(Yup, in 2020 this requires a multiple part series! 😬)
To my dear ones who’ve been overwhelmed by grief, job loss, juggling kids schooling at home while trying to stay employed, and/or feel worn out by the daily grind of 2020…. my next articles are for you! ❤️
I’ve had three people show up in my practice in the last month with the same story…
“I feel worn out, and not just sometimes. All the time. I feel I could sleep all the time, and I’m just not motivated to do the things I usually enjoy. It’s hard to get up in the morning, and you know that feeling of excitement for life? It seems I only get a slight burst of that feeling once in a blue moon. I’m irritable with my kids, and sometimes I even feel angry at people I love for things. I don’t like that. I know it’s been a rough year, but it’s been that way for everybody. I just wish I could feel my old energy.”
One of these clients actually went to her primary care doctor and was prescribed an antidepressant based on these symptoms. And I could see where it might sound like depression. All too often, this happens. But, if we look further, we see a fuller story….
All of these clients happen to be women. They are all working moms. Like many working moms with school aged children, the workload for them doubled, tripled, or quadrupled for months on end this year, and they’re looking ahead at this being the case for a while. This isn’t just something I’m seeing in my practice. The CDC reported even before the pandemic that women are more likely to experience anxiety and depression (1). And this year, the daily responsibilities for many women increased exponentially!
After further discussion, and upon ordering and seeing the labs of these clients, it was clear that they’re all dealing with some degree of “burnout”, more specifically what we call HPA axis dysfunction (often referred to as adrenal fatigue).
And it’s real ladies… It can hijack your energy, and leave you feeling hung out to dry… If you’re dealing with a lack of motivation, low energy, and a reliance on stimulants to get through the day, you may be dealing with burnout.
So, let’s dig into what is happening in the body with burnout and adrenal fatigue. And if you’re sitting there, saying, I know the root cause! It’s stress! Then, I’d ask… Can you take those stressors away? If not… which is usually the case, there are things we can do to remove stress in the body and help the body adapt. And often we don’t know what else may be causing stress for the body and mind until we dig a bit deeper (keep reading!).
This is Part I – stay tuned for Part 2 on how to complete the stress cycle in the body, and help the systems in the body be optimized with the building blocks (nutrients) it needs, along with removing extra stress in the form of inflammatory foods. We can also supplement with herbs to help.
So, let’s first dig into symptoms of burnout, the root causes that may be present with adrenal issues, and lab testing.
SYMPTOMS OF BURNOUT
- Difficulty waking in the morning
- Afternoon fatigue
- Reliance on stimulants like caffeine to get through the day
- Craving sugar, salt or fat
- Hormone imbalance
- Increased illness due to immune system depression
- Acne and other skin problems
- Low libido
- Poor memory
- Increased PMS and menopausal symptoms
- Dizziness, feeling light headed or “head rush” when rising from a lying or seated position
- Irritability, bursts of anger
- Inability to cope with stress
“There’s a tiger! Run!”
A threat presents itself! And this initiates a cascade of events that will occur in the body. First the brain takes in information that there’s a threat. A message is sent from the brain to the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones. The adrenals put out adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones). Changes occur in our physiology so that we can escape, get to safety, and survive. Our blood pressure goes up, and blood is pushed out to the extremities so that we can fight or flee. We are now in our sympathetic nervous system. We go into automatic “get to safety mode”! We run or we hide. Phew! We’ve escaped! We’re safe, and now we can relax and rest. This is when we settle into our parasympathetic nervous system.
What happens when we aren’t able to fight or flee? What happens when we can’t give our family member who is always sharing their political opinions with us a piece of our mind? What happens when we can’t hide from our kids asking for a hundred things when we’re trying to work from home, teach them from home, and get through the day in the middle of a pandemic? 😖
For one, we don’t complete the stress response in the body. So, now we’re stuck in sympathetic (fight or flight), and when we’re stuck there we never get back to parasympathetic with all the cooshy relaxy hormones that we get when we’re in that state.
Ok, but what if we do work through the stress cycle, but crap, the stressors just keep coming too fast! Now, while we’re completing one cycle, the brain is sending messages to the body to go into another stress response. Have you ever had your computer do something weird so you start pushing buttons to fix it, and the whole thing freaks out and freezes? Yeah, that’s one such response your body might have in this scenario… OVERWHELM! Freeze… Can’t fight. Can’t escape. That’s when we play dead. This is another stress response that can occur, and it requires some processing by the body to shift out of it.
And it’s not just mental/emotional stressors that send these messages of threat to the brain. We also get these messages from the body. You’ve probably experienced this after an injury even if minor. Ever stubbed your toe and then had a strong desire to punch something or crumble and curl up into a ball? Stress… and in this case we’re typically aware of it on some level.
But, what about when we eat food that causes inflammation in the body day after day? Sometimes this is actually food we think is healthy, but due to a food sensitivity, we’re actually causing low level inflammation by eating this food. That is sending a message of stress to the brain too…
I’ll never forget how calm my mind felt the first time I drastically shifted my diet and did the Autoimmune Paleo diet while treating my gut for SIBO. YOWZA! I couldn’t believe how settled my body and mind felt…. This overwhelming feeling of anxiety seemingly disappeared overnight. It was brilliant!
So, we always want to look for all the stressors that could be leading to burnout. Often we find some in the body that we can have more control over changing. Then, we can work on the ones we can’t change, and learn how to process them in the body.
MAIN ROOT CAUSES FOR BURNOUT
- Food Sensitivities
- Inflammatory Diet
- High levels of inflammation
- Gut Infections and Overgrowths
- Sluggish liver/detoxification pathways
- Micronutrient Deficiencies
- Poor sleep/Disrupted Circadian Rhythm
- Sympathetic dominance
- Stress & Trauma
This list is not exhaustive, but these are some of the primary root causes for burnout. And ladies, if you’re wondering why you feel completely exhausted and fatigued and/or are experiencing anxiety right now, here’s a bit of data to help affirm that your response to this year is normal. This study found that 27% of women around the world reported an increase in mental health challenges as opposed to 10% of men (2). Not to say that this year hasn’t been challenging for many, but women are particularly affected.
If you already had some of the other root causes going on, it’s very common to see stress or trauma as the final straw that can set off a slew of frustrating symptoms or a level of burnout that feels overwhelming.
We can always begin by working on processing stress in the body and adjusting our diet, and we can also look for other root causes. Once we address those we often see an increase in energy, which also helps you get your head above water!
How to Figure out Your Root Causes (lab testing)
On lab reports, Adrenal Fatigue is characterized when the current level of hormones produced by your adrenal glands (like cortisol) are consistently above or below the optimal ranges, or, when the daily circadian rhythm is doing something other than it should. Such as being too high at night and down in the dirt in the morning! This is what we look for when we order a hormone panel to look at adrenal function.
We can also assess for gut infections, inflammation, and overgrowths on a stool test which helps the gut-brain axis; the way in which our gut health is impacting our neurotransmitters and mood. This can be a powerful adjustment for many people in improving energy and mood!
The sky is really the limit as far as digging through lab assessment for root causes. So, typically for a burnout situation I’ll start with looking at a hormone panel and a Nutreval which will tell us quite a bit about levels of micronutrients, gut health, and detox. Those two panels can really get the ball rolling and help lay out a plan for diet, lifestyle, and supplement interventions that’s going to help reclaim energy!
Watch for Part II on Recovering from Burnout in which we’ll go into food, lifestyle, and supplement approaches to help you reclaim your vitality. In the meantime, make sure to download my Free Guide; 5 Holistic Remedies You Can Use Right Now to Get Your Head Above Water. This should help you get the ball rolling!
If you’d like to get some one-on-one help, make sure to book your complimentary discovery appointment, and I’d be happy to hear your story and give you some tips to get started.