By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
It’s typical to feel the impacts of stress after the stress is over, or when you finally let go and begin to relax. Think about getting sick after final exams in university, or the flu that hits over Christmas holidays. After this incredibly challenging year and a half, I am hearing from many women overwhelmed, exhausted and taking stress-leaves from work.
How to recognize burnout:
If you’ve been holding a high level of stress for a long time – this can be include emotional stress, overwork, pain, anxiety, increased family responsibility, sleeplessness, and more, some signs that point to burnout include:
- Being easily overwhelmed by small stresses
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Reduced tolerance for exercise
- Tight muscles in the neck, shoulders or lower back (may be causing headaches)
- Injuries aren’t healing
- Startling easily
- You have developed a new health issue – especially things like allergies, rashes, hives, ulcer.
- Reduction in muscle tone
- Gaining abdominal fat
- Difficulty sleeping
- Crying easily
- Feeling irritated and easily annoyed
- Fatigue, especially in the mornings
Coming out of a period of high stress:
If you’ve been through a high period of stress, and are coming out of it, here are some steps to take to prevent falling into a full burnout:
- Slow things down – take days off, don’t over-schedule your weekends, and reduce your workload as much as possible. If you can book a vacation, don’t delay.
- Exercise and move your body daily, but don’t overdo the intensity of your workouts. (High intensity workouts are an additional stress on the body).
- Prioritize nutrition – include lots of protein especially, and increase the nutrient-density of your diet. This means more vegetables, fruits, smoothies, nuts and seeds.
- Socially connect, and ideally in-person. Social connection with people you love and trust is a very important way to lower your overall body stress, and a big reason whey so many people are feeling stress much more intensely this year.
- Rebalance your nervous system. My top two tips are to lie down in the middle of the day for 15 minutes and just rest; and to set reminders to fully breathe – slow down your breathing for a couple of minutes and lengthen the exhale.
What to do if you’re truly burned out:
If you are already past the state of making small changes to function better, and truly need a break from work and life, such as a leave from work, please take the time you need. It can feel very uncomfortable when you really let go, and give yourself permission to rest. You will likely feel more tired and maybe depressed. It’s important to recognize that this is a normal part of the stress cycle, and if you allow yourself to rest, you will move through it.
Along with getting help with a naturopath and therapist, some gentle recommendations during this time:
- Sleep and rest as much as you need.
- Move your body a little every day to prevent inertia from setting in – this will reduce depression.
- Stick to a consistent routine with meals and sleep. This means eating your meals at regular times, and having a consistent bedtime each night.
- Connect with family or friends socially, but communicate clearly about what you need. Company and someone to watch a movie with, or go for a slow walk is much preferred over a tiring social event.
- Avoid being too ambitious with your time off – you’ll find yourself frustrated by your lack of productivity, and then more tired afterwards. Remember the goal is to rest.
There are also supplements and other naturopathic tools that can help if you’re currently struggling with burnout.
If you suspect that you’re burned out right now and need some support, please ask. It’s been a long and stressful year, and with some extra rest, physiological support and nourishment, you can return to your energetic, happy and productive self again. The body is very good at repairing and healing when you slow down and give your body what it needs.