Julia Dosik, MPH
We’ve all had those days. Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, constant worrying, low energy even after countless caffeinated beverages, lack of motivation throughout the day and an overall feeling of a lack of well-being. It is normal to experience these feelings from time to time. The problem arises when the feelings take over our day to day lives for prolonged periods of time. According to the World Health Organization, this is officially known as “burnout syndrome” and it appears to primarily affect the working population. 1
People who experience these symptoms may feel very alone, like no one can relate to them or what they are going through. The great news is that the importance of taking care of our mental health (just as much as our physical health) is making its way into doctor’s offices and clinics, social media, some workplaces and even scientific research. The more we take care of our mental health, the more it may reflect in our physical health.
During this unprecedented time in our world, where transitioning to working from home has become the norm, supporting mental health through lifestyle techniques and natural remedies is vital.
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What is burnout?
Burnout is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is not considered an illness, but rather as a condition that can impact health status.Symptoms of burnout include:1,2
- Exhaustion, energy depletion, insomnia
- Anger, irritability, sadness
- Negativity, cynicism and emotional distance from your job
- Reduced productivity at work
What are the potential negative health consequences of burnout?
If left unmanaged, burnout might lead to health consequences (just like any form of chronic, unmanaged stress) such as greater vulnerability to illness, substance abuse, high blood pressure, etc.2
Although the hormones our bodies produce during stressful times are necessary in short bursts, they can create mental and physical issues when they are constantly being produced. Chronic stress can contribute to:3
- Digestive problems
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
What causes burnout?
While burnout can be caused by many factors, all of them stem from unmanaged chronic stress. Factors that can lead to burnout include:2
- Lack of social support from coworkers, family and/or friends
- Lack of work-life balance (working with no clear “off” hours is often a major contributor)
- Lack of control in a workplace (i.e. a chaotic workplace, as seen in service industries, including but not limited to healthcare or legal work)
Is it possible to suffer from burnout while working from home?
Within the past month, working from home has become mainstream in our society. Not only is working from home a huge change in routine, it can be difficult to clearly define when you are “on” and “off” the clock since you are at home. Of course, this may be easier for some than others. Some people have children at home that they must now home-school while doing their own work. Other people may not have school-aged children, but they may be dealing with an increased workload and stricter deadlines because of the perception that there is more “time” to get more done when you are home. No matter what your situation is, the one fact that is the same for all of us is that we are all in this together right now.
To avoid experiencing burnout from working at home, it is essential to mirror the hours you work at the office at home. As easy as it is to get caught up finishing that project, or crossing off another item from your to-do list, the best approach is to “sign-off” at the time you are supposed to and come back to your tasks with a clear head the next day.
As humans, we want to perform well and get our job done, especially during this time of job uncertainty. However, there is a difference between being productive and putting unnecessary stress on ourselves.
After all, one of the main causes of burnout is lack of work-life balance and working with no clear “off” hours. Even while working from home, it is in our best interest to maintain the same work hours as possible to avoid possible mental overwhelm and burnout.
What herbs and natural remedies may be helpful for someone with burnout?
We are currently living and working in a unique time. Even though the world has “slowed” down in a sense, increased productivity and short turnaround times are still very much at the forefront of most workplaces. It is up to us to take our emotional and mental well-being into our hands so we can keep up with the rapidly changing environment around us.
Along with lifestyle modifications provided in the next section, utilizing the following 5 scientifically validated herbs in your self-care regimen may prove to be successful.
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
- French Oak Wood Extract
Ashwagandha is an herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine (one of the oldest holistic medical systems, originating in India) for thousands of years. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means it works by helping restore the body’s natural balance and helps fight the negative effects of chronic stress. In fact, studies show that ashwagandha has been effective in improving concentration, fatigue and relieving feelings of anxiety.4-6
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the mint family and has been shown in research to help alleviate stress, depression and anxiety scores, as well as sleep disturbances.7,8 These benefits may be attributed to lemon balm’s ability to inhibit the breakdown of an important calming neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA, as demonstrated in preclinical studies.9 By helping inhibit GABA’s breakdown, lemon balm may promote a sense of calmness and relaxation, which is much needed for the highly anxious person who is not getting adequate sleep and is suffering from burnout.
L-theanine is an amino acid from green tea known to induce calming effects while simultaneously helping improve alertness.10 It may also assist in reducing stress and anxiety in people exposed to stressful conditions.11 Preclinical studies indicate that L-theanine may promote anxiety easing effects by blocking the effects of the excitatory neurotransmitter called glutamate in the brain.12 Similarly to lemon balm, L-theanine also appears to stimulate production of GABA, which may help to calm the brain without producing sleepiness, like many anti-anxiety medications do.13
Rhodiola is an herb that grows in cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. Like ashwagandha, rhodiola is an adaptogen, helping bring the body’s natural stress response back into balance. What’s exciting about rhodiola is that it has been specifically studied in people with burnout and was found to reduce their stress and fatigue while improving mental performance and mood.14-16
French oak wood extract originates from the tree species Quercus robur. This extract was considered sacred by the ancient Greeks, Hebrews and Romans. They used it to fight against fever and diarrhea and as an antiseptic. Recent research shows that French oak wood extract is effective in relieving fatigue, decreasing emotional drainage, and improving levels of interest and enthusiasm in people suffering from burnout syndrome.17
What lifestyle modifications and techniques may be helpful for burnout?
If you are currently suffering from burnout syndrome, there are things you can incorporate into your day to help ameliorate its negative effects. These lifestyle modifications and techniques include:
- Consuming a diet full of fruits and vegetables, especially berries, citrus and green leafy vegetables. Research shows this type of diet could promote higher levels of optimism and self-worth, reduce levels of psychological distress and protect against depressive symptoms.18
- Engaging in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity (i.e. brisk walking) not only helps with chronic disease prevention but benefits mental health and sleep as well. 19
- People with burnout syndrome experienced positive effects on their symptoms after participating in regular physical activity for at least 12 weeks. 20
- Sleep hygiene is vital when it comes to getting adequate sleep.21
When it’s time to sleep:
- Minimize light, specifically the blue light emitted from your phone, iPad or smart TV
- Avoid large meals or caffeine right before bedtime
- Try your best to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day
- Practice the relaxation and deep breathing techniques included in meditation and emotional freedom technique (EFT).
Meditation and mindfulness may be very helpful in regulating our stress response. 2,22 Taking at least 5 minutes out of our busy day in the morning and evening to sit in stillness with our body and mind can make a huge difference in how we perceive the day ahead and how we sleep. The term “meditation” can be daunting for some people, immediately thinking they must sit cross legged on the grass chanting “ommmm”. But meditating can be as easy as sitting up in your bed in the morning, taking 3 deep breaths in and out, and listening to the sounds around you. There are no “rules” for meditation, which tends to make the practice less intimidating for many people beginning it.
A common misconception for meditating is that you must completely shut off your mind or you’re not doing it correctly. Instead of focusing so much on shutting your mind off or stopping your thoughts, focus more on just quieting your mind. You can be aware of the thoughts that come in and out, but do not focus on the actual thought. Just let them float in and out, trying not to associate any emotions behind them. Of course, this will take time and practice, but investing a little bit of time in this practice now may prove to make a huge difference later. Especially since mindfulness, which is a type of meditation where you are intensely focused on what you are feeling and sensing in that moment, was shown to reduce levels of burnout and emotional exhaustion in nurses, the career most prone to burnout during this chaotic time.22
If you are interested in trying out meditation and need some help to get you started, the following mobile apps have been very helpful in my own meditation journey:
- Insight Timer
Emotional Freedom Technique, also known as “tapping,” is a psychological acupressure technique that has gained popularity in the alternative medicine and holistic healing world. The potential benefits of EFT are now being shown in clinical research, indicating that it may help reduce anxiety, depression, PTSD and even cravings. 23, 24
Tapping: Emotional Freedom Technique 101
EFT makes full use of our mind-body connection. The theory is that our body contains an energy system that travels along pathways known as “meridians”. The 9 meridians are located on the side of the hand (aka karate chop point), top of the head, top of the eyebrows, on the side of the eyes, beneath the nose, on the chin and collarbone, and underneath the arms, about a hand width from the armpit.25
Image Credit: Chronogram
EFT is practiced by tapping on each meridian point with your fingertips (not fingernails) using gentle pressure while actively thinking about or saying a problem out loud. It does not matter how many fingers are used to tap on these points, but 2 is the most common. Here is an example of a basic tapping sequence:
- “Even though I feel completely drained and burned out from work and my day to day life, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.” While thinking or saying this statement out loud 3 times, you simultaneously tap on the side of your hand.
- Then, take a deep breath in and out and begin tapping about 5-7 times on each of the remaining 8 meridian points while either repeating the same phrase or something shorter like, “I feel so burned out” to help you mentally focus on the issue.
- After this first round of tapping on the “issue” you now begin a second round of tapping, focusing on positive statements, such as “I have faith that my situation at work will get better” or “I believe in myself and I will incorporate more self-care which will help me at work,” etc. There is no right or wrong statement.
You can do as many tapping rounds as possible until you feel a sense of calm wash over you.
The Bottom Line
Even though burnout syndrome is commonly seen in service-related jobs, it can affect anyone working in a traditional or non-traditional work environment (i.e. stay at home parents and working remotely). Feeling burned out from your day to day life is common and should not make you feel “less than” anybody else. The most important aspect of managing burnout is figuring out the root cause and working toward addressing it.
Whether it is defining a more clear time to be “off the clock,” speaking to your managers or HR Department about the importance of “wellness at work” for you, spending more time with your family or friends for some social support, or even spending more alone time with yourself—any or all of these steps may be beneficial. Whatever it is that will benefit YOU is critical for your mental wellness.
Incorporating the above lifestyle modifications is free of cost and can be a great way to improve your well-being. Of course, the combination of the lifestyle changes plus the herbal remedies is a more comprehensive approach to getting your mental health back on track. Remember, whatever you may be feeling, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If practicing these techniques and taking the herbal remedies do not offer as much relief as you had hoped, licensed mental health counselors or your general practitioner are just one phone call away.
About the Author: Julia Dosik, BS, MPH, is a clinical corporate trainer at Life Extension headquarters in South Florida. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology and psychology as well as a Master of Public Health specializing in health education. Julia utilizes a mix of in-person, virtual and written training to educate employees and consumers on how the human body functions and the importance of supplementing with science-backed ingredients. It is her deepest belief that high-quality dietary supplements are fundamental to an individual’s physical and mental well-being.
- World Health Organization. Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. Accessed 3/6/2020. https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/
- Mayo Clinic. Job burnout: How to spot it and take action. Accessed 3/6/2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642
- Mayo Clinic. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Accessed 3/11/2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
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- The Tapping Solution. What is Tapping and How Can I Start Using it? Accessed 3/13/2020.