When was the last time you took a vacation? I mean at least 7 days of being completely disconnected from work?
If it’s been over a year, you may be experiencing burnout.
The term “burnout” gets thrown around a lot and a lot of people claim to experience it or have in the past. But what is “burnout?”
Burnout is the common term for adrenal insufficiency. Your adrenal glands are small organs located above your kidney that produce crucial hormones like cortisol and sex hormones. In this post we’ll focus more on cortisol. Cortisol is our stress hormone and there’s a spike in cortisol any time we experience a stressor.
We want this function in our body. This spike in cortisol due to a stressor leads to a heightening of our senses so we can react quicker. For instance, if we see a bear, we want to react quickly by running away or if it’s already got us, we want to react by fighting. This is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system or the fight or flight response. During this time our body shuts down reproduction, digestion, immune function, thyroid function and anything that will not help us address the current stressor in front of us.
After we experience that stressor, we should ideally be able to go back to “normal” parasympathetic activity or the rest and digest response.
Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t know the difference between a bear and a deadline. No matter what the stressor is, our brain reacts the same way by sending the signal to our adrenal glands to produce more cortisol and adrenaline. This is why today many of us are chronically stressed and we never go back to baseline of parasympathetic activity.
Not all stress is bad stress though. There are good stressors.
Good stressors are things like exercise and the excitement we get when we are inspired to do the things we love. Cortisol is what helps us get up in the morning and helps us stay motivated throughout our day.
This means we want cortisol but we want it in balance. Too much or too little are both a problem. Too little cortisol is a result of chronic stress that spikes cortisol so often that our adrenal glands get “burnt out” so are no longer able to produce more cortisol.
What are some symptoms of burnout?
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling numb about work
- Lack of creativity
- Declining performance
- Physical symptoms like headaches, TMJ, and/or digestive issues
There are ways to test if you’ve reached physiological burnout or adrenal insufficiency and I do them all the time in my practice. My favorite test to use is the DUTCH test if we’re just testing for adrenal sufficiency. However, we want to do a full hormone panel (normally recommended) then I prefer the DUTCH Plus test.
What can we do to prevent this?
Self-care is thrown out for everything these days but really self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness.” This means self-care is doing the things now to optimize your physical and mental health. Online shopping while sipping on a glass of wine is NOT self-care. It is just something you may enjoy doing once in a while but it is not addressing your physical and mental well-being.
Sometimes self-care is doing the things you DO NOT want to do in order to achieve long-term well-being and happiness.
This means going on a walk in nature instead of watching TV or reading a book instead of going for that glass of wine even when you don’t want to.
If you follow me on social media, I’m always talking about ways to manage stress and different things that you can do for self-care so make sure you follow me there but here are a few things to start with:
- Forest bathing
- Eating nourishing foods
- Cultivate/nourish inspiring relationships
What else can you do?
TAKE A BREAK
Personally, I do all the self-care things all the time but I realized I still reached a point of burnout. How did this happen? Well, I haven’t taken more than 2 days off in a row in over 2 years. And even though I went from working 80-100 hours a week to 40-60 hours a week after the COVID pandemic began, it wasn’t nearly enough. This is why I’m taking 10 days off away from my computer, social media, and my practice at the end of the year.
It is absolutely imperative to take a longer break every so often so take some time off and have a staycation or go to a cabin in the woods (I’m also doing this…).
So take a break this holiday season. Avoid the Christmas chaos, engage in your self-care activities, and log off.
I will be taking off the end of the year but I do have some spots available in December for initial appointments so if you feel like you have some of these symptoms, definitely schedule a complimentary consult and we can work on optimizing your cortisol awakening response and get you feeling excited and inspired to do the things you love!