The Trouble with Burning Out...

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One of the commonest things we see at the clinic is burn out. Also known as adrenal fatigue (not recognised in conventional medicine). When presented to your regular doctor, most people are given a sick note to take time off work; antidepressants is a common crutch plus the advice to take it easy.

“Take a holiday!”

Easier said than done. After all, in today’s world, one big cause of burnout is overworking and money constraints. So taking time out is quite a tough option. Especially if you are the responsible type and understand that by you taking time out, others get the brunt of your workload. Not an ideal situation. This is worse when the buck stops with you.

So, does traditional management work? Yes, certainly to an extent. Rest is highly important and time away gives one the right perspective and a better ability to prioritise. It also clears the mind and hence performance is enhanced. So you end up working smarter, not harder. Most people notice that their performance and work enjoyment increases after a break.

What about antidepressants? This does make a difference. I’m not a huge fan of it but nevertheless, there is a place for it. Especially when burnout causes other symptoms like raised anxiety, difficulty falling and maintaining sleep; anger, depression and a feeling of helplessness or lack of control over one’s life. To boil things down to the very basics- antidepressants numbs a person. This means that nothing feels as bad as it potentially would. This is a very useful crutch and should not be underestimated. It buys time until your body has healed enough to take over. The danger is a reliance on antidepressants for too long.

So what is it that we do, as functional and hormonal practitioners, that make our approach different from conventional medicine? The clue is in the underlined sentence above. We go to the root of the problem and help the body heal itself; therefore speeding up recovery. I also use this approach to prevent getting to a burnt out state; or in some extreme high stress situations, to delay getting there (not ideal but life is life).

We deal with the ‘burning out’ of the adrenals, which are small glands above the kidneys that release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol amongst others. A normal reaction of stress hormone (cortisol) release is excessive production when you are stressed, to cope with the increased demands on the body. When this happens consistently over a prolonged period of time, something happens. The body now goes into a state where it cannot produce enough cortisol to meet demand. At this point, you now start producing too little cortisol, contrary to popular believe. During a burn out, you produce too little to be useful. This is when you feel the need to crawl under the duvet, turn the lights off, sleep or to try to sleep and shut the world off. This is the body’s way of trying to heal the glands, so that it is able to once again produce cortisol in the right quantity to deal with your body’s needs.

This phenomenon happens to other glands too- the most commonly known of which is the pancreas which produces insulin. Early stages of diabetes signifies a problem with too much insulin release. These people need tablets to manage their sugar intake and keep their insulin low. Late stage diabetics need insulin injections. Because they now have the opposite problem where the excessive demand on the gland has caused it to burn out and the body can no longer produce enough insulin to meet demand.

We manage adrenal fatigue or impending fatigue with the right adrenal support and hormones where necessary. This will be covered in another blog. We also educate our patients so that they can see the signs and know when to self manage because that it the end goal- for you to understand your body to such an extent that you can read what your body is trying to tell you.

One problem with this- and the reason for writing this blog- is that when we most need help is when we are at our highest point in stress and time constraints and when we are most liable to forget these principles. We forget to utilise the support. I see this again and again. This blog is a reminder that when things get tough and you need a little guidance and for someone else to steer the boat- reach out for practitioners such as ourselves. We are in a position to help your body help itself. Don’t get to burn out. Its really not worth it. It takes a really long time to heal once you’re burnt out. Don’t do that long run or that very tiring HIIT session. Just rest, be lazy, day dream, order take out if need be (short term only) and allow yourself to just be. Which reminds me, I need to take my adrenal support now….


Low Blood Pressure- Is your doctor right in congratulating you?

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The number of people I see in the past few years who have low blood pressure has increased drastically. The general consensus is that its better than high blood pressure. In fact, you'll probably be congratulated for 'achieving' this desirable status and asked about your secret.

I was one of these people up to about a year ago. I had lowish blood pressure (normal is 120/80 mmHg). This was without effort. I used to be really proud of the number. I think it ranged from about 105-110 systolic (the big number) and 60-65 diastolic (the small number). After all, only marathon runners and athletes have it. Therefore I must be as fit right?

The problem was:

  • I hardly ever exercised
  • My diet was ok but not great (the usual half-hearted attempt at lowish fat calorie control)
  • I was getting out of shape and fatter
  • My energy levels were lower and my stamina was down
  • I did not however get faints as it never went that low

So why was it low? To me, especially during some really stressful periods of my life- a point where I felt that I may go into high blood pressure with all the stress- it seemed to indicate that at least something was going right. I took a lot of comfort in it.

Fast forward a few years- my blood pressure has now normalised.

So what's the story?

Low blood pressure is a very common symptom of adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are in charge of a lot of things. One of the most important functions is its ability to modulate our stress hormones ie releasing hormones when the need arises. One important hormone that it releases is cortisol. This is our body's own steroid hormone. In evolutionary terms, when we see a lion, huge amounts of cortisol and adrenalin gets released- enough to make us perform feats we normally can't like climbing a tree or out-running the lion!

However, these days, life's a bit different. We are not usually subjected to 'lion' like situations. Its more a case of a really old disabled lion trying to attack us and won't go away ie we have to constantly pay attention and walk just quick enough so that it can't attack us but be vigilant at all times. This is modern chronic stress. 

With luck, our bodies may eventually (in 1000 years maybe) learn coping mechanisms to deal with it. But in the meantime, if your blood pressure is constantly low and has been for awhile, your life is relatively stressful, you are not an athlete and there's frankly no reason that your blood pressure should be low; you may have adrenal fatigue.

There's a lot of information about it online and some very good books, my favourite being Dr. J Wilson's book  'Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome'

  • Some other signs to look out for:
  • Cravings for both sugary and salty foods
  • A mid-afternoon low
  • Constant tiredness
  • Feeling 'low'
  • Recurrent infections or picking up every bug out there
  • Sleep is not as restorative
  • A need for stimulants ie coffee, red bull, tea, fizzy drinks etc

Is there anything you can do about it? Yes, quite a bit. I will talk about this in more detail over the next few months. In the meantime, do google and read about it. Not many practitioners understand or even accept that it exists but for those who suffer from it, its very, very real.