WORDS: Jessica Scott-Young | Nutritionist
Constantly tired? Don’t feel refreshed? Feel like one more request or commitment will tip you over the edge? It is fair to say, you are likely struggling with burnout.
If you are feeling exhausted, depleted and mentally distant, you are not alone. We are all aware of the ‘burnout’ phenomenon which has been amplified during recent years with a global pandemic and health crisis, closed borders, social isolation, climate emergencies and political upheaval. Years of ‘soldiering on’ has left us deflated, depleted and depressed. The long term consequences of exposure to adversity are finally taking their toll on our health.
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) redefined their classification of ‘burnout’ from what was deemed a “state of vital exhaustion” to an “occupational phenomenon”. Low and behold, the WHO has made a correlation that our workplace stress and demands are having a negative impact on our overall health and vitality.
The three symptoms included on the WHO burnout list are:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings negative towards one’s career
- reduced professional productivity
As a practitioner passionate about helping people feel their best, I am constantly talking to patients about the impact stress has on the body.
What is stress?
Stress is used so frequently in a modern day vocabulary yet it can be confusing as it presents in a range of different forms.
Common stressors include:
- Physical stress – illness, poor diet, injury, lack of movement etc
- Emotional stress – mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression etc
- Social stress – socially overcommitted or socially isolated
- Environmental stress – pollution, mould, pesticides and herbicides (found in non organic produce), living in flood zone, access to clean water etc
- Major life changes – moving countries, buying a home, having a child etc
- Lack of sleep
- Work and study pressure
- Job loss
- Increased screen time and artificial light
- Family commitments
- Financial stress
Whilst a little acute stress can be helpful (think accidentally cutting yourself and the process of wound healing – this is a form of stress that stimulates the immune system and triggers a healing response within the body). However, longer term chronic stress starts to wear away at our resilience, nutritional status and mental capacity.
When we experience long term stress, our nervous system remains in a sympathetic dominant state (aka ‘fight or flight’). This is our body’s way of keeping us ‘safe’ as back in the caveman days it kept us alert and ready to run from the tiger that was threatening to eat us. These days, there are no tigers chasing us but the body cannot differentiate between the stress of a tiger chasing us and reading a stressful email from our boss.
Some people claim they don’t ‘feel’ stressed, yet the signs and symptoms their body is showcasing tells a very different story.
Physical symptoms of stress:
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Brain fog
- Digestive issues
- Changing bowel habits
- Anxiety or depression
- Increased state of overwhelm
- Headaches or migraines
- Recurrent illness
- Cravings – sugar or salt
Winter is the perfect season to turn inward, slow down and add in some nurturing, restorative practices that will nourish your adrenals and nervous system.
Here are 8 things you can do TODAY to get your mojo back and support yourself towards winter wellness!
- Eat vitamin C rich foods!
Vitamin C is widely recognised for its immune boosting qualities, but did you know this potent antioxidant also supports our adrenal glands, dampening circulating cortisol in the body, whilst increasing our endurance?! Eating more vitamin c rich foods can also assist the treatment of seasonal allergies, support wound healing and improve collagen production.
Good food sources include: red capsicum, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits (lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, mandarins), rhubarb, strawberries, dark leafy greens (spinach, silverbeet etc), broccoli and brussel sprouts
- 1 medium kiwi fruit = 90mg vitamin c
- 1 cup Strawberries (whole) = 85 mg vitamin c
- 1/2 red capsicum = 95mg vitamin c
- Protein with each meal
In times of high stress, our cortisol levels often rise and steal protein, weakening our muscles, dampening our immunity and reducing insulin sensitivity. This becomes a vicious cycle as poor blood sugar regulation often worsens the physical and mental impact of stress. Protein intake is key for supporting hormone health, blood sugar regulation, energy levels, and immunity.
Simple ways to add more protein into your diet:
- Start the day with eggs for breakfast
- Enjoy a cup of bone broth as a snack, or add it to soups and stews
- Snack on a handful of nuts or roasted chickpeas to curb that afternoon slump
- Supercharge soups and stews with lentils
- Curries with fish or slow cooked stews with meat make a perfect mid week meal
- Enjoy some healthy carbs at night
Carbs get a bad wrap these days and we need to remember that not all carbs are created equal. When going through food diaries with patients, I often see people eating low carb because they think it will help them lose weight but it has the opposite effect. Lack of adequate carbohydrate impacts the adrenal-thyroid axis, setting you up for a vicious cravings cycle due to poor blood glucose regulation.
The right carbohydrates can improve cortisol levels and regulate stress response in the body, boost mood by improving serotonin levels and tryptophan uptake, and improve sleep by increasing melatonin production.
Enjoy: I encourage eating carbohydrates in the form of healthy, wholefood starches such as sweet potato, pumpkin, beetroot, cooked and cooled potato, cooked and cooled rice.
Avoid: inflammatory carbs like wheat, gluten grains and high fructose foods (soft drink, vegan treats, dates, agave, honey).
- Ditch the coffee
As a fellow coffee lover, I don’t say this lightly but when your adrenals are taxed, your daily caffeine fix is like a big old punch to those poor little adrenal glands. Having a break from coffee works wonders to help the body recalibrate. Try one month coffee free and see how you feel!
Coffee alternatives: roasted dandelion chai (great for the liver), AH Cacao super elixir, AH Moon mylk elixir , calming herbal teas that include passionflower, chamomile, oats straw, or any of the wonderful Love Tea herbal tea range stocked in clinic! If you struggle to cut out the coffee initially, swap your regular coffee for half caffeinated, half decaf and then transition it out over the following week
- Check iron levels – when patients present with fatigue one of the first things I check is iron studies. Iron plays an important role in making healthy red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout the body, as well as supporting the immune system and healthy cognition. Low iron = less oxygen traveling around the body = fatigue
- Prioritise sleep – when our sleep-wake cycle is disrupted, we find it harder to lose weight, have reduced immunity and are less resilient when coping with adversity. This is why sleep is more important than exercise when healing! Join the 10pm club and get into bed by 9.30pm to support a healthier sleep cycle.
- Choose restorative practices – we want to help the nervous system spend more time in a parasympathetic state (‘rest and digest’) rather than a sympathetic state (‘flight and flight’).
Try: breathwork, meditation, yin yoga, long walks in nature, gardening, ocean swimming, deep belly breathing or ‘legs up the wall’ to entice the nervous system into that blissful parasympathetic state 🙂
- Support yourself with good quality supplementation – when the body is in a state of heightened stress it burns through nutrients quickly. The nutrients most utilised in times of stress include magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C & zinc. Speak to your practitioner for recommendations on which supplements to choose as not all supplements are created equal!
The body is complex so personalised, individualised treatment from a qualified practitioner cannot be underestimated when navigating conditions of chronic stress. Find a qualified practitioner you align with and book in. We are here to help you get back to your vibrant, energised self 🙂