- Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND is a trailblazer in identifying and treating burnout, understanding work-life integration, and living a purpose filled life.
- The signs of burnout include not waking up rested, being easily irritable, a mid-afternoon crash, craving sugar/ salt + more.
- Sleep, movement, nutrition, and happiness can help us juggle daily stressors and avoid burnout.
By Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND
You wake up in the morning ahead of your alarm, feeling rested and rejuvenated. You make a coffee, you catch up on the news, you do a little bit of yoga and you leave the house ahead of schedule. You get to the office, your communal workspace or wherever you and your laptop have decided to park yourself today and you get to work. Drafting a proposal, responding to emails, designing a new system or igniting change. Your heart rate stays steady, you feel productive and in charge of your day. You’re thriving.
This continues into your evening where you make supper, spend some quality time with your partner or yourself, before relaxing into an evening routine of a cup of tea, a good book, some instagram catching up, and a dead sleep. You sleep all night before you wake up again in the morning feeling rested and refreshed.
Does this sound like something that is virtually unattainable?
Our modern day world has somehow managed to confuse “hard work” with “always working” and burnout is at the precipice of every single high functioning person in North America. And no. I’m not making that up. Especially now, while our work and home lives have become one-in-the-same.
But here’s the thing.
It’s possible to work hard and function at a high level without burning out. You just need to know what your tipping points are and what dials you back to pre-burnout state.
What exactly is burnout?
Burnout is a colloquial term we use to describe the juggling act of seemingly having it all together. Let’s be completely honest with each other here, no one has it all together, everybody drops balls and we’re all going to make mistakes. When we’re closing in on burnout, the most typical thing that I see in practice is that little things are all of a sudden a BIG. DEAL.
Forgot to send an email? The world is ending. Forgot your lunch? Insert swear word here. The phone rings at the wrong time? All you can think about is that “you really don’t need this right now”. When your fuse seems like it’s getting shorter and shorter you’re getting closer and closer to just going “I’m done”. Your patience level is as close to zero as it can be and your motivation to get anything done? You wonder where that went.
When you start feeling like that it’s easy to reach for what I call an external source to give us the energy boost we need to keep going. An extra shot in our coffee, plus something in the afternoon to keep is going. Just a little bit of something sweet in the afternoon during that crash. Reaching for a glass of wine at the end of the day, not because you NEED it but because it helps you turn off your brain so you can semi-chill out. You sit down on the couch, too tired to even think about making dinner because “that’s a lot of effort” but just before you go to bed you get a second wind that keeps you spinning until the early hours of the morning. You toss and turn before waking up multiple times until you FINALLY fall asleep. Then, your alarm goes off too soon and you hit snooze as often as you can, negotiating with yourself about how many more minutes you can get.
Welcome to burnout.
- Not waking up rested in the morning
- Little to no sex drive
- Craving salt or sugar
- Mid afternoon crash
- Spikes of energy in the evening
- Weight gain, especially around your midsection
- Hair falling out
- Sensitivity to bright lights
- Increased irritability
- Changes in your menstrual cycle
Science behind burnout:
In our modern day society, those external stimulations keep coming faster and faster. Answer this text, record a Tik Tok, don’t forget to pick up the birthday present for your best friend, and don’t forget your boss moved up that deadline. All of these seemingly non-stressful situations piled on top of each other increase our need for our adrenal glands to pump out cortisol.
Short term, we can handle that. But long term, even low grade, we start to need adrenaline to keep our cortisol going. So we start to pump out more adrenaline, and thanks to sugar and caffeine, we can do it at any time of day or night.
Keep up with that too long and our blood sugars start to spike and fall, then our progesterone and estrogen levels start to change. More estrogen and less progesterone causes our cycles to become irregular or with more symptoms. Cortisol is pumped out of our adrenal glands, which continues to potentiate the burnout. Brain fog settles in, energy drops, and we start to lack motivation to get up and go. It’s a spinning wheel that can feel impossible to get off.
How did I get here?
When you’re a high functioning womxn your body can tend to think that it’s running away from a bear. You’re not, FYI. But, your brain hasn’t evolved past that instinct known as fight or flight (or freeze!). We have to train our bodies to adapt to a new way of living. You CAN run at a high level (an extremely high level even) without sacrificing your body to do so.
So now that you know what’s going on, here’s how you can start to do something about it.
You CAN have it all
Throughout my years of clinical practice, I have developed a set of guiding health principles called the “4 Cornerstones of Health”. And I talk about it with almost every single one of my patients, no matter if they’re a stay-at-home mom, an executive at a company, an entrepreneur or a young professional hustling hard to make their name in this world. Those 4 Cornerstone’s are things that, if they’re not functioning semi-well, make it impossible to get ahead. They are sleep, nutrition, movement, and happiness.
These 4 Cornerstones of Health aren’t the only things you put in play when you’re trying to revert 20 years of stress (though they’re VERY helpful). They’re what we use preventatively to reduce the risk of burnout happening and if, in the event that burnout does happen, you can bounce back quickly. They’re not hard, but they require consistency.
Why consistency? Because good health isn’t about doing one thing once… it’s about doing multiple little things every day. This is true self-care… not one day, not going to the spa, not going sugar-free for 7 days. This is real life.
All the supplements, medications, and coffees can’t undo poor sleep. And it’s one of the first things we sacrifice to get everything else done. Think back to last night’s sleep. Were you on your phone before bed? Answering emails or posting on social media? Did you fall asleep easily? Or did you toss and turn? Did you wake up throughout the night or did you sleep all the way through? Do you remember your dreams? Are they vivid? Or nothing? And, most importantly… did you wake up rested?
Good sleep starts with a consistent night time routine. Turn off that phone (no one is going to die if you don’t send that email until the morning), leave a notebook with a pencil beside your bed to jot down thoughts instead. Avoid caffeine late in the evening. Wake up at the same time every morning. Use an app to help you meditate.
All of these options are things you can easily implement to start to stabilize your first cornerstone of health. Pick one to try tonight. Why? Because if you’re working at a high level, you also need to REST at a high level. Period.
The adult brain has a focus ability of 45 minutes. That’s not a lot of time, and the closer to burnout you get, the worse your short term memory and focus becomes. The best way to break up your brain and get things moving again is.. you guessed it… movement. And we’re not talking about running a marathon… we’re talking about getting 10-20 minutes of movement in a few times a day.
Set a timer. Every 45 minutes get up and walk down the stairs and back up the stairs. Grab some water. Get your blood moving. Not only is this important for your health (obesity isn’t the leading cause of death for nothing) your blood also moves important nutrients to your brain. Work smarter, not harder, by infusing consistent movement into your day.
When we’re stressed and overworked (or when our bodies think that we are stressed and overworked) we start to crave quick energy. Salt and sugar to be exact. It isn’t our fault really, our bodies are wired to protect us… but it just so happens that the salt and sugar that we’re craving to keep us going is exactly the opposite of what our bodies and our brains need to thrive.
The easiest way to structure your nutrition so that your food is working for you, not against you, is to think about 4 key factors. Every time you put something in your mouth it has to meet these 4 checkmarks:
- A healthy fat
So, have that at the back of your head when you’re running around with a crazy day and you’re grabbing a hamburger on your way home.. So, have that hamburger (it’s protein - check!), add a salad (hi greens! and fiber!), with a little bit of almonds or cheese (healthy fats - check!). Once the check mark habit is built - easy! It’s not about doing a diet, it’s about pairing up your foods to nourish your body.
When was the last time you genuinely laughed? Actually.
When was the last time that you spent time with your friends? Surrounded (virtually) yourself with people who fed your soul? Who elevated you?
What about the last time you cooked that meal you love to make? Sat and read a book with a cup of tea?
When was the last time you truly felt content?
The amount of work that you do every day can’t just be for a paycheck, it has to be for something more. It has to be part of the larger purpose and legacy that you’ll leave. But most importantly you have to be able to wake up, push through the hard days, and find happiness in those little things.
Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND is one of Canada’s trailblazers in treating burnout, understanding work-life integration and living a purpose filled life. She and her partner run Cornerstone Naturopathic, a regenerative medicine clinic focused on enhancing the quality of life for driven and hardworking individuals. Dr. Ashley is the host of the podcast, The Superwoman Code, the place to be for all things hormones, life and women’s health. She can be found online at www.ashleymargeson.comThis article was reviewed by Dr. Jessica Ritch.
Dr. Jessica Ritch is a board-certified and fellowship-trained minimally invasive gynecologist who specializes in the management of benign gynecologic conditions such as abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, fibroids, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. She completed residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, where she was selected as chief resident and received the prestigious AAGL Outstanding Resident in Minimally Invasive Gynecology award.