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  • Writer's pictureScotti McLaren

BURNOUT - Is it all in your head?

What is stress?

Stress implies an adaptive response to any kind of threat – real or perceived. The stress response begins in the brain, which tells the body to respond accordingly.

Evolution has not prepared us for our modern day experience of chronic stress, in which our stressors are relentless, and the stress response doesn’t have the chance to switch off. This has led to the current reality of many of us being completely “stressed-out”.

What is BURNOUT?

Burnout is the state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by chronic, prolonged exposure to stress. Where stress can lead to a feeling of hyperactivity and overwhelm, burnout is a state of inactivity and inability, emptiness, hopelessness, absolute exhaustion.

The impacts are far-reaching, throughout the brain and the body, and recovery can be a long, difficult process. I've been there - and trust me, you don't want to be there.

Stress in the modern world

Everyone has different stressors. Some common stress triggers of our modern world include:

  • Times of uncertainty and insecurity

  • Too much - or not enough - change, activity or work

  • Not having much control over a situation; feeling trapped

  • Unhealthy relationships

  • Social isolation

  • Lack of exercise, or excessive exercise

  • Poor diet

  • Medications, recreational drugs, stimulants

  • Poor health (physical and emotional)

The body is good at adapting to stress. But historically, stress would have been a short-term experience, and we would have recovered and returned to a steady state of relative health. In the modern world, we no longer spend a few hours per day hunting for food. Today, there are multiple sources of relentless stress – we are not wired for this. So it’s not unusual to be in a state of chronic stress.

Isn’t stress all in your head?

No, it’s not. The impacts of stress are experienced throughout the body and the brain (the physiology), as well as the mind (comprised of thoughts and emotions).

Stress begins in the brain. The effects on the brain can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the type of stressor and the duration of exposure to the stressor. Chronic stress can result in changes to nerve structure and function, as well as the death of neurons, which may accelerate the process of brain degeneration.

But the effects of stress reach far beyond the brain. Negative emotional states and responses, once entrenched, may themselves operate as profound psychogenic (physical illnesses that are believed to arise from emotional or mental stressors) sources, contributing to chronic stress response activation – notably, with excessively high cortisol levels, until they plummet with adrenal exhaustion - and adverse neural programming. The impact of these imbalances in the body’s communication between the brain and the nervous / hormonal systems over time can influence other bodily systems.

What about BURNOUT?

Burnout is beyond stress. It is the state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by chronic, prolonged stress. Where stress can be useful when applied to specific, acute circumstances, burnout is a state of collapse, of emptiness, hopelessness and disengagement.

“About a third of workers experience chronic work stress and are "often or very often burned out or stressed" and “identify work as a major source of stress and anxiety.” Psychiatr Serv., 2007

Physically, burnout is characterised by excessively low cortisol levels. The toll on the mind and body is heavy, and recovery can be a long, arduous process.

When addressing burnout, the tremendous physical impacts that can increase the risk of illness and disease are often overlooked.

What can be done?

Nutritional therapy is NOT intended to replace psycho-social support, but rather to work alongside it.

We need to give the brain and the body the opportunity to heal itself. That means creating an environment to enable the brain to engage in its adaptive process and become more resilient.

The food we eat affects every cell in the body. It can be either poison or medicine – choose wisely! A personalised nutritional programme targeting burnout can be used to:

  • Nourish the brain as the hungry organ it is

  • Support the nervous system and hormonal branches of the stress response, and

  • Help the adrenal glands to recover

Healthy lifestyle habits are also instrumental in developing resilience, and key to preventing and addressing burnout.

Nutritional therapy and functional medicine help to unravel the extensive information obtained through a detailed health intake, and functional lab testing, if appropriate. A personalised health assessment and strategy can be tailored to your unique health challenges, history, genetics, constraints and health objectives.

Burnout is no picnic. And it's not all in your mind - it's also in your body.


Scotti McLaren Personalised Nutrition

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