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Five stress management strategies to prevent burnout

We juggle many responsibilities and face all kinds of stress on a daily basis. It’s unavoidable. While a certain level of stress is good for us and motivates us to take action, too much of it over long periods of time can have a negative effect on our mind and body. This type of stress is known as ‘chronic stress.’

Chronic stress overloads our brain receptors with excessive amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can wreak havoc on our brain and subsequently, our body. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to a variety of health issues including anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, digestive problems and insomnia. In other words, how you manage stress can also have an effect on your life expectancy and quality. So we would do well to equip ourselves with ways to manage stress.

To do that, we first need to redefine our understanding of stress. Most people associate stress only with psychological or emotional distress. But stress is anything that changes our body’s balance or regulation of hormones. This includes sleep deprivation or irregular sleeping patterns, lack of exposure to sunlight, inflammation and infections, and chemicals in our food or environment.

One type of stress that’s becoming increasingly common is adrenal fatigue or better known as ‘burnout.’ This refers to a state of adrenal depletion and usually occurs when we aren’t able to recover from chronic stress. When that happens, the body has more difficulty stabilising blood-glucose levels, and fighting inflammation or infections.

Here are a few warning signs of a potential burnout:

  • Physical fatigue
  • Emotional fatigue and decreased emotional resilience
  • Cravings for sugar or salt (Adrenal glands manage our sugar control and electrolyte balance)
  • Fluctuating blood glucose and low blood pressure 
  • Trouble sleeping and waking up feeling unrested
  • Depression
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Low sex drive
  • Increased severity of allergic response

The good news is that there are a number of things we can do to neutralise stress and help our body recover from its ill effects. Here are a few stress management strategies:

  1. Take time-out for purposeful relaxation. No matter how much or how little solitude you have in a day, be sure to make it count. Rather than spending your precious recovery time on catching up on emails, chatting on the phone or scrolling through social media, use your time for quiet contemplation, visualisation or meditation. These three activities have been scientifically proven to facilitate better recovery from stress. 
  2. Move your body. Regular exercise is one of the best habits you can adopt to manage your stress levels and improve your mental performance. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you choose, as long as you stay active. 
  3. Get plenty of sleep. During sleep the brain cleanses and detoxifies itself and your body rejuvenates and recovers from daily stress. Aim for no less than seven hours of sleep each night. 
  4. Support yourself with good nutrition. A well-nourished body can better cope with stress so be mindful of what you eat. The brain and the nervous system are especially fond of:
    - Quality fats such as DHA, a long chain omega-3 fatty acid, a critical nutrient for brain cell function found in cold-water fatty fish, shellfish, cod liver oil, algae, walnuts and sunflower seeds.
    - Unprocessed complex carbohydrates for steady fuel supply.
    - Hydration; the brain is 60 per cent water.
    - Adequate protein for neurotransmitter production.
    - Vitamin B12 and choline found in eggs.

  5. Be mindful of stimulants. A high caffeine intake can push your adrenals into overdrive, making it even more difficult for your body to regulate stress.

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