Trying to cope with burnout has become an all too familiar feeling for many. An exacerbated workforce hindered by recruitment challenges has led to high percentages of stress-related sick-leave, while an intense global news agenda is causing long-term cases of anxiety and brain fog among the population.
With more people experiencing this exhaustion than ever, registered nutritionist consultant at Nutrigums, Shona Wilkinson (link to bio on website), explains how to spot the symptoms early and gives her top tips on self-care to prevent physical and mental burnout.
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What is burnout and brain fog?
Brain fog and mental burnout is a growing state of physical and emotional exhaustion. Long-term chronic stress in your job or home-life and lack of work-life balance can contribute to burnout.
There are several common signs and symptoms of burnout, these include: feeling helpless or defeated, short term memory loss, lack of mental clarity, disorganisation or procrastination and poor concentration. In turn, you can also become overly emotional – these symptoms are often referred to as mental fatigue.
With more than 41% of employers looking to adopt hybrid working by 2023, reports imply that many of our professional and personal lives have merged, causing a rapid increase to rising work-related stress levels. Recent research from MetLife UK suggests mental burnout could in fact be costing UK businesses more than £700m a year, as more than two in five employees (44%) admitted to calling in sick because of feeling exhausted, stressed, depressed, overwhelmed and unmotivated in the past year. So-called job burnout is one of the most common forms, brought on by increased workload, stress and fundamental changes to the work environment.
With more of us working from home, we need to be conscious not to blur the boundaries between leisure and work time. Now that socialising with friends and family has made a comeback, we must utilise this time to spark enjoyment and set strong boundaries to break away from work-based screen-time.
The right nutrition is also key when creating an overall happier health outlook, with vitamins and minerals an essential player in creating fewer mood fluctuations and improving our ability to focus.
Burnout prevention and treatment
How to recognise burnout signs and symptoms
Whether you are an employer looking out for employee wellbeing, a colleague or a friend of a family member there are things you can do to identify the signs of burnout early on. Those suffering with mental fatigue often show several signs such as:
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Loss of appetite or a change in eating habits
- Lack of productivity or negative mindset
- Disorganisation or issues with time
- Feelings of anxiety or worry
- Heightened sensitivity or irritability
As an employer, you can create an open dialogue and have in-person conversations – let people know there is a safe space to talk. Offer flexibility in working schedules where possible, understand that not everyone works in the same way and give people time to address personal needs such as parenting commitments.
Consider giving access to relevant tools and resources that can assist with wellbeing, there are a multitude of paid programmes for example Care Coins, but there are also free tools you can access - try charity websites such as Mind and The Sleep Charity, which have helpful guides and helplines that you can use on a daily basis. Offering support through mindfulness apps can also help to combat stress and burnout, combined with regular physical activity.
How can diet prevent mental and physical burnout?
Nutritional deficiencies are often associated with brain fog, so it is important to consider a balanced, healthy diet. What we eat is linked to our overall health and even our sleep can be affected if we aren’t eating correctly – potentially leading to long-lasting effects of burnout and fatigue.
5 essential vitamins you should look to include in your diet:
Fatty fish such as salmon and trout are a rich source in omega-3 fatty acids. Our brains use omega-3s to build brain and nerve cells, with around 60% of our brain made of fat. Omega-3 fats are essential for learning and memory and Omega-3 is proven to boost mood.
Magnesium is necessary for energy production, nerve function and blood pressure regulation. Found in foods such as beans, seeds and spinach. Low magnesium levels are also linked with neurological diseases such as migraines and depression.
B Vitamins & Iron
Those with an iron deficiency can suffer symptoms of brain fog, this is because we need iron to transport oxygen to the body and brain. An over-the-counter vegan supplement is usually a good way to boost your iron and vitamin B levels particularly if you follow a plant-based diet. Pair this with foods which are rich in B vitamins including peanuts, soybeans, oats, bananas, chickpeas and leafy greens to help boost the production of neurotransmitters – chemicals that deliver messages between neurons in the brain and body.
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals. The brain uses a huge amount of oxygen due to its high metabolic activity; this means that the brain is more susceptible to free radical attack than other areas of the body. A free radical attack on brain cells can cause confusion and memory loss, therefore it is imperative to get antioxidants into your diet.
Turmeric is a spice hailed for its antioxidant properties and acts as an anti-inflammatory linked to benefiting the brain in a few ways: its active ingredient curcumin boosts brain cell growth hormones, encourages serotonin and dopamine (mood enhancing hormones) and even benefits memory. You may not get enough of this spice in the meals you eat alone – so a turmeric supplement high in brain boosting ingredients can be implemented.
Techniques to help cope with stress and recover from burnout
It's important to put steps in place to help with combating stress in everyday tasks and to give yourself regular opportunities to recharge your batteries. These techniques can help you to cope with the trials of an intense work schedule and help you to identify things that put you at risk of burnout and lead to mental exhaustion.
Leave your desk and focus your tasks
Rather than thinking of all of the things on your ‘to do’ list, try to focus on three key tasks to complete one day at a time and leave room for micro-breaks away from your desk. A simple break such as this can help us to refocus and reset our energy levels. Try engaging the senses, what can you see, smell, hear? This helps you to become present in the moment.
Take micro-breaks and set boundaries
Set boundaries, remove work WhatsApp’s and emails from your personal phone, and set out of office’s while on annual leave. It is becoming all too common that people are not shutting off after working hours are up.
Focus on the positive
Positive mindsets are sometimes hard to find when you’ve been stuck in a negative cycle for a while, but you can turn stressor situations on their head. Our perspective is often skewed when we suffer from brain fog, so try writing down three positive things from each day and use this time as a period of reflection on seemingly negative situation.
Ask the question: How did you effectively overcome a situation? Did you learn something new? Did you meet a deadline? This thought process can expand and deepen our understanding of a situation which could sometimes be a trigger to stress, helping us to think more positively in the long term.