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Why burnout affects women the most

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

I often hear my female clients say, they just want to feel like themselves again, but no matter how hard they try, they are just utterly exhausted, they say it's as though their brain isn't working. There's often the accompanying symptoms such as

Insomnia, Anxiety, PMS that lasts for 2 weeks, And the lack of motivation to do anything, let alone exercise They say they felt better when they were super stressed because at least they were “slim”, but now they can't shift the weight and feel fat and worthless. I hear this all the time. It's no surprise considering we're operating on a 24 hour daily schedule. While this is what society dictates (and it works well for men), women would be better off following an infradian rhythm in sync with her individual 28-ish day cycle (give or take) Unlike men, we don't have a daily testosterone peak to jolt us into action stations, but we do have certain times in the month that are meant to be more productive than others. I will post more about this and the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle in coming weeks, but this post is explaining how stress affects the body when we're living beyond our means While we do have natural coping strategies in place to help us deal with stress we often end up pushing ourselves beyond our means in order to be the best mother, daughter, wife, employee, teacher, boss, friend ect. Being there for others is just what women do and sometimes life just throws curve balls

Our physiological coping system is termed 'General adaptation syndrome' (GAS) and it explains what happens to the body during stress. There are 3 stages, each with particular symptoms that can help us identify what stage you are in and what treatment to use.

During the initial stage of stress the body releases cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline (from the adrenal glands), resulting in the traditional “fight, flight or freeze” response (alarm stage).

If stress continues the body uses the high cortisol levels to release stored energy, which initially helps the body physically resist the stressor. However, when levels remain elevated for an ongoing period of time the effects can be detrimental to most systems of the body. The symptoms of chronic elevated cortisol are - feeling tired but wired, weight loss, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety (resistance stage).

In the final stage of stress adaption the adrenal gland is prompted to significantly decrease cortisol production as a protective measure. This is what is known to be adrenal fatigue or burnout and is now recognised by the World Health Organisation. Burnout technically refers to an occupational context. I would argue that stress does the same thing to the body whether it's caused by work or something else (but who am I to argue these things). It generally hits those of us who have high standards the hardest. Those perfectionist traits can be very self-sacrificing in susceptible individuals.

How to evaluate Burnout?

It is possible to assess adrenal function via symptoms. However a more accurate picture can be seen from a salivary or blood hormone and cortisol test available through your Naturopath.

Potential treatment

Naturopathy can support adrenal function through diet and supplementation. Of course, addressing the cause of burnout is important so we can support you to make the necessary lifestyle changes to bring more balance into your life.

Lifestyle tips to restore adrenal function

  • Sleep -  at least 8 hours are needed to properly support adrenal repair

  • Limit blue light and turn screens 1 hour before bedtime.

  • Up the ante on self care - massage, bath with magnesium salts, gentle exercise, and schedule relaxation time

  • Learn to say no - try not to feel pressured to do “everything” that is asked of you.

  • Finally, find a good Naturopath for a proper assessment and to help support you back to health

Nutritional Supplementation

  • There are specific vitamins and minerals that that support adrenal function including the B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and various trace minerals.

  • Adaptogens have long been used to assist the body to cope with stress. They can either lower or raise cortisol levels depending on the stage of GAS. Some favorites include: rhodiola, ashwaganda, schisandra, rehmania and liquorice.

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