Burnout Symptoms Treatment
One of the most common concerns that new patients come in with is feeling tired. Frequently the reason for the fatigue turns out to be burnout.
Burnout is a specific type of response to long term stress. When you are burnt out, you feel tired all the time, full of negative feelings and less able to manage your life.
In the morning, the alarm goes off and you immediately dread getting the day started. For a while now, you have been feeling more and more annoyed about the demands placed on you. You hit the snooze button a few times before dragging yourself out of bed.
When you begin the day’s work, it is hard to focus on what you are trying to do. The slightest annoyance sets your teeth on edge. The whole thing seems like a pointless burden. You definitely do not feel proud of yourself lately. Just when you need high energy and motivation, it crashes and all you want to do is take a nap.
Women are particularly to burnout because of the high expectations we strive to meet both at home and at work.
The sooner you recognize burnout, the easier it is to fix it.
Burnout is both a physical and an emotional state. To tell if a patient is burnt out, I can use a physical exam called the hippus test, an exam called orthostatic blood pressure, and a blood test of cortisol and DHEA. The most important gauge of burnout, though, is to talk to the person about her experience and listen carefully to her answers.
The really heartbreaking thing about burnout is that while the person is experiencing it, she is also berating herself for experiencing it. ‘I should be grateful for what I have.’ ‘I know lots of other people have it worse.’ ‘I don’t know why I can’t just relax.’ ‘I just need to stop complaining and work harder.’
Hobbies? Creative pursuits? Fulfillment? Forget it.
If left unaddressed, burnout can become debilitating. Sometimes people end up taking months off of work. However, some people are unable to take a break because their work life does not allow it.
To support a patient through burnout, I do three things: ensure their underlying health is the best it can be, help the person calm down their nervous system and provide temporary support to their energy level through herbs and supplements.
For any person experiencing fatigue, I would recommend blood work related to energy level and mood. Naturopaths use herbs called adaptogens to help people get through stressful periods. In more severe cases, we might recommend taking an adrenal gland extract.
Having too high a workload and being under time pressure are the leading causes of burnout. It can also happen when you feel that your work goes against your values. For example, if you work as a teacher, but feel that the resources you have available are not enough to support the needs of the children in your care and then report card time hits. Another great example is a nurse, assigned to multiple patients with high needs, who does not even have time to take a bathroom break during her shift. It can be helpful to work with a therapist to navigate these types of issues. We also have to recognize that sometimes the problems are so much larger than one single person can address, and have a degree of peace with that.
How do you know if you are suffering from burnout or depression? There is a lot of overlap between the symptoms of burnout and those of depression. Both feature unhappiness, tiredness and some of the same physical symptoms. Many scholars say that burnout is a form of depression.
Burnout can also be complicated by hormone changes. Starting in the mid-30’s, women’s hormones start to shift. Estrogen levels become more erratic over time and progesterone levels start to slowly decline. These changes cause worsening PMS, among other symptoms. This means women are more tired, irritable, and sore. Throw that physiology into life circumstances like: taking care of kids, managing a household, demanding career, taking care of elderly parents, divorce, home renovations . . . etc. . . and you can imagine how burnout can sneak up. This is why I believe women facing burnout, anxiety, or depression should be under the care of a healthcare practitioner that understands female physiology.