‘Burnout’ is a real issue, one that is growing in importance as our work weeks become longer. There is a lot of misinformation available, so we’re going to bust some common misconceptions.
Hands up if you’ve felt a little “burned out” lately? Hands up if you are too tired and burned out to put your hands up?
According to a recent study, in the States, one in five highly engaged employees is at risk of burnout. Unfortunately, Australia seems to be following closely in America’s footsteps, in terms of our tendency to glorify stress and busyness. The result is that our working population is seemingly suffering a similar fate.
Technology has a lot to answer for. Somehow we’ve come to accept that working all hours of the day and night, and not switching off from the demands of the job, is a sign of doing our best and putting in what’s required to do a good job. But is it really? Or is it actually placing a strain on our health, our relationships and ultimately our performance at work in the long run?
Employee burnout is expensive, with global costs to the economy estimated at around the US$300 billion mark. In Australia in 2016, the problem was said to be costing Australia around $12 million per annum, based on low work engagement and absenteeism figures, both common symptoms of burnout. Now for a business that employs between 100 and 1,000 people, this could equate to up to $100,000 per year! Ouch!
According to Metro Dietetics, a Melbourne-based online nutrition consultancy practice that specialises in executive and entrepreneurial burnout, while the condition is common it is also commonly misunderstood. To alleviate this, we got a rundown on some of the most common burnout myths and fixes.
Myth 1: Burnout is all in your head
Unfortunate as it is, burnout, also known as adrenal insufficiency or adrenal fatigue, is not recognised as a medical condition by conventionally trained health professionals.
However, they are well aware of (and agree that) all the other glands such as the thyroid, pancreas, pituitary and sex organs, such as the ovaries and testes, can have varying degrees of dysfunction. How or why this is the case, we don’t know, but it means that if you tried to see a doctor about your burnout, they will likely tell you to just sleep more and that the rest of the problems are just in your head.
The truth is, burnout is a gradual reduction in function of your adrenal glands, an important gland that produces various hormones that regulate important processes in our bodies, such as stress, sex hormone production, fluid and mineral balance, metabolism and much more. When our adrenals stop functioning optimally, a lot of biochemical changes occur in our bodies, causing shifts in mood, energy, weight and behaviours – all of which are very real issues!
Step 1 is to recruit a team of health practitioners that specialise in this area to help you. When you have professionals who understand that burnout is a real issue, then they will more likely dig deeper to get to the bottom of it all and be able to help you start the recovery process.
Step 2 is to run a series of blood tests that are specific to diagnosing burnout and helping your team know exactly where you are at, and provide you with realistic guidance on what to do next.
Important tests to perform are:
- 24-hour Salivary Cortisol;
- ACTH Stimulation Challenge;
- Fasting Insulin;
- Thyroid Function Test;
- DHEA and Cortisol/DHEA ratio;
- 17-HP/Cortisol Ratio;
- Adrenocortex Stress Profile.
Myth 2: A good holiday will fix your burnout
The biggest misconception from the general public and from sufferers of burnout alike is that a) burnout is easy to fix, and b) you just need to go on a holiday and rest up. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but burnout is not just a buzzword – it is a hormonal and metabolic meltdown and a simple vacation is not going to fix the problem! You see, having time off is very important, and learning to pace yourself when you are suffering from burnout is really important too. However, in order to properly recover, it takes a long time (sometimes years) and a lot of commitment from you to healing you body.
Whilst taking a break to allow the body to rest and de-stress is very important, you will also need to follow (to a tee):
- A nutritional balancing program in conjunction with a gut healing protocol;
- A supplementation regime dosed specifically to your needs, and;
- An exercise protocol that takes into consideration what stage of burnout you are in, and how to balance intensity to your current exercise tolerance.
Myth 3: Burnout affects mostly men
Historically, we’ve associated men with being more stressed and more likely to experience burnout, but in today’s society, burnout is much more prevalent in women. Women now work outside of home, and raise children too, contributing to increased stress. For single mothers, it’s needless to say that the pressure is mounted even higher. Biologically, women are more prone to copper and thyroid imbalances, as well as fear conditioning which keeps women stuck in a state of stress. The female menstrual cycle also elevates the stress on the adrenals. During pregnancy, women’s adrenal glands actually increase in size to accommodate the increased stress and need for cortisol production.
Routinely, women should check their hormone panels (FSH, LH, oestradiol, progesterone), monitor their thyroid function (TSH, T3, T4) and get adequate sleep and rest. Taking time for yourself is not being selfish, because if you were to become burnt out, the consequences would be far greater and the fix far more time-consuming.
So, there you have it. Burnout is a thing, and it’s a thing we can no longer ignore. If you’re feeling like burnout might be trying to make you its b*tch, then get tested and get it sorted. Before it’s too late.