I've Been Burnt Out
When I say that I’ve been burnt out, I mean it – like burnt down to the ground burnt out. During that particular time, I remember lying in bed one night and trying to get to sleep because I knew I desperately needed it. But instead my brain just kept making lists: I need to do this tomorrow for grad school; I need to do X, Y, and Z for my job; oh crap I forgot to do that thing; but what if this happens; so on and so forth.
This was all accompanied by difficulty waking up in the morning, the feeling that I was constantly reacting to things instead of steering how my day went, and just never having a moment to catch my breath.
Countless “tired but wired” nights had me using over-the-counter sleeping meds on the regular. Then my ever-growing levels of anxiety led me to taking anti-anxiety medication to get through certain otherwise-would-be routine tasks. On the other hand, I spent most of my days feeling like I had no energy at all. So I also had quite the caffeine habit. Eventually, I realized that if I had to take more than one medication simply to function, then something needed to change in a big way.
When burnout meets adrenal fatigue
Our stress response was designed to give us quick bursts of energy and clarity so that we could escape a saber tooth tiger (or something of that nature). It was not designed to last for days on end.
Chronic stress causes our adrenal glands to produce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in huge amounts. This constant production of stress hormones starts to make it difficult for us to fall asleep at night. They can make us feel jittery and anxious. And then, because cortisol also plays an important role in our sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythm, we start to get further dysregulated. This is why you might find yourself with a burst of energy late at night but unable to get out of bed in the morning.
This is called adrenal fatigue. If we continue to expose ourselves to consistent levels of stress, our adrenals can get completely burnt out. At this point they cannot make enough stress hormones. When this happens, our energy levels practically bottom out and our coping ability goes out the window.
Do you have adrenal fatigue?
You don’t need to be as worse for wear as I was to address chronic stress. Some signs that your adrenals could do with a change are:
- You need caffeine in the morning every morning
- You need to workout to feel energized
- You have difficulty falling or staying asleep
- You hit the snooze button multiple times every morning
- You’re carrying some extra pounds that crept on and now won’t budge
- You’re short-tempered
- You get 'hangry' or extremely irritable when hungry
Healing adrenal fatigue
These are the steps I took to heal my adrenal fatigue and continue keep it at bay:
Step One: Take a look at the big picture.
If you are ‘burnt down to the ground’ burnt out, then you may need to take a step back just to make sure that you are working towards something you actually want. What are you working towards? Are you working towards your own goals? Society’s? Somebody else’s? Are you actively creating a lifestyle that you want? How do you feel about your work? Are you still passionate about the vision or mission of your position/employer/business? If the big picture doesn’t feel good to you then it’s time to change it. This may mean applying for a different position or even switching up your career path.
Step Two: Prioritize.
Everything on your plate is there because you put it there. Take a look at your volunteer and social commitments. Do these things “tire or inspire” you? Take a look at your to-do list for your business; what can you put on the backburner for now? If you’re working for a company then what things are part of your position that might be negotiable or better handled by someone else? Is trading a responsibility that drains you for one that you enjoy an option?
Step Three: Learn how to say no.
If you’re going to be successful at Step 2, then you’ll need to learn how to say no to opportunities, invitations and requests that will do you more harm than good. If you feel like something will drain you, say no. If your coworker asks for a favor that you can’t say no to, then ask for something in return. Your time and energy is sacred so guard it!
Step Four: Make time for rest and pleasure.
We all have endless to-do lists. If you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue then you’ll want to focus on fitting in time for things that feel good to you. These are not necessarily the things that you think are good for you. For instance, strenuous exercise can actually raise your cortisol levels and exacerbate adrenal fatigue. Try restorative practices like yoga instead. Or make time for visiting the museum, to take a walk or for a little treat. Also, if we really want to talk pleasure, then make time for orgasms! They actually help to flush excess cortisol, the stress hormone, right out of our systems.
Step Five: Feed yourself the right things.
Be mindful of your caffeine and alcohol intake. Both raise your stress hormone levels. You may want to consider enjoying your coffee on the weekends when your schedule is less demanding. Opt for green tea or matcha lattes during the week instead. They contain lower levels of caffeine and compounds called catechins that help us process it. While there’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine at dinner, be wary of using alcohol to unwind. If you’re feeling stressed, opt for an herbal tea like chamomile or lavender. You can also try Natural Calm which is a magnesium supplement that has a natural anti-anxiety affect. If you’re consistently dealing with stress and high cortisol levels, you can also consult a holistic healthcare practitioner about supplements like Ashwagandha and Rhodiola which support your adrenal glands.
Step Six: Manage Acute Stress
At step six, your goal is to manage acute stressors and isolated incidents so that they don’t feed a chronic stress response. I know you’re tired of hearing it, but focus on your breathing. Notice when it gets rapid, shallow, or choppy. When confronted with a stressful moment, take a second to take a deep breath through your nose down into your belly. Excuse yourself to the bathroom if you have to and take a few deep breaths there. You can also modify techniques like tapping, which utilize acupressure points to facilitate relaxation. If you’re mad at a co-worker or your partner, open up a Google doc at your desk and free write about it for a minute to alleviate some of the tension. Go for a walk. Find the things that soothe you and then keep them in your back pocket for when something comes up.
Best of luck, lovely femmes!