Stress may sometimes be unavoidable, but burnout is preventable.
With stressors hitting us from left to right, stress has become a day to day part of life. Work can be overwhelming and responsibilities get exhausting. This has become our norm.
But did you know that nourishment plays a big part in helping to combat burnout? What you choose to put in your body starting from the moment you wake up, the amount of sleep you get, exercise, and activities that give you comfort and joy are approaches that will be a tool for you to manage your stress levels.
Work-related stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed burnout an official medical diagnosis. We often blame burnout on external factors, such as workload, relationships, and stressors as simple as rush hour traffic.
But isn't it worth taking the time to understand what's really going on in our body when our stress levels go up?
When you’re exposed to a stressful event, the body triggers its fight-or-flight mechanism and the adrenal glands secrete cortisol and adrenaline.
Cortisol is our primary stress hormone. Think of cortisol as nature’s built-in alarm system. It’s your body’s main stress hormone. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear.
Adrenaline triggers the body's fight-or-flight response. This reaction causes air passages to dilate to provide the muscles with the oxygen they need to either fight danger or flee.
Our adrenal glands -- triangle-shaped organs at the top of your kidneys -- make cortisol.
When the stress response continues unabated over weeks or months, the adrenal glands will naturally deplete their hormonal reserves and will fail to keep up with the demands of the body. This prolonged stress paired with a lack of stress-management tools can result in burnout - a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that can impact our mood, immune system, hormones, sleep, and more.
This hormonal disruption is crucial as it starts affecting several parts of the body which results in tiredness (despite getting enough sleep), muscle weakness, lightheadedness or dizziness, nervousness, salt and sugar cravings, and an over reliance on stimulants such as caffeine to keep you going through the day - These symptoms have unfortunately been so common that we tend to overlook them and consider them as part of our routine.
Beat the Burnout with these dietary and lifestyle interventions
- Eat More Omega-3s
Omega-3’s are a type of fatty acid found in specific foods such as chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seeds, walnuts, kidney beans, seaweed and fish such as salmon, mackerel and cod. These omega-3’s give the brain the type of fats that it needs to function properly. They are also responsible for the chemicals in the brain that helps with mood, learning and memory.
- Avoid Mood Affecting Foods
Mood affecting foods come in many different forms ranging from caffeine, alcohol and processed foods with artificial additives. These foods trick and confuse your body and can cause chaos to your hormones, which affect your stress levels and productivity. If you’re feeling on edge for example, you may want to cut back on caffeine (coffee, soda, certain teas) which can stimulate your nervous system leading to feeling even more on edge! Instead consume foods that nourish your body and provide lasting, long-term energy such as hydrating with water, nuts, seeds, energizing fruits, veggies and whole-grains.
- Boost Your Fibre
Did you know that your gut health directly affects your brain health? This process is known as the gut brain connection or gut brain axis. An unhealthy stress level may lead to digestive trouble. Fibre plays a major role in regulating your digestion. Women should aim to consume 25 grams of fibre/day and men should consume 38 grams/day. Creating healthy digestive habits can help boost overall brain health as your body heals from stress and burnout.
- Enjoy Lean Proteins
Protein is essential for many different functions in our body from building and repairing muscle tissue to influencing hormones! Tryptophan specifically is an amino acid found in protein that leads to the production of serotonin. Serotonin is one of our main mood producing hormones. Consuming healthy, lean proteins can help maintain the balance of serotonin in our body, which is important for our mood and brain health! Some amazing plant-based proteins to consume include beans, nuts, seeds and tofu! If you consume animal-based proteins go for eggs, chicken and fish.
In addition to a healthy and balanced nutrition, lifestyle interventions significantly help to manage stress. Start with:
Not only is exercise good for our physical health, but it can also give us an emotional boost.
Stretched for time? You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to reap these benefits. Mini-workouts and short walks are convenient ways to make exercise a daily habit.
- Practice good sleep habits
Our bodies need time to rest and reset, which is why healthy sleep habits are essential for our well-being.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, establishing a relaxing bedtime ritual, and banning smartphones from the bedroom can help promote sound sleep hygiene.
- Consider supplements
- Lemon balm: member of the mint family that has been studied for its anti-anxiety effects
- Ashwagandha: a herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat stress and anxiety.
- Green tea: contains many polyphenol antioxidants which provide health benefits. It may lower stress and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels.
- Valerian: Valerian root is a popular sleep aid due to its tranquilizing effect. It contains valerenic acid, which alters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to lower anxiety.
Some of these tools might not come easy for others and this is absolutely normal. It's best to remember that feeling overwhelmed is the least thing you'd want to feel so start with one thing—maybe breakfast, exercise, or meditation—and slowly build from there and keep in mind that in reality, stress is not what happens to you, but what happens inside you.