Brene Brown said, “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.”
This statement rings so true in our Western society today.
In a world where we’re encouraged to work harder for longer and continually push, grind, hustle, working our hands to the bone until eventually, we run ourselves into the ground and burnout.
Then the burnout symptoms arrive and manifest as low energy, fatigue, excessive stress, brain fog, irritability, impatience, low libido, depression and anxiety and more.
In our culture, working toward complete exhaustion and depletion is almost seen as a rite of passage in being “successful” or “making it”, which, when you think about it – is insane.
In Japanese culture there is a word; Karoshi, and in China; Guolaosi – both translate to mean “death by work” – an understood phenomenon in which workers literally drop dead from working themselves too hard.
Is the English equivalent for this adrenal burnout?
When we choose to compromise our own health, longevity and mental wellbeing for short term successes–financial success, work titles, promotions, status symbols etc.– what we’re really sacrificing is long-term happiness and spending quality time with the people we love most– our kids, friends and family.
We all want to live a rich and fulfilling life full of energy, passion and drive with memorable and exciting experiences.
So how do we find that without burning out in today’s modern age?
More importantly, how do you know when you’re suffering from adrenal burnout or fatigue?
Table of Contents
What is burnout?
Burnout, or adrenal burnout, is the result of a chronically over-stressed body.
Stress is at the core of all leading diseases in the world that kill humans – cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimers, organ failure and infections. (1-5)
By over-stressing ourselves, I think it’s fair to say, that we too are killing ourselves, literally and figuratively.
Types of Stress
There are two types of stress that humans experience: short term (hormetic) and long term (chronic).
Hormetic Stress (Good)
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a good type of stress. This short-term stress is called “hormetic stress” and it can be very beneficial for long-term health.
Common examples of hormetic stressors include short stints of intense exercise (HIIT), cold and hot exposure such as infrared saunas and ice baths, and antioxidant-rich foods such as Chaga mushroom, cacao and broccoli.
Humans have evolved to require these short bursts of stress to become more resilient, tolerant and adaptive.
Problems start to arise when this “stress signal” is constantly triggered from various sources–the environment, our emotions, relationships, work, deadlines, expectations, traffic, chemicals in our products, pesticides in our foods, lack of sleep–that we pass through the “adaptive” phase and fall into the exhaustion phase.
Chronic Stress (Bad)
Chronic stress is the bad kind of stress.
It constantly depletes us, breaks us down and causes our adrenals to go into over-drive, eventually burns them out and results in sickness or pending disease.
Additionally, chronic stress drives inflammation and throws our entire body out of balance (homeostasis).
Our sex hormone production decreases, metabolism slows down, we can’t create cellular energy efficiently and our immune system is on constant alert thinking a life-threatening event is happening.
All this leaves us vulnerable to actual invading pathogens and creating illness in our lives.
How Do I Know If I Have Burnout?
We’ve all experienced some degree of fatigue, exhaustion, feeling tired all the time or burnt out in our lives.
Whether it’s during school exams, meeting that deadline, having a newborn child, dealing with family pressures or running a business.
The irony is, burning ourselves out by chasing money, notoriety or a status symbol goes especially awry because we consistently do our best work when we’re filled up.
Our best work comes when we’re full of energy, vibrancy, excitement, enthusiasm, connection and able to let the creative energy flow through us, that feeling when time just disappears and we produce magical output, effortlessly.
We all know what that feels like too.
And in order to achieve this state reliably and consistently, we need to replenish our Jing – the ancient Taoist concept that constitutes our life force energy.
What is Jing and the Stress Response
In western terms, Jing is our lifelong supply of energy and its depletion is greatly impacted by the chronic stress in our lives.
Stress is released from the adrenal glands – the organ that resembles the shape of Santa’s hat – where it sits on top of the Kidneys and releases the stress hormones – cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.
When the stress hormones are released by the adrenals, this puts the body into a fight or flight response, a primal survival mechanism that enables us to fight, flight or flee.
During this process, glucose is mobilised from our muscles to be available for our bloodstream to be able to run or fight. Energy and blood flow is also redirected from our digestive and sex organs to our heart, lungs and muscles.
Our heartbeat and blood pressures rise and we feel that immediate “rush” of energy that we’ve all experienced, whether a car pulls out of nowhere, something scares us or when we’re walking in the dark and see something move.
Symptoms of fatigue and burnout range from a never-ending tiredness, difficulty sleeping, inability to switch off, sluggish and poor digestion, autoimmune, weight gain, inability to recover, low libido, brain fog, frequent colds and flus, dull and brittle hair and nails, wrinkles and poor skin complexion, anxiety and depressive moods, lack of motivation and excitement – to name a few.
Again, in Western culture we think when we experience these symptoms of burnout that the answer is to continue pushing, “this is normal”, “everyone I know feels like this” or to mask the symptoms with pharmaceutical drugs, stimulants or supplements to keep yourself going (before total burnout stage) without ever really getting to the core issue – working to protect, preserve and nourish our Jing.
The Millennial Burnout Epidemic
As a millennial, we may not even recognise that we’re stressed or experiencing burnout, since up until recently, burnout or more clinically, adrenal fatigue, hasn’t been a medically accepted condition.
We lack access to and examples of what a healthy work life balance looks like. Social media is particularly littered with individuals and quotes that promote hustling as the new rockstar lifestyle, taking a break is considered weak, it’s all about the money, status, boasting about the grind, and flaunting lavish possessions. And if we don’t embody this model of success, we’re not successful. We don’t get the external recognition and approval that so many of us crave.
All this has engrained beliefs into us that’s almost impossible to have a fulfilling, successful and purpose-filled life and career. So much of our identity and worth is tied up in what we do – we’re human doing’s, not beings. We’re so pre-occupied in working hard, proving our value and worth, trying to win that we get tired.
But as the old Taoist saying goes, "it is OK to become tired but never to become exhausted."
We pull away from ourselves, our families, our relationships. We’re too tired to be present, and we withdraw and detach - just trying to survive.
The 12 Stages of Burnout Syndrome (According to Psychologists)
The 12 Stages of Burnout is a process designed by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North and popularised by Hamza Khan in his TEDxUTSC Talk titled “The Burnout Gamble.” (6)
These are the stages the scientists outlined from the beginning right through to complete burnout syndrome:
- The Compulsion to Prove Oneself; demonstrating worth obsessively; tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily.
- Working Harder; an inability to switch off.
- Neglecting Their Needs; erratic sleeping, eating disrupted, lack of social interaction.
- Displacement of Conflicts; problems are dismissed, we may feel threatened, panicky and jittery.
- Revision of Values; values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant, work is only focus.
- Denial of Emerging Problems; intolerance, perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined, social contacts harder; cynicism, aggression; problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
- Withdrawal; social life small or non-existent, need to feel relief from stress, alcohol/drugs.
- Odd Behavioural Changes; changes in behaviour obvious, friends and family concerned.
- Depersonalization; seeing neither self nor others as valuable, and no longer perceive own needs.
- Inner Emptiness; feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for an activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs; activities are often exaggerated.
- Depression; feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak and dark.
- Burnout Syndrome; can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.
These set of experiences outlined by psychologists is a kind of transformation in a person. Over a period of time, they will gradually change their personality and ultimately become someone they may not want to be.
Burnout Hurts Ourselves and Our Relationships
Dr Joe Dispenza discusses how our emotions when prolonged, result in a mood which can lead to our personality traits. (7)
Take this scenario for example, your alarm doesn’t go off, then you realise you’re out of coffee, the traffic is terrible and makes you late for work. All this makes the stress response fire. You’re feeling irritated, flustered and defeated – which sets your mood for the day.
You get to work late and already feeling behind, no matter how much caffeine you drink, skip your break, you still can’t seem to get on top of your workload and so you go home that day in that same mood.
This mood is then embedded into your body, and you wake up the next day on time, but still scared from the day before, wondering if you’ll get ahead, realising how much you have to do etc.
This mood is now your new normal.
Your commute to work each day has a feeling of being on-edge, never enough time, not good enough, failing and stressed.
In a short period, this mood develops into your personality traits – reflected as you being short, not-present, irritated and impatient.
You start to snap at your partner, have less time for friends and family, you can’t focus on the present moment always thinking about the future and how you can get ahead, you don’t have time for yourself, no one understands – and you not only burn out, but you isolate yourself, retracting from being involved in loving, nurturing, supporting relationships.
When we isolate ourselves, not only do we reject the power that human connection has to switch off the stress response, but we start doing un-helpful behaviours, such as substance abuse–we lash out, retreat into solitude, self-deprecate or even work more to ignore the lack of emotion and joy we feel.
There are numerous studies that show healthy, loving relationships are one of the fundamentals of living a long, healthy life. (8, 9)
When we work too much and burn ourselves out – we tend to burn those relationships too.
We stop putting in love, effort and emotion to the very people that can fill us up, remind us we are important, worthy and loved – without a job title, EOD report or salary.
When we isolate ourselves from these relationships, these communities, our tribe, and are open to just set into the moment and distress, with oxytocin – a hormone that we transmit when we are touched by another – completely dropping cortisol the stress hormone.
When we’re with people we love, having a laugh, sharing stories, creating moments and memories, we boost our immune system, improve our hormone function and decrease inflammation. (9)
Simply being a human being connecting with other human beings can switch off the stress response.
Additionally, chronic stress zaps the love we once had (or still do have) for our jobs and careers.
The fire, the passion, the drive sizzles out and we lose meaning in our chosen profession. This further exacerbates burnout symptoms and blocks us from doing our best work–being of service, feeling fulfilled and excited to head to work each day.
In his wonderful TED talk, Hamza Khan states; "the fire is not [always] the problem, it's the absence of fire that's the issue.” (10)
7 Ways To Prevent Burnout And Renew Your Energy
In order to prevent burnout symptoms and stay on top of our game, we need to learn how to consistently fill ourselves up each and every single day.
How we can do this is outlined in the 7 steps below.
Remember, replenishing your energy is a multi-factorial effort. It’s not an overnight solution. You will not magically wake up bursting with energy and feeling like an 8-year-old.
It’s a journey and a process in which we need to be patient and kind to ourselves while we take time to heal and restore our adrenals.
We also need to re-evaluate our beliefs and ideas surrounding rest, recovery and self-love.
It’s time to embrace yin practices, downtime, relaxation, unplugging, napping and not beating yourself up or thinking you’re being “weak, lazy, unproductive” or any other words that come to mind when we think of yin practices.
Life is a balance.
The Taoist way, the Yin Yang symbol is a representation of Chaos and Order.
We need to balance the Chaos in our lives–the business, the structure, the to-do’s, the “go-go-go”, the Yang–with the Order of our lives–the relaxation, recuperation, rest, the being, the Yin.
Here are seven ways in which you can fill up your cup, create new Jing replenishing habits and respect that as a human being, you need and deserve rest and restoration for your best health and longevity.
1. Embrace Napping
In Western society, we see napping either as a luxury or something reserved for children, mothers or the elderly.
We push through the day relying on stimulants and place high expectations on our night's sleep to recharge us, or maybe we don’t even value sleep at all?
We live for that holiday or long weekend and wonder why we never feel better.
Yet, napping is one of the most beneficial activities you can do for your performance and wellbeing.
A review of the scientific literature documents that napping;
- Improves alertness and logical reasoning
- Improves reaction time
- Reduces subjective fatigue and sleepiness
- Improves accuracy
- Improves nighttime sleep
- Sleep experts such as Nick Littlehales and studies suggest setting your alarm for 10, 20 or 30 minutes and giving yourself time to recharge is the most undervalued “hack” available.
I personally like and recommend 30-minute naps as I feel the most rejuvenated after this time period.
A NASA study on long-haul pilots found that a “26-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 54%”. (11)
The whole point of a napping per se isn’t really to sleep, it’s to enter into a semi-conscious state allow the body to recover mentally.
Try a 30-minute nap in the afternoon and if you want to kick it up a notch, play some Binaural beats while you relax.
If napping seems like an impossible thing for you to do, whether due to your beliefs or realities, studies have shown even having a “rest-break” in which no tasks are done is also beneficial to cognitive functioning and performance. (12, 13)
Instead of reaching for that 3 pm coffee, try just switching off for 10-30 minutes, pop in some beats, read a book, sit and breathe, stare at the sky, walk around the park – anything to get yourself out of that Yang state and give your brain a breather.
2. Assess Your Intake Of Stimulants
As much as a lot of us love coffee and caffeine, the truth is it depletes our Jing (adrenals) and only masks how sleepy or tired we are.
Additionally, caffeine stimulates the adrenals, taxes your body and blocks the absorption of nutrients such as iron and zinc.
It’s important to assess when you really “need” your stimulants versus when you just “want or crave” them. This is a beneficial tool to help you on your journey to preventing and reversing burn out.
For example, when everyone in the office is getting a coffee, take a second to check in with yourself. Do you feel fine? Are you still feeling good after that first-morning coffee and you don’t really need a second one?
Experiment with swapping out your caffeine for an alternative such as high-quality Jing herbs–Cordyceps mushroom, Chaga mushroom, Lion’s Mane mushroom, yerba mate tea, roasted dandelion, matcha green tea or chai.
Giving yourself boundaries, e.g “I get to enjoy coffee 3x a week” or limit your intake to only one coffee per day and be disciplined in honouring that.
Be aware of what your habits are.
Assessing your stimulants also includes energetic stimulants, such as our devices, social media and the people around us.
Our phones give us access to addictive dopamine-triggering social media, Youtube, apps, TV shows and everything else – these signal our brain to continually process information and as much as we sometimes think its “downtime and relaxing” it's not to your brain.
It’s still working.
Are there people around you that stimulate you in a negative way? Do they trigger anger, frustration, resentment, fear or hatred in you? Because that’s also energy-zapping.
Assess what else in your environment may be causing you to leak energy and Jing and remove that.
Give yourself a time limit on social media (which is so easy now with IG and your phone itself recording your usage), or swap scrolling for reading or writing, about how to help you release those negative energy-depleting emotions and thoughts about individuals around us if we’re not able to remove them fully.
3. Incorporate A Daily Yin Practice
Western society encourages active Yang practices such as HIIT sessions, boot camps, gym workouts, reformer pilates and even certain yoga practices.
These are all beneficial to our health but they may also need to be balanced with a Yin practice.
Just as you enjoy crushing your workout each day, cultivate a yin practice to replenish yourself and balance the scales.
Some awesome yin practices include;
- Nature walks
- Connecting with loved ones
- Slow flow yoga
- Any creative outlet e.g drawing, painting, writing
When we give ourselves the time and space to slow down and “be” rather than “do” we fill ourselves back up, shift ourselves out of the sympathetic fight-or-flight response and into the relaxing parasympathetic nervous system – that controls rest and digest.
I prefer to do my Yin practice in the late afternoon or evening as it sets me up to have a good nights sleep as I’m relaxed, content and not overly stimulated.
4. Include Adaptogens In Your Diet
To complement the previous 3 (and following 3 ideas) incorporating adaptogenic herbs and blends into your everyday life is a valuable asset.
Adaptogenic herbs such as He Shou Wu root, Cordyceps mushroom, Schizandra berry and Reishi mushroom are all Jing tonic herbs that work to replenish your energy, support your adrenals and nourish your organs.
Jing herbs function to promote calmness, alertness, relaxation and unity – they, as the name suggests, enable you to adapt to the stressors that exist in your life.
Depending on each individual’s constitution and level of depletion and requirement, the herbs may calm and relax you, or they may energise and alert you.
It’s important to understand that tonic herbs and adaptogens, in general, do not fit a “lock and key” model - which the medical and pharmaceutical industry works upon.
Adaptogens are Mother Natures’ gifts to us; they contain a certain power and intelligence of their own. Jing herbs work on improving and balancing multiple organ systems–adrenals, immune system, endocrine (hormone) system, brain and more.
Adaptogenic herbs vary in action and adapt to you and your current state of being.
5. Support Your Adrenals With Real Food
Nutrition, along with movement, water and sleep are the pillars of optimal wellbeing.
Eating whole, nutrient-rich foods provides our bodies with optimal Vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and beneficial bacteria so we’re able to utilise our nutrients and convert them into energy.
Processed food contains no nutrients and in order to produce hormones, create new cells, repair and build new tissue, have a functioning immune system, sleep soundly – we need nutrients. And these nutrients come from real food.
Like the step on stimulants, take inventory of your food intake – where is your food coming from- the fertile nutrient-rich ground or processed packaging?
Additionally, low iron, low thyroid and high inflammation contribute and can exacerbate fatigue and adrenal burnout. These can be assessed via a blood test to see where further support may be needed.
6. Reduce And Remove Excessive Stressors In Your Life
It’s all well and good to add in and integrate the previous recommendations but if you’re not removing the fire – there’s still going to be smoke.
In this analogy, the fire is the stressors in your life and the smoke is your wellbeing and symptoms.
Excessive stressors are plenty and it might take a minute to even consciously recognise the stressors that aren’t serving you and just contributing to your stress fire.
Some to think about;
- Are you in a relationship that causes you to constantly be stressed and feeling inadequate?
- Do you have toxic relationships? With friends, family, colleagues, etc. Do they serve you or drain you?
- Are you in an unfulfilling job that causes more stress and drives burnout?
- Do you place expectations on situations and individuals? And then stress about it?
- Do you play out scenarios in your head, whether in the past or present?
- Do you chronically over-think?
- Are you eating and drinking from plastics?
- Do you regularly consume alcohol and drugs?
- Do you live in a high-polluted area? Or work around toxic products?
- Do you do night shift-work?
- Are you consuming non-organic / conventional produce?
- Are you drinking tap water?
This step can be confronting at first. We may need to have some uncomfortable conversations with ourselves.
Take some time for self-reflection, re-assess your choices, recognise any self-sabotaging behaviours, ask for help and get outside of your comfort zone.
This might be the most important step out of the seven.
Not only is it necessary to remove these stressors in your life. It’s also incredibly beneficial to your health and wellbeing and health, in the immediate present and the future.
Reducing or removing them from your life will alleviate the amount of pressure on you and your body.
7. Shift Your Attitude
Shifting your attitude can also help reduce and remove the stressors in your life, stop leaking Jing and enable you to work on replenishing your Jing.
For example, instead of being frustrated that you’re stuck in traffic, flip the perspective and see it as an opportunity for you to recoup:
- Listen to a podcast on a topic you’re interested in
- Put on your favourite music and have a little car-boogie
- Breathe – implement some box breathing
- Manifest, imagine your dream life
- Practice gratitude
- Reflect on what you love about yourself and your life
Make the space and invite positive awesomeness into your life instead of complaining and being frustrated.
One thing I do, is if I’m stuck in traffic, or get red lights, or my flights delayed, whatever it is that I could get stressed about–I say, that I wasn’t meant to get that green light or I’m not meant to arrive at that time because of whatever larger-than-me forces that exist outside of ourselves.
This simple technique of “letting go” of the present situation allows you to not be emotionally charged (which is Jing leaking), energetically exhausted and frustrated entering a situation, not your optimal self.
Time is all we have so try practising using those periods of time to fill yourself up – be mind-full.
So much is going on around us at all times and it's difficult to catch a break and take time out for you.
My advice is to find that sweet spot that keeps you in perpetual productivity because we don’t want any fire at all – no drive, no passion, no desire. But we also don’t want that fire spilling over, burning everything we love.
Consciously insert these 7 practices into your every day or weekly life.
Put them in your calendar and make them part of your routine, so that you’re consistently restoring your Jing, replenishing your energy and ability to achieve and experience all that you want to.
Baby steps are key.
Integrate a new practice over time. It’s going to be scary, it's going to be new, but this gets you out of your current “human doing” and nudges you into the “human being”. As Hazma says; you want to “burn bright, not out.” (10, 14)
Written by Eliza Hedley
Eliza is a health, mindset and abundance enthusiast obsessed with helping millennial's experience living at a higher level.
Her relaxed new age approach and understanding of nutrition and wellness sees her empowering and coaching individuals to understand that their health is the ultimate asset. Upon experiencing first hand the power and place of tonic herbalism and medicinal mushrooms in everyday life, Eliza’s become an adaptogen fangirl and feels their utilisation in today’s world is essential for abundance and wellbeing.
References and Studies
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Wolff, H. G. (1953). American lecture series: The Bannerstone division of American lectures in physiology: Vol. 166. Stress and disease. Charles C Thomas Publisher. https://doi.org/10.1037/11785-000
Lin, M., Beal, M. Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress in neurodegenerative diseases. Nature 443, 787–795 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05292
Finkel, T., Holbrook, N. Oxidants, oxidative stress and the biology of ageing. Nature 408, 239–247 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1038/35041687
Oxidative Stress and Vascular Disease - https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.ATV.0000150649.39934.13
The 12 Stages of Burnout by Hamza Khan - http://theburnoutgamble.com/2015/10/23/the-12-stages-of-burnout/
Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr Joe Dispenza. https://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Habit-Being-Yourself-Create/dp/1401938094/
Friends Nourish the Body and Soul. https://www.bluezones.com/2012/04/friends-nourish-the-body-and-soul/
Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. PNAS January 19, 2016 113 (3) 578-583; first published January 4, 2016 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1511085112
The Burnout Gamble | Hamza Khan | TEDxUTSC - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEjukHJybm8
Nick Littlehales Sleep and Recovery Blog. https://www.sportsleepcoach.com/recovery-blog/
Assessing the benefits of napping and short rest breaks on processing speed in sleep-restricted adolescents. J Sleep Res. 2017 Apr;26(2):219-226. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12497. Epub 2017 Jan 24.
Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00718.x
The Burnout Gamble by Hamza Khan. https://www.amazon.com/Burnout-Gamble-Achieve-Building-Resilience/dp/1773029843/