People often fail to realise just how harmful occupational burnout and intense chronic stress can be to their health. Let’s talk about how you can help your body overcome burnout and what you should never do.

Tips that you can find on the Internet usually say something like this, “think about what you like doing, change your job, go on a vacation and kick back under a palm tree.”

For a person who has too much business to do and who is responsible for their family this kind of advice might be quite annoying. What palm trees? When?! So they deal with stress with what is available and familiar: overeating, smoking and drinking. They try to work even more and then blame themselves for poor results.

Why does it not help? A little bit of information about what happens to your body when stress becomes constant and you start getting emotionally exhausted. I tried to make it interesting.

burnout welltory

How your body reacts to stress:

1. Anxiety

Everything was good but suddenly the brain recieves a signal (shock) and turns the defence mechanisms on. The hormone levels jump up and the body pulls its resources, you feel a surge of energy. The main goal is to survive. This is the fight-or-flight stage. If you try to work during that stage (a pressing deadline, for example) you get poorer results because you can’t properly think.

2. Resistance

Stress busting mechanisms get activated. The body has “survived” and now it needs to compensate for the burst in the hormone and energy levels that it had. During this phase the body returns to its normal state.

3. Recovery

The body recovers and gets back to its initial state developing resistance to the experienced stress.

All these stages are normal and we go through stress-busting cycles on a regular basis. However!

Recovery is not possible if the stressor doesn’t go away or if the body can not overcome it.

balance in life

The body gets overstrained and that’s bad news

  • Your body exhausts its resources.
  • The decompensation phase begins — one of the key body functions fails, most often it is an organ. A sudden death from a heart attack. That’s no joke.
  • Long-term harm to the body. That is something that might not even be fully recovered from. Even if you stopped experiencing stress then, there might be irreversible consequences.

How to help your body fight stress if you are burning out

The first thing to do is to slow down. The common mistake is to try to get everything done in a rush and then blame yourself for not being able to handle it.

What helps you quickly relax:

  • Tensing and relaxing your muscles. Tense all the muscles in your body to the limit for about 30 seconds. It’s simple but it helps.
  • If you don’t want anyone to see you exercise you can just imagine tensing your muscles. Yea, it’s funny but even that reduces stress.
  • Deep breathing and fresh air. Take a deep breath and breath out. This will help you relax if you have psychosis.
  • Going for a walk It’s a simple way to deal with panic the moment you have it. Even 20 minutes is quite good.
  • Giving yourself some rest. It’s super urgent and you have to finish the work but you can’t? Unplug yourself from everything for at least an hour. Have a nap.

What helps your brain relax and work better

  • Do brain exercises. Sudoku, counting games, brain teasers, logic puzzles. They will help you concentrate.
  • Free your mind of unnecessary things Put the tasks that you keep thinking about in the google calendar or notebook.
  • When you have too many thoughts — find two hours and write down all of the problems. Projects, tasks, doubts, self-reproach — write all of that down, make a list or write an angry letter about how unhappy you are. You will feel much better, you’ll see.
  • Mirror/calling a friend/talking to your dog. When you have too many pressing problems and you don’t see any solution. Then tell someone about it, not necessarily someone real. Your brain will try to pretend that it’s smart and will offer you a solution that you otherwise wouldn’t come up with.
  • Boring and monotonous work. You don’t feel guilty that you are not solving your big problems. The brain relaxes — you are working, aren’t you? This helps you say to yourself, “Good job!”

burnout welltory

What to do to help your body overcome burnout

  • Drink as much water as possible (up to 3 litres a day). This will give the body the necessary support.
  • Sleep at least 8 hours a day, it’s important for your body’s recovery. At least try. Not feasible? Catch up on sleep at the weekend, but that’s only a temporary solution.
  • Move more. Training, running. You can afford a walk on your way home, right?
  • Eat regularly and well. Less junk food (burgers, pizza, fast food, convenience food).
  • Add multivitamins
  • And of course no alcohol or tobacco, that’s a given. Bad habits increase stress and give you an illusion of emotional relaxation, but they don’t actually help.
stress burnout and alcohol

In the diagram you can see how alcohol consumed on the evening of July 8 increased the amount of stress the next morning

What to do if everything is horrible

  • Don’t take antidepressants, it’ll get worse. Cortisol helps combat consequences of stress. When stress becomes constant and chronic the body stops producing cortisol. That’s the stage when the body stops fighting and switches off. Antidepressants decrease cortisol levels even more.
  • Give your brain some new experiences. Anything new to you: horse riding, karting, a hidden Chinese restaurant. This will make your body produce adrenaline and you’ll find yourself feeling better.
  • Change your environment. Move to a different place, have a journey, or even have a new desk at work . The same idea as earlier.
  • A total shut down for at least 3 days. Vacation from Friday to Monday, unplugging from your phone/Internet. No books, news or Facebook.
  • Ideally, run away to the country. If you can’t go to the Maldives, camping in the forest will do. Experience nature and rest, no parties or pubs. Watch the fire, river or trees.
  • I’ll say this again, sleep and eat well. Make yourself do it, put reminders. It is extremely important, it helps you recover from burnout without fatal outcomes like heart failure. I’m not kidding.

welltory for workaholics

These are universal recommendations if you are burning out

When you don’t know anything about how your body deals with stress you need to experiment. No one can know anything about your health without concrete facts about your body.

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