Burnout prevention and recovery

Burnout prevention and recoveryJanuary 4th, 2022 I got hospitalized for what I thought was a heart attack.

My heart was racing, skipping beats, it felt unpredictable and I couldn’t catch my breath.

As they ran tests it became clear I had tachycardia plus arrhythmia.

Meaning my heart rate would skyrocket from 60bpm to 100bpm cyclically whilst my heart was skipping beats.

The parameters for my burnout were plenty.

It wasn’t one thing but the accumulation of many different factors and areas over the course of a year.

Call it Murphy’s law that took me for a spin on all levels/areas or domains.

This is how a 30-year-old lands in the hospital with a fried nervous system and brain.

The intention here is to mainly address the neuropsychobiological angle, where we talk about stress in the body and brain and what can be done to combat it.

I’ve divided this thread into three topics:

  1. Stress physiology
  2. Prevention
  3. Recovery

This allows anyone to understand and apply the principles so that they either prevent burnout or manage to recover from theirs much quicker.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Stress physiology

First off, stress in and of itself is beneficial. What we are looking at is distress.

The point where the level of stress goes beyond the capacity to constructively deal with it.

Which causes an entire cascade neuropsychobiologically:

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  1. Resource reduction: vasoconstriction (tightening of) blood vessels in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) takes place.
  2. Reducing our capacity to reason, use logic, see options, and solve problems.
  3. Reduction in volume of certain brain parts:

In the PFC and the hippocampus (responsible for memory and learning), shrinking occurs.

Whereas in the amygdala there tends to be an upregulation and possible enlargement. Which deals with threat perception.

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Stress axis disruption:

In the Hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal axis changes occur.

The sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. In the brainstem and adrenal medulla.

Amplification occurs in the limbic system, in the hippocampus-amygdala connection.

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The brain (and nervous system) get Flooded with cortisol and adrenaline.

Cortisol acts o the tissues of almost every part of the body.

This means the brain goes into a sort of survival mode, energy, and resources are prioritized by the limbic system and brain stem.

Making you more instinctive and reactive.

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Neuroinflammation causes more blood vessel restriction and reduced resource flow: electricity, oxygen, neurotransmitters, etc.

Stress also diminishes dopamine receptors, which then, of course, causes another cascade in drive/motivation and reward.

Then there’s the effects on the enteric nervous system which is your gut and digestive system as a whole.

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The image above (thus the research that goes with it) shows us how important organ status is for general well-being and mental health.

Which causes gut permeability, less absorption, and assimilation of resources for neurotransmitters and hormones.

What does this all mean?

  • You stop getting access to higher faculties of cognition:
  • Reduced reason and logic
  • Impaired memory formation and storage
  • Information retrieval issues,
  • Disrupted information processing
  • Lack of self-regulation and self-control
  • Psychological tunnel vision not seeing options + fixation on the problem
  • Brain fog
  • Reactivity
  • Metabolic dysfunction and Digestive issues
  • Sleep quality degradation
  • Loss of motivation and drive

There is a lot of overlap in prevention and recovery.

The main difference is in:

  • Intensity
  • Duration
  • Frequency

So for recovery, I’ll also highlight other tools and practices.

Prevention

  1. Sleep
  2. Stress management
  3. Nutrition
  4. Movement
  5. Sunlight
  6. Hydration
  7. Socialization
  8. Breathwork/meditation

1. SLEEP:

  • This is our main recovery mode, without sleep and its proper cycles + REM and Deep ratios the body and brain won’t be able to recover.
  • My own spiral started with chronic sleep deprivation due to the environment and stress.

2. STRESS MANAGEMENT:

  • Stress management as a whole is in stress control, raising the baseline and the threshold.
  • Control is largely based on getting the neurobiology back on point through a combination of the elements and tools mentioned.
  • Raising the baseline is essentially improving your stress tolerance.
  • Whereas the threshold is the point where one flips from being able to cope constructively to distress and not being able to cope.
  • Decompression and outlet are a part of this, such as making time for hobbies, activities, and time away from stressors.
  • Alongside addressing the nervous system to increase the stress baseline through cold exposure, heat exposure, and controlled hypoxia (reduced volume breathing).

3. NUTRITION:

  • An inflammatory diet is stressful on the body and depletes the very resources we need to recover, fight stress and thrive.
  • Focusing on seasonal and local whole foods, and making sure magnesium intake is high enough to cover your needs.
  • There’s an energy-sensing function in the body like a fuel gauge. It tries to predict energy needs, undereating in a stressed state is also stressful. So our intake either needs to match our energy + resource demand or we change the demand (through stress management practices).
  • Micronutrients are an essential piece in this puzzle, having a micronutrient deficiency is also going to cause cascading issues in your ability to tolerate and recover from stress.

4. MOVEMENT:

  • Strength training, cardio, and sports all have different effects on the brain, mood, and stress levels.
  • Lifting some heavy weights can be cathartic.
  • Finding a proper balance between activities is the very thing that is sustainable and reduces stress rather than adds to it.
  • If highly stressed doing very hard workouts is just adding stress on stress.
  • Feeling out your body in terms of volume, intensity, duration, and frequency becomes even more important.
  • Switching to Tai chi, Yoga, or Chi gong would be a way to have the benefits of movement without the stress response that can come with heavy lifting.


5. SUNLIGHT

  • Highly important for our health, mood, and thus our ability to cope with stress.
  • Seeing sunlight directly and indirectly stimulates our hormones and neurotransmitters it’s a full-spectrum panacea to combat stress.
  • Not just sunlight but nature (natural landscapes) also have a calming effect on the nervous system.

6. HYDRATION:

  • A big part of the resources of our brain, even slight dehydration tends to have detrimental effects on cognitive function.
  • Adding in electrolytes goes a long way in keeping our brain well-supplied.
  • Dizziness and headaches are common symptoms of dehydration and/or micronutrient deficiency.

7. SOCIALIZATION:

  • Spending time with people that provide a constructive, safe, and relaxing environment is a main lever for the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Our relationships also allow us to release endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin all of which combat stress.

8. BREATHWORK/MEDITATION

  • Oxygen is another big resource for the brain. Increasing intake and transport goes a long way to improve cognitive function.
  • The oxygen-carbon dioxide balance/ratio is a hugely overlooked and underrated factor in brain health and stress tolerance.
  • Meditation also changes the activity and size of certain parts of the brain and thus makes us more stress resilient.

Recovery

  • All of the above obviously need addressing.
  • However, when you’re at rock bottom the energy-sensing part of your brain and body signals empty.
  • I knew all of the things, did them for years and still barely managed my basics.
  • My hormones and neurotransmitters were at such a low production level that I needed some outside help.
  • The first one was seeing a functional neurologist.

Functional neurology

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@vision4body

  • He addressed a lot of the lagging parts of my brain.
  • Stimulated the understimulated parts and downregulated the overactive parts.
  • Through the uses of lasers, eye stimulation, and electrical stimulation, which all have different effects on the brain, he got me back on track.

Massages

  • Massages were another saving grace for my nervous system to recover.
  • Reflexology and or acupuncture can also provide some benefits.

Avoiding stimulants

  • With a nervous system on the fritz, the last thing you need is more external pressure on it and the organs.
  • We need cortisol and naturally produce and release occurring to our circadian cycle (day/night rhythm).
  • With chronically elevated cortisol there comes a point where it “runs out”.
  • Or rather it drops below baseline production because the entire organism is empty and depleted.
  • When cortisol production drops off it needs to naturally recover for it to get back to normal levels.
  • Most people “combat” this by using stimulants but then get a crash either at the end of the day or after a few days of pushing the body beyond its point of exhaustion.

Time

  • It takes the time it takes for physiology/biology/neurobiology to recover.
  • Patience and trusting the process saw me through the whole ordeal and being grateful for every moment I didn’t feel like a wrung-out rag.
  • It can take much longer for people to recover when all of the before mentioned tools are not being used or considered.

Conclusion

Burnout has many factors and this is one avenue of perspective and approach.

Although the fundamentals extend into or to other angles as well because biology and neurobiology obey certain “laws”, like the need for adequate micronutrients.

I like to cover all the bases (or layers) when speaking, addressing, and approaching complex things like burnout and stress.

If you’re interested in creating an optimal approach to dealing with stress for yourself book a call with me here or send me DM.


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