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Nourishing The Body After Burnout

Nourishing The Body After Burnout

Written by Sophia Power, BA Media, BHSc Nutritional Medicine

So, you’ve experienced burnout and you’re committed to looking after your emotional wellbeing - but did you know that the body suffers during burnout too? 

Burnout is considered a state of both mental and physical exhaustion. When stress becomes the norm in your life, its impacts can sneak up on you. It’s often only once the body starts sending out emergency signals that you realise what’s going on. But that’s just it, the body is often the thing that lets you know you’re burning out. If you’ve recognised that it’s time to start making some significant changes in your life, don’t forget about taking care of your physical body. 

Read on to find out how to nourish your body after burnout. 

How burnout affects the body 

The body and brain are in constant communication. The stress response is a very clear example of this connection. When stress is detected, the brain picks up on the disruption in the body’s natural balance called homeostasis. There is a line of communication running between the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain and the adrenal glands - two tiny pyramid-shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys. 

When this line of communication is ‘triggered’, a cascade of hormones are released that cause the body to go into fight or flight mode. The issue with chronic stress is that it continuously triggers this response until it becomes exhausted and stops functioning properly.1 It’s this process that leads to the physical aspect of burnout.

Physical symptoms of burnout: 

  • Brain fog or difficulty concentrating 
  • Reduced fitness or stamina during exercise 
  • A second wind of energy late at night around 11 pm 
  • Difficulty waking up and being alert in the morning 
  • Poor immunity
  • Salt and sugar cravings 
  • Nervous tension symptoms such as rapid heart rate, muscle tension and soreness 
  • Low blood pressure and dizziness 
  • Digestive disturbances such as slow digestion, a sensation of fullness, constipation or diarrhoea 
  • Unexplained body aches and pains 
  • Thyroid issues (there is a feedback relationship between the thyroid and adrenal glands)2
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Lost or missed period 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Increased hair fall.

How to heal your body after burnout 

Go gently with exercise 

For anyone recovering from burnout, the type of exercise you do really matters. Intense exercise naturally elevates levels of the stress hormone cortisol, so stick to gentle movements like yoga, Tai-Chi, Pilates, swimming and gentle walks. 

The added benefits of these types of exercise include stress relief and better sleep.

Replace your Bs and Cs

Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12 all support a healthy nervous system - something you’ll be working on strengthening during burnout recovery. B vitamins are also needed for energy production that takes place in the cells - if you’re still feeling tired, this can improve your energy levels.3

Vitamin C is needed for cortisol production - so you can imagine how much you might be using up in times of stress! 

Ditch caffeine 

Sorry, that thing that makes you feel alert and awake in the morning is also depleting your nervous system and making burnout symptoms worse. 

One study even found that students with a high caffeine consumption were at a much higher risk of burnout.4

Make friends with magnesium 

Magnesium is depleted in the body during times of stress. Burnout symptoms like physical exhaustion, muscle aches and tension can all be soothed by adding a magnesium supplement and magnesium-rich foods. Magnesium can also help with other symptoms of stress such as irritability and sleep.5

Breathwork for burnout 

Deep belly breathing or ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system - the part of the nervous system that promotes rest, relaxation and good digestion.

Certain exercises classes such as yoga classes promote this style of breathing, so check out your local yoga class or learn more about different breathing techniques here

Burnout is a big deal, but supporting and nourishing your body on the road to recovery doesn’t have to be. The benefits of learning to support your body after a period of burnout is that it not only allows you to tune into what’s going on in your body, but prevent it from happening again in the future. 

References:

  1. Guilliams, T.G. & Edwards, L. (2010). Chronic Stress and the HPA Axis. The Standard, 9(2). 
  2. Helmreich, D.L., Parfitt, D.B., Lu, X.Y., Akil, H. & Watson, S.J. (2005). Relationship between the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis during repeated stress. 
  3. Tardy, A.L., Pouteau, E., Marquez, D., Yilmaz, C. & Scholey, A. (2020). Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence. Nutrients, 12(1):228.
  4. Bae, E.J., Kim, E.B., Choi, B.R., Won, S.H., Kim, J.H., et al. (2019). The Relationship between Addiction to Highly Caffeinated Drinks, Burnout, and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of the Korean Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 30(4):153-160. 
  5. Pickering, G., Mazur, A., Trousselard, M., Bienkowski, P., Yaltsewa, N., et al. (2020). Magnesium Status and Stress: The Vicious Circle Concept Revisited. Nutrients,12(12):3672.  

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