I hate to throw around the term “burnout”, but after the past year, I think it is wholly appropriate. When we think about managing stress, we generally consider a situation that has a “finite” amount of time: being new at a challenging job, starting college, having an injury, or experiencing a breakup. As difficult as these situations are, our bodies are equipped to manage a pretty decent level of stress–before we start experiencing the physical effects and damage that it creates mentally. The CHRONIC stress of the pandemic, however, has been uncharted waters for all of us, and has led to widespread burnout. When our cortisol levels (our primary stress hormone) are continually elevated we develop inflammation and our immune system becomes impaired. Our digestion slows down, we develop bacterial overgrowth, bloating, leaky gut, food intolerances, insomnia, skin issues, anxiety, weight gain, low libido, and depression–to name a few! But is there ANYTHING we can do? Here are a few helpful tips I use to fight burnout.
Prioritize your food choices! Eat a plant based diet (some animal protein is fine!) and avoid too much caffeine, sugar, processed food, and alcohol. Starting the day with a smoothie is a wonderful way to get protein, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and fiber before you even start work or school. Avoid eating a heavy, late dinner as it disrupts your sleep, and have a “real lunch” with protein, high fiber carbs, and vegetables — no bars or bagels please. Stick to an eating “schedule”, about every 4 hours, and do NOT skip meals. Your body and metabolism function best with breakfast, lunch, a snack, and dinner.
Find time everyday for exercise and things you enjoy. Take a run or walk in the park, read a funny piece of fiction or a thrilling mystery, download a gentle yoga video, try a mediation app on your phone (there are several for beginners), meet a friend outside for a picnic, or call your sister while you’re making dinner. Short 15-20 minute breaks throughout the day will lower your stress level, and probably more likely to happen than signing up for a 60 minute Boot Camp class in another town. Closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths while treating yourself to a manicure is sometimes more valuable than hopping on the Peloton. Be kind to yourself.
Finally, limit and avoid stress whenever possible! How? Turn off the news. If you are folding laundry, turn off the TV and listen to an inspiring podcast. If you are driving, switch the station and put on a favorite playlist, and TURN IT UP! There is too much doom and gloom in the media 24/7 and that is actually something we CAN control. Avoid toxic people who call you to rant about how miserable things are (“Sorry, but I need to hang up and hop on a Zoom”) and don’t let cable news and social media send your cortisol levels skyrocketing. Create some boundaries, set some priorities, and enjoy the benefits.