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You have probably heard the term “burnout”, but what does being “burnt out” really mean for the health of your nervous system? Perhaps even more importantly, what can you do about it?
Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress. It often results from prolonged periods of feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and emotionally drained. While it can occur in any area of life, burnout is frequently associated with high-stress occupations such as healthcare, education, and corporate settings.
Effects of Burnout on the Nervous System
- Sympathetic Nervous System Overactivation: Burnout triggers an overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's fight-or-flight response. This leads to increased levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, being released into the bloodstream. Consequently, this prolonged activation can disrupt the body's natural equilibrium and contribute to a range of physical and psychological symptoms.
- Impaired Stress Response: Prolonged exposure to stress and burnout can impair the body's ability to respond effectively to future stressors. Burnout can make individuals more susceptible to stress triggers, even in situations that would not typically be perceived as stressful. This can leave individuals feeling emotionally numb, detached, and less capable of managing stress.
- Neurotransmitter Imbalance: Chronic stress associated with burnout can disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, play a crucial role in regulating mood, motivation, and overall mental well-being. Imbalances in these neurotransmitters can contribute to symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and decreased cognitive function.
- Sleep Disturbances: Burnout often disrupts sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sleep is crucial for the restoration of the nervous system and overall physical and mental health. The lack of quality sleep resulting from burnout can further exacerbate the symptoms and perpetuate the cycle of exhaustion.
- Cognitive Impairment: Burnout can significantly impact cognitive function. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can impair memory, concentration, and problem-solving abilities. Individuals may experience difficulties with decision-making, attention span, and overall mental clarity, making it challenging to perform daily tasks efficiently.
Coping and Recovery
Recognizing the signs of burnout and taking proactive steps towards recovery is crucial for maintaining overall well-being.
Here are some strategies that can help:
- Self-Care: Prioritize self-care activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction. Engage in activities you enjoy, such as exercise, intentional rest, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones.
- Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Learn to say no when your plate is already full, and delegate tasks whenever possible.
- Seek Support: Reach out to trusted friends, family, or professionals who can provide emotional support and guidance during challenging times.
- Practice Stress Management Techniques: Incorporate stress management techniques into your routine, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, or journaling. These techniques can help calm the nervous system and promote relaxation.
Let’s Get Specific!
Wondering what resources you can dive into right away to help reduce your stress and heal from burnout?
- The Flowly app is there for you whenever you need it! Whether you want to experience a 20 minute Virtual Reality session or do a quick 2 minute breathing exercise while on the go, Flowly allows you to shift into the parasympathetic “rest and digest” state of your nervous system.
- Meditation apps like Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer allow you to access guided meditations for when you could use a brain break.
- Get into nature! This could be a walk around the block or a full day unplugged in the great outdoors. Wherever you are, take time to reconnect with the Earth around you.
Experiencing burnout can create a state where your nervous system is stuck in sympathetic “fight or flight” mode, which leads to a less resilient stress response, disturbed sleep, and cognitive impairment. Prioritizing healing strategies such as connecting with loved ones, setting boundaries, and finding practices that reduce stress in your life is imperative for recovering from burnout.