Burnout: Part 6: Whole Body Systems Approach

Hello again:

This is the last of our installments on burnout and the underlying systems dysfunctions that are the causes, perpetuators or activators of the fatigue that accompanies chronic activation of the stress-response systems. The most common things that I find in those with ‘burnout’ are the same things that I find with issues that underlie most chronic health conditions, and it is usually a combination of:

·        Latent or hidden infections

·        Gut and digestive issues, including food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities

·        Persistently living in ‘fight or flight’ with anxiety issues

·        Nutrient imbalances from poor dietary choices or unique metabolic needs not being met

·        Blood sugar imbalances such as insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, carb and sugar cravings

·        Trauma, new or old

·        Autoimmune disorders (frequently previously undiagnosed)

·        Toxin accumulation

·        Chronic stress in employment or personal lives

·        Any chronic health condition such as pain, insomnia, etc.

·        Not exercising

There are more, of course, but these are the most common and it thus obviously requires a thorough look as which of these is the most critical for any one individual. It is important to understand the ‘loop’ nature of stress reactions. By this I mean that one thing will set off another which then loops back and sets off the first one again, and then we are stuck in a self-reinforcing health destroying cycle.

For example: We may have had a very stressful several months or years, which fires up the excessive cortisol response, which blunts our insulin function, which increases carb cravings causing inflammation and weight gain, which is inflammatory and further unbalances the immune system and fires up allergy or latent infection, which fires up more inflammation, which fires up the stress response, which partially shuts down proper digestion, which fires up gut inflammation, which fires up the stress response, which further partially shuts down the gut function, which leads to food sensitivities, which causes an inflammatory immune response, which fires up the stress response, which then the persistent elevations of cortisol lead to cortisol receptor downregulation, this cortisol resistance results in more inflammation, which fires up the stress response, and then the elevated inflammation and persistently higher cortisol slow down the brain, and now the brain cannot shut down the stress response and we become anxious and forgetful…and the loop goes on and on…slightly different in each of us…but you get the idea.

Bottom Line: Burnout and fatigue states require a whole systems approach to identifying loops and where to intervene. You need to look at your entire health picture and start to break these loops. These are the most important steps that are usually the most effective:

·        Consume a low inflammatory, low allergenic food plan that avoids all added sugars, processed foods, bad fats, fried stuff and focuses on whole foods, mostly plants, lots of them. Avoid foods laden with pesticides and go organic for the important foods (look up the Clean 15 or the Dirty Dozen). Look into intermittent fasting and time your meals to optimize your metabolism, lower inflammation and allow the brain to clean itself out.

·        Reduce anxiety and turn off the fight/flight mechanism and obvious sources of stress: get adequate sleep; exercise; chew slowly and eat and live mindfully; stretch (yoga is the best at stress reduction); keep a gratitude journal; plot your way OUT of the stress with creating a vision and goals for your life in a realistic timeframe; develop daily habits that calm the brain, such as prayer, meditation and breathing methods like the 4-7-8 breathing offered by Dr. Weil on You Tube.

·        Exercise daily, and if not already exercising start with the Nitric Oxide Dump from Dr. Mercola on You Tube. Start slow and steady, gradually increase your program, and make it diverse (add in slowly things like weight training, yoga, intervals etc.). Invest in a personal trainer or join a gym if needed, join a dedicated yoga class, and this can be a super positive step to really launch recovery. Start slowly.

·        Get good/great sleep, minimum of 7.5 hours. You may need to avoid screen time/blue light to improve melatonin production naturally, and you may need blue blocker glasses after dark to view screens.

·        Get thorough lab tests to evaluate your nutrient needs, infectious burden, immune status, gut status, adrenal and thyroid and hormone status, inflammatory burden, possible autoimmune concerns, and blood sugar status and formulate a plan to optimize any issues in those areas. Look for the loops and put out as many fires as you can, one at a time so as not to overwhelm ourselves.

·        Start with ONE step, and when that one is a habit, add another step. Ups and downs are Ok as long as you are heading up gradually.

·        All of these things will leverage your health out of fight or flight and help regulate the HPA axis.

·        Currently, the ONLY supplements that I consistently use to assist adrenal health are called Adaptogens. These are typically herbals that are classified as adaptogens because they are not stimulants or suppressants, but normalizers. This means that if the system is high or low, it assists a return to the middle/normal functional levels. Adaptogens have been shown to reduce the stress response even when the stress does not change, therefore assisting in shutting down a major loop. The ones that I see consistently be useful are often supplied in a mixture, or can be taken individually:

o   Ashwagandha (do not use if reactive to nightshades)

o   Rhodiola

o   Bacopa

o   Ginseng

o   Holy Basil

o   Eleuthro

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