Nutrition for Burnout

Nutrition for burnout
5 min reading time

What even is burnout?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says:
“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy (because capitalism)

Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

I actually disagree with this last point. Even though burnout is classified as the result of prolonged work-related stress, I believe it can also be applied to students, stay -at-home parents, people who are doing ongoing inner work or working through trauma, and social loads as well. Burnout sufferers get emotionally and physically exhausted – this is not isolated to occupational settings.

Burnout is likely to result from situations where there are too many work and/or personal demands exacerbated by limited resource availability – inadequate support, not enough time, or not the right training. Those suffering from burnout are likely to become negative, they may experience emotional turbulence, and burnout often results in reduced performance.

How burnout impacts the nervous system

Stress is the response in the body to situations that are perceived to be threatening. When the body senses a threatening event the “fight or flight” response is triggered, and the adrenal glands release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. If the stress is short-lived, this response provides us with a burst of energy to deal with the threat; and then the hormone levels will subside to normal level.

We were designed to be able to run away from a wild animal or a bushfire, and then recover. Our nervous system does not know the difference between these dangers and the stress of a full inbox. We were not built to be stressed 40+ hours per week.

If the stress remains for a long period of time, the adrenal glands continue releasing cortisol and adrenaline until they become depleted leading to a situation colloquially known as “adrenal fatigue” or adrenal insufficiency. This can be experienced as: extreme tiredness (no matter how long you sleep), muscle weakness, anxiety/”fried” nerves, sugar/fat/salt cravings and a reliance on substances like alcohol, nicotine or caffeine.

Nutrients that help to heal and prevent the physical symptoms of burnout

Vitamin C – helps lower cortisol and boosts the immune system, and will get chewed through quickly when you’re under stress. Citrus fruits, kiwifruit, capsicum, strawberries and cruciferous veggies are good sources.

Complex carbohydrates – encourage the release of serotonin which is calming and reduces blood pressure. Try whole grains like brown rice and oats, starchy vegetables like sweet potato and pumpkin, and fruits like banana and cherries.

Omega-3s – can reduce stress hormones and protect against heart disease and depression. Include: nuts and seeds – e.g. pistachios, almonds, walnuts; and fatty fish e.g. tuna, sardines, and salmon.

Magnesium – Magnesium works against fatigue and headaches. Good food sources include green vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Magnesium also gets used up more when you’re under stress so you may like to include a supplement.

Protein – the amino acids in protein rich foods help repair muscles, support hormone balance and the immune system.

An example of a day on a plate that may support someone recovering from burnout

  • Breakfast of 2 eggs with cottage cheese, a piece of wholemeal sourdough, spinach and half a tomato.
  • Morning tea of Greek yoghurt with granola and mixed berries and a small coffee or tea if desired.
  • Lunch of a grilled chicken and brown rice/lentil salad including capsicum, broccoli, roasted pumpkin and mixed leaves.
  • Afternoon tea of a small banana/pear and a small handful of raw nuts and seeds
  • Dinner of poached salmon with a side of sweet potato mash, cauliflower and green beans.
  • A square or 2 of good quality dark chocolate and a herbal tea blend with chamomile to support sleep.

Nourishing food is a game-changer for people experiencing burnout. Burnout can be detrimental to a weakened immune system, and food is one of the best ways to support your immune system.

You also need to have good gut health to help strengthen your immunity and the absorption of essential nutrients that will support your body to recover. So, whether you’re mid-burnout or feel it coming on, it’s important to do what you can do to support your immune system and mental fortitude. Up to 90 per cent of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut.

Avoid consuming too much refined carbohydrate, sugar, alcohol or caffeine as these exacerbate symptoms of burnout due to the load they place on the nervous system. Ensure you’re drinking enough water (around 35mL/kg body weight) and including electrolytes if needed – magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride are all essential and if you’re stressed or sweating a lot you may lose more of them.

Nutrients to keep an eye on – they may require supplementation.

Magnesium – Magnesium is super important in the body. It contributes to energy release and helps reduce tiredness and fatigue.

B vitamins – Many of the B vitamins – especially vitamins B2, B3, B5 and folic acid — help reduce tiredness and fatigue.

Iron – Iron is fundamental to all life processes; without it, the body cannot transport oxygen which causes tiredness and fatigue.

Vitamin D – Although vitamin D is a vitamin, it operates more like a hormone in the body. Low levels may affect mood and energy levels.

Feeling burned out? Book in for a Nutrition consult to find out where your body needs more support.

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