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Beating the End of Year Burn Out

2021 has no doubt been a tumultuous year. The uncertainty of the pandemic, extended hours working from home, looming deadlines and no reprieve has been taking its toll on our mental health and in turn our physical wellbeing.

Though the pressure may be subtle, the body perceives this pressure as external stress which results in higher outputs of cortisol, causing a cascade of health events on our different body systems.

Burn out is classified as a collection of mental and physical symptoms, and can be accumulative and differ person to person, making it slightly harder to recognise. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Overall sense of overwhelm
  • Changes in the ability to deal with stress
  • Fatigue, exhaustion and insomnia
  • Low moods, sadness, irritability anxiety and depression
  • Lack of motivation in both work and home life
  • Wanting to avoid / struggling in social situations when otherwise would be okay

Currently in our naturopathic clinic, we are seeing clients feeling the overwhelm of the past year. This can as subtle as changes to their sleep routine - waking up in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep due to a busy mind, or bigger symptoms such as increased anxiety and mood shifts.

In the long term, this level of stress plays on our physical health as well, manifesting in various ways including hormonal shifts and changes to women’s menstrual cycles.

So, what can we do about it? 

Slow Down

It is essential that we slow down our lifestyles and allow our body and mind to rest. With so many people still working from home, stay-at-home parents and the stress of end-of-year deadlines mean that we have little to no time to switch off.

Start by looking at your day and your working week. What can you change to allow some time for yourself? This could mean structuring your day and creating a better work-life balance or allocating little breaks in your day and allowing yourself to breathe.

Where possible, leave work at work. With our phones, watches, computer and even televisions telling us we have an email, DM and deadlines it’s hard to escape. Set yourself strict work hours and stick to them! For stay-at-home parents, gather your support network and share the load. Perhaps book yourself in for a much-needed massage during your kids swimming lessons, or meet your girlfriends for a cuppa while your children are off on a playdate. 

Adding in specific nutrients such as magnesium or medicinal herbs like Ashwagandha, Lemon Balm, Chamomile and Passionflower can all help to nourish the nervous system and encourage the body to unwind. They all have the ability to improve sleep outcomes as well, meaning that you are better equipped for the next day. 

Boost your Nutrition

During times of high stress we tend to push nutritious food aside and reach for the high energy ‘comfort’ food, aka highly processed sugar, alcohol, fast food. Now is the time to give the body extra nourishment.

Long-term stress causes a sequence of events on our health, affecting our gut health by increasing the of gut permeability (previously known as leaky gut syndrome) and in turn whole body inflammation which than affects our digestive health, hormonal health and immune health.

Aim to have 2-3 serves of vegetables a day, as well as adding specific anti-inflammatory foods such as oily fish, olive oil, organic berries, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds.

Interestingly, during times of stress, blood flow tends to moves away from the digestive system to support other organs such as the brain and heart. To take the pressure off the digestive system, we need provide the body with foods that are easy to break down and slightly warming to support the energetics of the digestive system. Incorporating physically warm foods such as bone broth, soups and congee as well as energetically warm foods such as cinnamon, ginger and turmeric into our daily routine is recommended. 

Some people also find adding a greens powder into their day is an easy initial step to boosting their overall nutritional intake, though it should not replace nutritious dietary intake.

Add in Adaptogens

In herbal medicine, we use a class of herbs called Adaptogens, which work by adapting how our body responds to internal and external stress, so that we can reach a state of sustained equilibrium faster and stay there longer.

By improving how the body responds to stress, we are able to also improve sleep quality, mood, motivation and overall adrenal health. Adding in foods rich in vitamin C such as capsicum, strawberries, berries, and foods rich in zinc such as oysters and pate add further support to your adrenal health.

One of my personal favourite adaptogenic herbs is Ashwagandha - a literal hug in a bottle! It is one herb that I often prescribe for my female clients as its mode of actions include adaptogen, tonic, sedative, nervine tonic and anti-inflammatory.

Create Your Sleep Routine

We simply cannot establish health without creating a good sleep routine. We want to aim for 8 hours of good quality sleep each night, so start by planning and creating your sleep routine. 

Allow yourself time to unwind between work and bed, ideally by a few hours so that your mind can recognise its time to rest. Use that time to have a bath, read a novel (ideally something not too thrilling or exciting) in dimmed lighting or go for a gentle stroll.

Avoid all blue light before bed, whether from your phone, computer, and TV. Blue light reduces the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone. When this natural process is disturbed, our sleep quality is impacted and in turn our energy levels, hormonal balance and mood.

Avoid alcohol before bed too. Although it may assist initially with falling asleep, it prevents us from getting into a deep sleep, wakes us up in the middle of the night (commonly 3am when the liver is most active) and affects our energy levels for the next day. Alcohol is also a diuretic which depletes our overall nutrients faster, so we are losing nutrients faster than we can replenish. 

Speak with Someone

Lastly, if you are feeling the symptoms of burn out, it's always best to speak to someone. This can be a friend to start or a health practitioner such as a psychologist, GP or complimentary health practitioner such as a naturopath or nutritionist. 

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