can and listen to your body.
This will look different for everyone depending on their specific stressors. It may look like resting whenever you feel tired, finding things that bring joy into your life, meditation, spending time with those you love or scheduling in some “you time”. For some this may include light to moderate exercise and yoga. In fact yoga has been shown to reduce the stress response and improve quality of life. If you find your exhausted after exercising you may want to limit yourself to walking until your energy increases.