By Bianca Marics (Guest Post)
We are burnt out, exhausted and as stressed as ever. Though despite the extra focus on work-life balance, #selfcare and boundaries talk, the exhaustion crisis is getting worse.
So what’s going on?
Burnout used to be only associated with high pressure, high demanding jobs. It's simply not the case. We’ve seen an increase in drivers such as emotional stress, nutritional excesses and deficiency states (think high stimulants, low nutrient dense food), and disrupted circadian rhythm which is not necessarily due to all work and no play. Burnout doesn’t discriminate.
Burnout is called HPA-axis dysfunction (hypopituitary-adrenal axis), where messaging from the brain, hypothalamus to our adrenal glands has become distorted. So, over time when we have been experiencing chronic stress, this feedback mechanism becomes overwhelmed and tired and we don’t respond to stress as well as we used to. It’s a chronic stress cycle that doesn’t stop, no recovery or repair.
Initially, our stress response is marked with high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. This allows us to deal with the acute stresses that are present in our lives. However, over time as the stress becomes chronic, we see a disrupted level of adrenal output where cortisol often remains elevated when it shouldn’t, and low when it should be higher.
Typical symptoms include:
- sleep disturbances
- mild depression
- salt cravings
- cognitive impairment
- poor immunity
This is most commonly the time people reach out for help as they start to notice their poor health affecting all areas of their life and work. And overtime, if things do not improve, the last phase is marked by low cortisol output.
Burnout is years in the making. So, how do we best support ourselves during times of chronic stress?
Here are 5 ways to prevent burnout that we can do ourselves…
1) Vagus Nerve Stimulation
The vagus nerve is the major nerve of our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), that runs from our brain all the way down the abdomen, with connections throughout the entire body. It is often described as the major highway between the brain and the gut.
When activated, the PSNS is responsible for taking the body out of that state of emergency and bringing it back to balance and conserving energy. This is how we rest and restore. It stimulates digestive activity, slows heart rate, reduces cortisol and adrenaline production, slows breathing and improves blood flow.
When we stimulate the vagus nerve, we tell our body it is time to relax.
Some of the best ways to stimulate the vagus nerve include:
Deep breathing and breath work
We know this is one of the fastest ways to reverse the effects of stress, reduce cortisol and adrenaline, boost oxygenation and improve cognition. I always recommend that patients focus on closing the stress cycle with deep breathing prior to any main meals so they can effectively digest their food and minimise unpleasant digestive symptoms that often arise when we are stressed.
Stimulating the senses
Our senses tag things as safe or unsafe, and we can stimulate the PSNS very easily in these ways:
- Quick exposure to cold temperatures. This includes 30 seconds of cold water at the end of your shower, ice baths if you have access to the facilities or DIY! These are amazing ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and also increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, improve circulation and boost energy. You can also try placing a cold compress at the back of your neck in acute stress situations.
- Aromatherapy: utilising calming essential oils such as lavender, rose, chamomile, ylang ylang, bergamot or uplifting and clarifying oils such as pine, lemon, grapefruit, rosemary, peppermint and basil are very effective. Remember - as long as you find the smell pleasurable, it will stimulate the PSNS, so you get to be super creative!
Other ways include massage, reflexology, acupressure, humming and gargling, getting out in nature, looking at the sun, plenty of natural light, meditation, plenty of gentle movement, listening to calming music or nature sounds.
2) Don't skip meals... fuel your body!
We are very good at running on empty. Skipping breakfast and forgetting to eat sets us up for a blood sugar roller-coaster throughout the day. People that experience burnout often skip meals and rely on stimulants (coffee for lunch anyone?), only to binge later in the day. Consistently skipping meals leads to elevated cortisol levels, blood sugar dysregulation and metabolism disorders. You will also see weight gain around the abdomen, often referred to as ‘cortisol belly’.
Aim for a savoury breakfast to get you started in the morning, have your coffee AFTER you eat and remember to take time out for lunch. Put the work down, and fuel your body.
3) Make quality sleep a priority!
Disruptions in circadian rhythm are closely linked to burnout. It can be difficult for people get going in the morning. Later bedtimes, increased screen times, stimulants and stress all affect our ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. It is common for people who are chronically stressed to wake-up in the early morning (2-4am).
Sleep hygiene is essential to prevent burnout, so looking into the contributing factors that may be causing poor sleep is important; room temperature, time of your last meal, stimulants, room darkness, work hours etc. This also includes your morning routine; getting up at the same time every day and looking directly at some natural light. When we sleep better, we handle stress better.
You can also speak to your practitioner to help support your sleep, we have a lot of things in our toolkit to help you.
Applying a Magnesium Oil Topical Spray to your lower body before hopping into bed will help relax your muscles and improve the quality of your sleep.
4) Don't forget about rest and pleasure!
Rest, selfcare and pleasure are ways that our body switches from fight or flight mode (SNS dominant), to our rest and restore mode (PSNS dominant). This means that our bodies are able to repair and recover.
Rest and pleasure has a physiological impact on the body. It reduces cortisol and increases serotonin, gaba, oxytocin and dopamine, all important to experience more enjoyment, enhance cognition and focus, motivation and sense of accomplishment. That's why when we are stressed everything feels so hard, it’s because we don’t have as much of these happy hormones being produced.
Rest is part of the antidote for burnout. So finding what works for you, and what you get enjoyment out of is important, but equally taking the time to factor those things into your day.
Adding a weekly bath to your wellness routine with Zea’s Kunzea Bath Salts is a great way to incorporate both rest and pleasure into your routine easily.
5) Work on your mindset breakthroughs!
Mindset breakthroughs are essential for us to begin to see rest and pleasure as normal parts of our day. We need to challenge our beliefs around work and rest. Ingrained thoughts and mindsets around hard work, rest and behavioural patterns are often passed down through generations, or driven by societal expectations.
Some of us find it hard to ask for help, think in ‘all-or-nothing’ terms, and can often feel guilty for resting or taking time off. We attribute productivity with self-worth, leading to overwork and perfectionism. Rest and pleasure should never be viewed as a sacrifice. Burnout has often been viewed as a badge of honour to demonstrate how hard you work.
We need to remember that prioritising our health has nothing to do with never working hard or doing hard work, it is about how we can avoid making things harder for ourselves and take the time to come back to balance. We cannot eliminate stress from our lives, however we need to be able to come back to balance from a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. We are not robots! We must look after all the parts of us that contribute to our wellbeing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - BIANCA MARICS
Bianca is a clinical naturopath, and certified life and stress coach. She supports business owners and entrepreneurs to go big without the burnout, and help back up their big visions with solid health foundations so they can get their body & biz on the same page. She loves helping people disconnect from stress & support their hormonal and metabolic health so they have the energy to do their work in the world. To get in contact with Bianca, please visit: www.lifeelite.com.au
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