As the new year begins, the desire to leave old habits behind and start fresh can be strong. But if you are experiencing feelings of overwhelm with daily tasks, it may be a struggle to focus on personal growth. If the phrase “new year, new you” feels more daunting than exciting, then this article is for you.More of us than ever are experiencing burnout, with Millennial and Gen Z women among the hardest hit. Rather than forcing resolutions, perhaps it’s time for a check-in. The new year may instead offer the contrast point you need to reflect: are you experiencing normal off days or could you be burning out?
DEFINING BURNOUT AND IDENTIFYING THE SIGNS
Someone who is exhausted stops ASAP. While someone who is burnt out keeps going, continuously performing the same draining role for a very long time.
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger first recognised burnout as a psychological condition in 1974, one that relates to the “physical and mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.”
It is sometimes mistaken as mere physical and emotional exhaustion, but it’s more than that. Fatigue and exhaustion are cues to stop, and a healthy person stops when they feel it, while someone who is burnt out will continuously perform the same draining role or tasks well past their limits.
Personality traits, lifestyle, and work-related causes such as these, may be signs of burnout:
- Changes in sleep patterns and appetite
- Loss of interest or pleasure and becoming increasingly cynical
- Frequent illness
- Feeling tired or drained most of the time, despite a good night’s sleep
- Feeling overwhelmed and struggling with basic to-dos
- Increased self-doubt and procrastination
- Feeling detached and alone in the world
In a poll among working UK adults conducted by Mental Health UK and YouGov in 2021, it was concluded that gender and age are big factors in the prevalence of UK workers’ stress, with women and young people being more prone to extreme stress and pressure.
BURNOUT AMONGST MILLENNIALS & GEN Z
59% of millennials and 58% of Gen Z workers are burnt out... the highest rates of burnout compared to other generations.
*According to a 2021 survey by Indeed, a jobs website
Millennials have a reputation for being entitled and lazy, but how is this true when millennials are working all the time? Anne Helen Peterson, American culture writer and journalist, makes several points about millennial burnout in her article and book in what she calls “The Burnout Generation”:
- The more work millennials do, the more efficient they are, and the worse their jobs become
- They put up with companies who treat them poorly because they don’t see other options
- Comparison to unachievable norms social media that suggest a ‘perfect’ example of work-life balance, leading them to attempt the same, and ultimately feel they fall short
- The generation “killed” a few traditional industries and replaced them with faster and easier ones, allowing for more time to work
Peterson emphasises that working harder is ingrained in the minds of millennials as an attempt to achieve the same standards as their parents, assuming that the to-do list will become more manageable one day and that they will eventually thrive.
On the other hand, Gen Z experiences the “worst collection of stressors” in comparison to other workers as noted by psychotherapist Kim Hollingdale, specialising in burnout recovery:
- Less sense of personal power due to their age and the pressure of ‘hustle culture’
- Financial instability despite needing more money for their bills and future due to inflation, higher graduation debt and rising cost of living, causing 70% of Gen Z to consider taking on more side projects (Microsoft Work Trend Index, 2022)
- Constant screen time at an average of 4 and a half hours on social media daily, making it difficult to ignore work notifications that may pop up
And lastly, isolation from other workmates, with 80% of Gen Z respondents in a 2021 British survey reporting feeling more burnt out since the pandemic because they are only familiar with remote or hybrid work
BURNOUT AMONGST WOMEN AND THE SUPERWOMAN MYTH
The expectation of being a “superwoman” makes women feel like failures for not doing enough – creating anxiety and burnout.
Millennial burnout is a totally different story amongst women with families because they perform the labour of a job in their workplace and then often do the labour of a homemaker when they get home. That doesn’t just mean the typical household chores, but the planning and “mental load” that also comes with it.
The toxic culture for women of trying to do it all, adapted by Millennials and Gen Z, dates back to the feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s with what is now known as the “Superwoman Myth”. The superwoman has everything: the career, the fabulous friend group, the perfect relationship, the qualities of a great mum, and the 'perfect' body – the impossible ideal.
She emerged as a way to celebrate the progress that women had made in achieving equal rights and opportunities, and to inspire them to continue to strive for success in all areas of their lives -a helpful tool at the time. We now know it contributes to feelings of inadequacy and burnout - and yet, it continues to be a pervasive cultural ideal, appearing in our daily lives on social media as the standard we associate with “successful women” and what to strive for.
Debora Spar, President of Barnard College and author of the book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection says, “Every professional woman we see on TV is a wonder woman doing things real people don’t pull off so easily in real life.” The expectation of being a “superwoman” causes many women to create distance from others and themselves as well as trigger shame when living outside the mythical standard.
Not feeling or believing oneself to be good enough, fears of not doing enough and of failure may drive us to seek the approval of others, perceived authority figures and peers. This often goes hand-in-hand with self-abandoning behaviours that contribute to burnout:
AWARENESS OF THE BEHAVIOURS CONTRIBUTING TO BURNOUT
- Pleasing and perfectionism
- Overworking, putting work and non-nourishing commitments before self-care
- Having poor boundaries and difficulty saying no
These behaviours may appear in various forms such as being overly affected by unrealistic social media, using distorting filters, sharing ideal body and success-oriented imagery despite feeling otherwise, doing thankless work or being bitter for over stretching yourself in a social or family dynamic and even, having sex when you may not really want it to please a partner.
When we begin to experience burnout, we may emotionally isolate ourselves yet continue on a path of doing too much, missing the body’s signs that enough is enough. This is a form of self abandonment and can lead to frequent illness, ovulatory and menstrual cycle disturbances, affecting fertility, anxiety, loneliness and exhaustion. The far end of the spectrum of chronic exhaustion and continuing past the body’s signals is what leads to burnout.
HOW DO YOU RECOVER FROM BURNOUT?
Peterson mentions, “The best way to treat it is to first acknowledge it for what it is — not a passing ailment, but a chronic disease.”
While trying to “do it all” may be toxic, Author, speaker and human emotion researcher Brené Brown argues that there is a much more rewarding super power to strive for instead: vulnerability. Although intimidating, research shows vulnerability leads to greater empathy and connection.
It is precisely the thing that lets others in when we need them most, like when we are exhibiting patterns that are leading to burnout, or perhaps already there. Reaching out, sharing how you are feeling in a safe space, with trusted friends or a qualified professional, like your doctor or a mental health professional is vulnerability in action when in or approaching burnout. It may be the vital first step to acceptance that your body is crying our for help, and to give yourself the permission to be helped and to help yourself.
BURNOUT & YOUR HORMONES
“Your cycle is like a printout of what happened to you hormonally and emotionally.”
During burnout, hormonal imbalance is common. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, are elevated, leading to muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, and what burnout is often referred to as – ‘adrenal fatigue’ though it is not strictly adrenal and therefore this commonly used term in the holistic space, may be misleading. When a person is stressed, adrenal glands release cortisol, and as stress rises, it’s possible that the adrenal glands are overworked and there is not enough cortisol to keep up.
As fertility expert Lisa Hendrickson-Jack recently said on a SABI favourite, the Get Pregnant Naturally Podcast with Sarah Clark, “your period is like a printout of what happened to you hormonally and emotionally that month”. Burnout is a lot to have happening so, ovulation and period disruptions may also occur leading to irregular, heavy, or missed periods with worse (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), delayed or no ovulation, as a protective mechanism to the body.
In addition to these cycle-related symptoms, stress and burnout can also have other effects on women's hormones. For example, stress can disrupt the balance of hormones that regulate appetite, such as ghrelin and leptin, leading to changes in appetite and weight.
Burnout can also disrupt the balance of hormones that regulate mood, such as serotonin and dopamine, leading to symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, low mood, and loss of pleasure in activities that were previously enjoyable.
There may also be a cascading effect of poor sleep and sleep hormone disruption becoming a vicious cycle, but ensuring sound sleep and addressing recovery with the following dietary and lifestyle changes are the foundational building blocks essential to recovery.
BURNOUT RECOVERY DIET, SUPPLEMENTS, AND SLEEP ROUTINE
Diet, especially when your body is already in crisis, has a significant impact on your well-being, burnout recovery, and proper functionality of your adrenal glands.
FOODS TO AVOID
- Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and soda, and alcoholic beverages
- Foods high in sugar such as candy, sweet desserts, and soda
- White flour, which quickly converts to sugar
- Processed foods that have preservatives, fillers, and artificial food colouring
All of these can increase inflammation and exacerbate symptoms of burnout.
FOODS TO EAT
- Protein-filled meals and snacks such as nuts, seeds, and beans
- Gluten-free grains and seeds like wild rice or quinoa, if you have inflammatory reactions to gluten
- Fresh, whole foods usually found at your local farmer’s market as they are nutrient-dense and free of preservatives
- Lots of water to flush out unwanted chemicals and prevent dehydration, which can influence stress levels and make an already stressed body more sensitive to exhaustion or headaches
When under a lot of stress, it is common to skip meals, however, equally important to what you eat is when you eat it. This is NOT the time to practise intermittent, juice or water fasting. Inconsistencies may cause your adrenal glands to work harder, creating spikes in cortisol and overtaxing your system. A regular routine to consistently fuel your body prevents fatigue and is essential in healing chronic fatigue.
Consistent nutritious meals and even healthy snacks throughout the day can make all the difference at maintaining your energy levels. This is key: a metabolism-boosting breakfast or lunch as your largest meal, dinner as your lightest, and balanced snacks in between if needed. Practising mindfulness while eating may also help reduce stress.
NUTRIENTS TO CONSUME
Vitamins C, E, and all B which have crucial roles in the production of cortisol
– Vitamin C: Colourful fruits and vegetables
– Vitamin E: Almonds, seeds, avocados
– Vitamin B6: Tuna, salmon, trout, liver, and beans
- Magnesium for adrenal energy, sound sleep and relaxation: Dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, dark chocolate with no or low-glycemic sugar like coconut or palm sugar, and magnesium baths.
- Calcium: Dairy, soy, spinach and sesame seeds (tahini and hummus)
- Iodine: Iodised sea salt, seafood, sea vegetables
- Zinc: Beef, lamb, turkey, fresh oysters
TOP SUPPLEMENTS & HERBAL REMEDIES FOR BURNOUT
In some cases, diet is not enough to get all the nutrients you need, so taking supplements and herbal remedies may also contribute to improvement.
Based on the essential nutrients to include in your adrenal fatigue diet, vitamin C, omega-3s, vitamin B-complex, and magnesium can be taken as supplements together with your meals. Not only as a supplement, magnesium can be dropped in herbal drinks such as the SABI Herbata intense herbal infusions and can even be applied transdermally as magnesium full-body baths or foot baths with therapeutic doses of magnesium sulphates in water are best absorbed this way by the body and avoid possible digestive upset.
Additionally, these are some adaptogens and natural substances that can all be used to better manage stress, most of which have other accompanying uses:
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) - Also known as ‘Indian Ginseng’, this has been used in Indian medicine for thousands of years to also ease inflammation, pain, treat insomnia, and boost nutrition (not to be consumed if you are allergic or sensitive to nightshades like paprika or aubergine, it’s in the same family!)
- Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) - An aromatic flowering plant of the mint family that can also help address high blood sugar and balance mood.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS) - Can help lower cortisol
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) - A flowering herb also called ‘arctic root’ that grows in gold regions of Europe and Asia, used for centuries to treat anxiety and depression. We love this combined with omega-3, making a powerful combo.
- Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) - Commonly referred to as ‘true Ginseng’ and used in traditional Chinese medicine for other various preventative uses such as immunity and cognition
IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP & SELF-CARE
Consuming a balanced diet is just one step towards burnout recovery. Combining it with a healthy sleep schedule, physical activity, and other lifestyle changes can make results better. Don’t assume you can catch up on sleep overnight, it's a myth – practise a sacred nighttime routine to send yourself off in a deep slumber. We recommend:
- Saying goodnight to your electronics because its strong blue light will keep your mind and system stimulated for up to 30 mins after
- Stretching and performing yoga poses such as the Butterfly pose, Head to knees, Legs up on the wall, and Bridge pose
- Meditating and deep breathing, accompanied by calming music
- And drinking a calming non-caffeinated herbal tea to induce sleep
Following a bedtime routine may reduce late night stress and anxiety, enable your body to relax, refresh you for the next day, and prevent burnout.
To know more about self-care, meaningful learnings can be picked up from this vulnerable and therapeutic Netflix documentary, where leading psychiatrist Dr. Phil Stutz discusses what he calls the ‘Life Force Model’ and says, “take care of your body, take care of your people, take care of yourself. Once you do, figuring out how to move forward becomes much, much easier.”
More motivation can also be found from the work of Jordan Peterson – thought leader, clinical psychologist, and victim of extreme depression himself. He highlights the importance of taking care of yourself first before helping the world and making sure you are treating yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. In fact, this is his rule #2 from his book, ‘12 Rules For Life’, and continues to advocate self-care through podcasts and inspiring videos.
A quick self-assessment can be done by comparing what you personally experience with the signs mentioned in this post.
Talking to your doctor is an important first step to treatment, especially when deciding on making any changes in your diet, supplements and lifestyle.
Wishing you a healthier year ahead. It is time to put you at the top of your to-do list._________________________________________
HORMONAL & PROUD
Created as a brand to help women navigate the toughest moments in pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum — and practically every stage of life, the SABI aims to change the narrative around our hormones from one of taboo, embarrassment and loneliness, to awareness and even pride. Much more than a wellness brand, SABI offers a carefully crafted line of products to carry you through your hormonal journey; a set of rituals, supportive tools, and ancient herbal remedies that have been tested time and again by women and now, backed by medicine. SABI is a blend of science and nature conceived by women who have experienced the joys and deep implications of bringing a child into the world or the pains of a heavy and difficult period, miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.
Here is an invitation to get to know your body and its cycles better and to really understand what is going on inside. Learn to use your hormonal cycle to your advantage no matter your stage of life, and know that you can always support and balance your hormone levels. Look for the right sources of information, know that there is help, and know that you’re supported.
Nikka is a copywriter and Associate Creative Director by day and singer-songwriter by night, based in Manila, Philippines. From creating commercials under an agency, she transitioned to independently collaborating with different people within the music community, as well as organisations in the area of social development, and now entering the beauty and wellness space with the SABI. Walking her dog +food trips + film photography are her favourite pastimes.
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