Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains how to deal with “Burnout”
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Free your mind, and the rest will follow in trying times
Burnout, running out of steam, burning the candle at both ends, running on empty...all terms that suggest that whatever fuel we had, we’re out of it. If burnout had a year, 2020 would be it.
I’m talking with hospitality staff overwhelmed by packed out restaurants during the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme. Weeping parents trying to school their kids while working from home. Friends with small businesses, struggling to get back on their feet after lockdown. People with underlying health conditions or sick family members who can’t sleep at night for worry. Everywhere I turn I see uncertainty, worry and the exhaustion that comes with it. We’re not meant to live like this.
Stress should be a short-term response, a survival mechanism that steers energy towards fleeing or fighting for our lives. It’s the red alert signal that flashes loudly, annoyingly, preventing normality from resuming until the threat has been dealt with. When that threat refuses to leave, we burn out.
Stress hormones flood our body and food is digested poorly, sleep becomes disturbed or impossible to attain, our immunity suffers and we can only function like this for so long.
This is a classic picture painted for me by most of my patients complaining of chronic fatigue. Prolonged stress over months and years that eventually causes a debilitating level of exhaustion.
But what can we do? We can’t stop fighting for our business, quit our jobs or stop caring for our children.
Instead, we can focus on reducing the surges of stress hormones that set our systems on to red alert. There are a couple of ways to do that.
Firstly, it’s important to take time to reassure the body that there is no danger. The best way to do this is to do something calmly and mindfully.
For some people, this could be a class in yoga, tai chi, Pilates or mediation. It could be listening to some relaxing music, exercising or simply taking a walk among nature. Whatever you choose, the important thing is that you do it with a calm and focused mind.
Now, this isn’t easy. Your brain will constantly want to remind you of the endless lists of tasks you have yet to complete or bring up scenarios that make you worried, stressed or angry. Just thinking about these things turns the warning signals back on, so becoming practiced in focusing the mind can play a significant role in recovering from or preventing burnout. While the mind is calm, the stress hormones will start to leave your body and functions will start to normalize. This allows healing, resting and refueling.
Mindful practices are difficult at first. It’s rare to be good at it at the beginning, but this type of mental rest is incredibly important when combating burnout. Just
like we’d rest our muscles after a long day at the gym, we must rest our mind
after a period of mental overload.
Herbally, adaptogens are used to help quicken this process by improving the body’s physiological response to stress. Adaptagens work exactly as they sound like they do, they help us adapt to new situations, especially stressful ones, on a biological level. In this way, herbalists use adaptogens to preserve fuel and keep exhaustion at bay.
For mental stress my go to adaptogen Rhodiola. Studies have shown that it can reduce the anxiety, exhaustion and fatigue that come with stress. When things are too overwhelming and the mental load is getting on top of you, Rhodiola is the herb I use to provide that mental support and help protect you while you’re being pushed to your limit. It’s the herb for recovery from fatigue that comes with chronic stress. It’s my burnout herb.
If lockdown has you run ragged and you find yourself mentally exhausted, give your brain a rest with some mindfulness and consider accepting a helping hand from an adaptogen.
We’re all adjusting to new circumstances at the moment and adapting to a new way of life. Let’s make sure we come out the other side of this chaos feeling healthy, calm and able to handle whatever else 2020 wants to throw at us.
For more information or to book an appointment, contact Nicola at her clinic on 01524 413733.