by Kristin Henningsen
Today’s fast-paced world leaves little time for self-care. Whether you’re burning the midnight oil while climbing the career ladder, trying to squeeze in a shower in while caring for little ones or both, most of us are on the fast track to one destination: burnout. And no matter how hard you try and make it look like you have it all together for the ‘Gram, sooner or later it’s going to catch up to you.
Although burnout may seem like the latest buzzword, it’s a real modern epidemic with both short- and long-term effects. We humans have an amazing ability to handle the stress-response adapting through a process called allostasis. However, when environmental factors such as the demands of work, an unhealthy diet and even poor sleep overwhelm that stress response, it creates the wear and tear on your body that literally leaves you feeling burned out and depleted. We reach our allostatic load.
What Does Burnout Look Like?
Feeling run-down but not sure if it qualifies as “burnout”? If you’re constantly overwhelmed with the stressors in your everyday life, the answer is likely yes. What’s more, this often leads to trouble sleeping as we become hypervigilant, intense sugar cravings as our blood sugar destabilizes, and emotional outbursts as our agitation levels rise. Sound familiar?
In addition to these, however, some symptoms can be a bit more insidious. Research shows that burnout also leads to low motivation, mental exhaustion and low energy and focus, which can potentially cause more anxiety and depression. All of the above create a vicious cycle that can lead not only to more depletion and burnout, but also long-term issues like inflammation, digestive imbalances and immune deficiency.
How Did We Get Here?
Pinpointing the cause of burnout is not necessarily an easy feat, especially because not all stress is bad. We may feel energized by a deadline or challenging project, or feel thrilled to be juggling family, career and social engagements. This type of stress is termed eustress, and it can actually keep our stress response healthy. However, when we’re running on all cylinders without hitting the brakes, that fire and motivation is going to burn out. We reach the limits of our resilience.
One way a healthy stress response creates resilience is through the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys and are in charge of pumping out the hormone cortisol and the chemical adrenaline, triggering the effects of “fight or flight.” When released in short bursts, it creates the motivation and energy to get through that big presentation. When engaged constantly, we literally feel like we’re in survival mode.
So What Now?
Obviously the best way to avoid burnout is to prevent it. That means pausing and taking a break from the stressors that surround you. While a vacation or meditation retreat would be great, that’s not realistic for many of us in the daily grind.
Finding ways to incorporate supportive practices into your life is by far the most sustainable strategy. That means eating healthy, hydrating, and sleeping well. Still easier said than done! Having some herbal allies and a supplement like FOCL Day to help us maintain a healthy lifestyle can be essential as we rebuild our resilience and get back to balance in life.
Used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, the root of Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is famous for building resilience. It tones instead of stimulates the nervous system, which research has shown has specific benefits for the adrenals and thyroid — a.k.a. the co-pilots behind your stress.
For those feeling the effects of long-term burnout and low motivation, Rhodiola rosea is for you. Newer research has shown the positive effects on stress management, particularly in modulating the release of those fight-or-flight hormones.
Becoming a darling in stress management work, cannabidiol is a powerful component of cannabis, or hemp species. Along with its many other benefits, it literally helps to engage the part of the nervous system that helps us “rest and digest.” Studies point to its ability to help you relax even when trapped in a hypervigilant state.
Starting a meditation practice is daunting, no doubt. However, research has shown that it can rewire your brain to decrease stress, increase empathy and assist memory. All helpful when you’re feeling stretched thin! While you can certainly build up to 30 minutes a day, start slow. Even practicing mindfulness for 30 seconds a day can support wellness.
While it may seem counterintuitive, healthy movement is also a great way to avoid burnout. We need to use up those stress hormones when in we’re in fight or flight, otherwise they can create long-term wear and tear on the body that leads to that perpetually tired feeling. Whether it’s yoga, running or spin class, it doesn’t matter as long as you are moving in a way that feels good for your body.
Ready to Reset?
Preventing and fighting burnout is no easy feat. If we’re running on empty, it can be challenging to get the motivation to implement preventative lifestyle strategies. Starting with just one herb or supplement that combines stress-fighting adaptogens can help optimize our wellness, and give us the boost we need to work toward those long-term strategies to beat the burnout.
Kristin Henningsen MS, RH (AHG), RYT, is a clinical herbalist and educator who first fell in love with plants in the Desert Southwest. She’s passionate about bringing plant medicine back to the people and integrating Western herbalism, TCM, and Ayurvedic practices to empower folks in their healthcare. She maintains a private clinical practice and serves as faculty for several university programs.
Groves, M. (2016). Body into Balance. Story Publishing: North Adams, MA.
Romm, A. (2017). Adrenal Thyroid Revolution. HarperOne: San Francisco, CA.