By Ashleigh Austen
No matter where you are in the world, the past 18 months has been a challenging time by anyone’s standards.
Sure, stress is an everyday occurrence for most people, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has not found navigating the pandemic increasingly stressful. It has also given rise to another term: burnout.
While stress is characterised by over-engagement, overactive emotions, hyperactivity and actions of urgency, it can be easily recognised by most of us.
Burnout, on the other hand, is more than often caused by a period of long, unrelenting stress without a break to recuperate and is harder to recognise yourself.
“Burnout is characterised by disengagement, loss of motivation, being overwhelmed, lowered vitality and a feeling of helplessness when you are drowning in responsibilities,” explains Registered Nutritionist Madeleine Vella.
“When treating burnout, you are looking to focus on your mental and adrenal exhaustion as well as boosting your mood. Whereas when treating stress, the aim is to calm the body down and allow for the body to recuperate to be able to more effectively manage a high-stress or highly demanding environment.”
And while burnout, in particular, requires a multi-point approach to treatment, Vella says switching up your diet is a good place to start.
“Opting for an array of fruits, lean meat and vegetables that contain high levels of B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium that assist in energy production within the body as well as maintaining stress levels, fighting fatigue, supporting mental stamina and boosting mood. Foods high in zinc, folate, iodine and copper ensure healthy neurotransmitter synthesis as well as adrenal and thyroid gland health.
Protein sources such as chicken, tuna, eggs, turkey, peanuts and pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter necessary to balance mood. Fatty fish such as salmon, as well as avocado, olive oil and flaxseed, are high in omega 3. These foods are also anti-inflammatory, necessary for brain health and have mood-boosting properties.”
Surprisingly, adding some high-quality sea salt to your meals (if you do not suffer from high blood pressure) is also a great source of minerals and electrolytes. Cortisol regulates sodium homeostasis, so when your cortisol is low, which is common in adrenal fatigue, there tends to be a lower salt retention in the body.
Ensuring you are adequately hydrated is also important. You could add in a supplement like The Beauty Chef’s Adaptogen Inner Beauty Boost to encourage meeting your daily water intake which also contains adaptogenic herbs ashwagandha and holy basil to help recharge your energy, combat tiredness and assist in psychological/neurological function.
“It’s also worth noting you should avoid intermittent fasting during these times. It is important to maintain your blood sugar levels and glucose availability throughout the day from when you wake up to when you go to sleep. Opt for smaller, nutritious meals spread more frequently throughout the day. Ensuring you have a good quality source of fat, protein and low GI carbohydrates in every meal will allow a steady stream of energy supply all day,” Vella explains.
And foods to avoid that can perpetuate symptoms of stress and burnout? Caffeine and alcohol, as well as simple sugars and highly processed foods that are very quickly converted to energy sources.
“These are very quickly digested to produce an immediate burst of energy, followed by a crash of fatigue.”