Prevent Burn Out Over the Holidays

We all know that feeling of becoming rundown, overly tired and just pushing it a little too hard.  This feeling is when our bodies stress hormone, cortisol, starts to become overly worked. Cortisol gets a bad reputation, we think high cortisol equaling stress which in theory yes, the more stressed we are the more cortisol we will release to “run from the bear.” However, chronically running from a bear leads to burn out of this system, and when this occurs we call it “Adrenal burnout” or “Adrenal fatigue.” Symptoms of this include:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Myalgia
  • Headaches
  • Memory issues
  • Weight gain/difficulty losing weight
  • Mood changes/depression

The body is equipped to help you “run from a bear” in the moment when it needs to. For example, during a big lecture or dodging traffic. When the body increases cortisol in the moment your heart rate usually increases, your pupils dilate, blood is shunted to your muscles instead of the GI system. These are all appropriate reactions when the body is under stress, so you can think quickly and avert danger.

When this system is chronically activated this leads to “burn out” of the system. It is not meant to be chronically activated. Symptoms of burnout, listed above, are often masked with energy drinks/caffeine abuse, medications to promote energy and other suppressive measures. This stresses the body further.

It doesn’t take a doctor to know that when you display these symptoms your body is waving the white flag asking for help. Things you can do to help support your stress response now:

  1. Adequate sleep
    • This is essential for your body to restore
    • At least 8 hours per night
    • If you snore or are having issues, consider a sleep study
  2.  Hydration
    • Dehydration is a major stress on the body
    • 64oz daily ideally
    • Non-caffeinated drinks count
  3. Exercise
    • Start gentle
    • When the body is depleted too vigorous of workouts can be further depleting
    • Restorative things like yoga, walking initially
  4. Stress manage
    • How can you delegate things off your plate so you have time to take care of yourself?
    • Consider a therapist or life coach if struggling with this
  5. Diet
    • Avoid foods that will crash your energy like high carb meals/sugar
    • Balanced diet to keep blood sugar stable in the day- to help energy remain stable
  6. Labs to consider
    • B vitamins – B12, B6
      • Support cortisol
    • Iron
      • When low we don’t carry oxygen as well causing more fatigue
    • Inflammation
      • Hs CRP, SED rate
      • How stressed is your body?
      • Diet is great way to address this
    • Salivary cortisol testing
      • 4 saliva tubes in the day
      • To assess the cortisol curve in the day
      • Should be elevated in AM to wake you up
      • Should be low in the evening to allow for sleep

Gearing up for winter and holiday plans is a great time to tap into your adrenal stress system and provide a tune up. A little self-care can go a long way for your energy, mood and overall wellbeing!

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