The signs and symptoms of burnout and what you can do about it

By Jilla Kahrobaei, BSc ND

It happens. And it happens to almost everyone exposed to stress.

You wake up one morning and find yourself utterly exhausted. You feel like you have been hit by a truck and every movement is accompanied by stiffness, heaviness and pain. You have no interest in anything and wish you could hide from the world. You are quick to anger and every little thing can irritate you. You feel depressed. You just can’t do it anymore.

Your doctor has recommended you take a few weeks or months off. You are told you are suffering from burnout.

Burnout is what naturopathic medicine refers to as adrenal fatigue.

Briefly explained:

Your adrenal glands are triangle shaped hormone producing glands that sit on top of your kidneys. Your kidneys sit in your lower back area, between your last rib and your hip bone. You have one on each side.

Adrenal glands produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. We all know adrenaline well. It is the hormone released during an acute stress, such as being chased by a bear or running from fire or jumping off a cliff! Once the stress is over, adrenaline levels return back to normal.

Cortisol is a hormone responsible for the release of glucose and tissue repair. A short-term increase in cortisol is beneficial and important for survival. However, during chronic stress, such as that experienced though a stressful job, the hormone cortisol remains high for a long time. This prolonged elevated cortisol can cause subtle damage to many organs including the brain, immune and digestive systems.

After a while, the over worked adrenal glands eventually stop responding appropriately and a mild or subclinical hypoadrenal state sets in. Basically the adrenal glands stop functioning optimally and disrupt production of hormones required for energy. This is what we call adrenal fatigue.

The good news is there are so many ways in which you can help yourself feel better. Getting enough sleep and eating well are a start. Naturopathic solutions to burnout include lifestyle changes, nutrition and natural medicines that aim at rebalancing and nourishing the adrenal glands. Once the adrenals are dealt with it becomes much easier to turn the rest around.

But how can we prevent all this? Since we know the root cause of adrenal fatigue or burnout is mostly stress-or how we respond to stress-there are measures you can take. Any activity that helps you de-stress is a great start. Why not plan to go for a walk every day; meet a friend for tea; join a hot yoga class; or even take up knitting. The point is to create space for balance in your life so that the “stressors” don’t affect you to the point of complete exhaustion.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Jilla is a Naturopathic Doctor at the Ottawa Holistic Wellness Centre. Her clinical focus is stress, adrenal fatigue and hormones. Jilla’s emphasis is on disease prevention, while looking at the whole person and the root cause of health concerns.