Posted by: Lauren Hill
Date: 08 March 2021
Category: Insight
3 minute read

How to survive burnout at work

Workplace burnout has been defined by the World Health Organisation as an occupational phenomenon, not a medical condition. Burnout results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. So what exactly is burnout at work, and how can you recognise the signs?

Burnout is characterised by the following:

  • Trouble getting to sleep and/or waking up throughout the night.
  • Using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better, cravings for sweet and salty foods.
  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, suffering from brain fog.
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
  • Reduced professional efficacy.
  • Burnout is experienced differently in people, and can, therefore, be difficult to identify in the early stages, but if several of the above criteria ring true, it is worth considering.


How the stress response works

The stress response in humans is a fight or flight response reflecting the needs of our ancestors to either stay and fight the lion, or run as fast as possible away from it. We are no longer faced with these dangers, but our stress response remains the same, meaning work stress will produce the same mechanism in our bodies.

When we experience stress, the hormone cortisol (stress hormone) is released as is glucose. Glucose is used by the muscles enabling the physical ability to fight or flight. This is not always a bad thing if it happens occasionally, as it enables us to deal with intense situations, and if it’s short-lived the body adapts very quickly back to a rest state. However, if the stress is ongoing and not well managed, the body will continue to release cortisol which can lead to burnout and a continuous blood sugar spike, which can cause weight gain, diabetes, and mood disorders.

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Recognising the signs of burnout at work

The first step is to learn how to manage stress and balance the blood sugar. If stress is unavoidable at this point in time, know your options in terms of supplements that will support your body so you can keep performing.

Mental strategies

Managing stress to avoid emotional burnout at work is easier said than done but like anything, it’s something that takes practice, and practice means you will fail multiple times. Keep going back to these steps again and again and eventually, they will become a habit.

Try this effective breathing exercise: breathing in for 5 seconds and holding for 5 and then breathing out for 5, increasing this to 6 seconds over time.

  • Set goals for what must get done and what can wait.
  • Place your concerns into two categories; the ones you can control and the ones that are out of your control. Focus on what you can control.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Explore programs that can help with stress such as yoga, meditation, or tai chi. Facing situations with openness and patience and without judgment, this will change how you react to things.
  • Seek support. Whether you reach out to coworkers, friends, or loved ones, support, and collaboration could help you cope.
  • Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress. It can also take your mind off work.
  • Get some sleep. Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health.


Physical strategies to avoid burnout at work

Because the blood sugar is elevated when stressed, it causes mood swings, cravings, and weight gain, it’s important to manage blood sugar, and this can easily be achieved through food.

Avoid snacking and eat 3 regular meals per day. Every meal should include healthy fats and protein. Fat such as avocado, olive oil, seeds, and nuts together with protein such as chicken or salmon don’t raise the blood sugar, and in addition, they slow the uptake of sugar from carbohydrates into the blood.

Reduce refined carbohydrates such as white bread, rice, noodles, cakes, and sugary drinks. Only have complex carbohydrates such as red rice, brown bread, and root vegetables in moderation. Avoid eating sugary snacks, reduce wine and coffee, and don’t eat after dinner.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation that cannot be helped and the stress is unavoidable if the stress is ongoing adaptogens are a great treatment and support for the body.

Adaptogens are a category of herbs that have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions for helping the body adapt to prolonged stress. Adaptogens have been very useful in modern times due to their ability to exert an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental work capacity.  Examples of adaptogens are Ashwagandha,  Chinese ginseng, American ginseng and Siberian ginseng

Finally, stress has been shown to increase the gut permeability (leaky gut) and alter the gut microbiome (reduce the good bacteria and increase the bad) which in turn will weaken the immune system. It is important through times of stress to look after the gut and feed it pre and probiotics to maintain a healthy microbiome and strong gut lining. 80% of your immune system resides in the gut, and when the gut is functioning optimally your health is too.


Author: Pernille Jensen / The Gut Co.

Pernille Jensen is a Naturopath and Clinical Nutritionist with over 10 years of experience. Pernille has dedicated her life to researching gut issues, as she truly believes everything begins in the gut; disease as well as health.


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Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases.

Burnout, Psychology Today

What is Burnout?

Why Do We Crave Sweets When We’re Stressed?

Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity

Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity

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