It’s no joke that overwhelm is real, whether it’s overwhelm of our bodies or minds.
Modern culture can be extremely demanding from all angles. Aside from the demands of your career, finances, family, etc … the demand to get and keep our bodies in top physical shape 24/7 can also be damn intense.
Being motivated to change and be your best self is one of the most awesome traits to have; however, this mindset can also cross a line into a place that is stressing you more than it’s serving you!
Enter “burnout,” a phenomena that occurs when we over-work (this includes overdoing workouts) and overwhelm ourselves in the name of success.
Yep, it’s real, and I’m breaking down how to know if you’re close to it, and what you can do about it.
Symptoms of Burnout
Now I want to mention that experiencing burnout and having a bad or low-energy day once is a while isn’t the same. These symptoms tend to become chronic (aka: they aren’t going away) for an extended period of time. If you notice them popping up more often, that is your chance to reevaluate your routine and potentially ease the pressure before you start experiencing full-blown symptoms!
Symptoms of burnout include:
• Nagging/repeated injuries
• Chronic Fatigue
• Sleeplessness or insomnia
• Heart palpitations
• No energy for workouts
• Feeling overwhelmed by life
• Irritability and anxiousness
• Loss of appetite
• Unable to break through a plateau
• Weight gain or weight loss
The first thing you should know is that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing these! I can remember pushing myself too hard with over-training in the past, and my body reacted with similar symptoms. It’s easy to fall into the mindset of (especially when it comes to fitness) “MORE is always BETTER.”
The typical line of thinking goes:
“HIIT workouts are working? Do more of them.”
“Lowering calories or eliminating macros is working? Lower and eliminate more.”
Also, we can assume that if we hit a plateau in our training, doing more workouts or cutting food even more will get things moving again. While there is merit to pushing harder to achieve results, that doesn’t actually equal doing MORE.
Plain and simple: you need to rest as hard as you work. If you’re taking out rest time (this also includes mental and emotional rest) to add in more work, you’re setting yourself up for burnout … because the body grows and recovers during rest.
How to Recover from Burnout
Burnout is essentially the result of chronically elevated stress hormones due to over-training or overwhelm in your life. So, the foundational step in recovering from this overwhelm and reducing stress hormones is to rest.
When we’re training hard or having a stressful day at work, stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, are elevated. This is a normal response to stress, however: it becomes a problem when the elevation is excessive (extreme stress) or chronic (prolonged).
Elevated cortisol in particular can disrupt your hormonal system, interrupting your sleep, causing your body to hold on to fat, and causing exhaustion, as well as many other symptoms on the above list.
When you relax and rest, you give your body the opportunity to stop pumping out cortisol, and instead activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which tells your body it is safe to “rest and digest.”
Try these tips to wind yourself down, and begin the recovery process:
1. Take a week off training. No, this doesn’t mean become vegetative on the couch, but simply to stop intense training in favor of long walks and slow, relaxing movement like yoga (no, power yoga is not included in this! haha).
2. Try deep breathing exercises. One that has shown to help reduce cortisol is called Diaphragmatic Breathing, or “belly breathing.” For just 5 minutes a day, sit comfortably in a chair or lie down. Place one hand lightly on your chest and one on your belly. Breathe in deeply into your belly – your belly should expand outward fully as your diaphragm expands. Hold for a second, then exhale fully, drawing your navel in. Repeat for 5 minutes. This is incredibly effective to do anywhere, including at work.
3. Supplement with magnesium and take Epsom salt baths. Magnesium helps soothe the nervous system, and a large percentage of the U.S. is deficient in it.
4. Try adaptogen herbs. This class of herbs is well-studied and helps your body adapt to stress more effectively, reducing its negative effects on your body. Options include: ashwaghanda, rhodiola rosea, schizandra, and ginseng. (Many of these, as well as anxiety-reducing herbs, are found in Onnit’s New Mood below).
5. Eat more. If you’ve been restricting your food or carb intake, try adding more clean calories and carbs now. Notice I didn’t say binge on junk: think things like more healthy fats and carbs like sweet potato.
6. Get out in nature. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes, add a little nature to your day. Take your lunch break in the park. Put your bare feet in the grass.
7. Come back slowly. When you do start working out again, start slowly. Gradually increase your intensity, and be sure to avoid doing extremely high-intensity workouts more than 3-4 times per week, depending on your current conditioning level. Be sure to add in a full rest day, as well as short periods of relaxation throughout your day, or even before bed.
At the end of the day, know that you have to embrace rest in order to grow. If you have a burnt out foundation, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have the energy and resources to more to a higher level anyway! Rest, reclaim your life, and push yourself … but don’t overdo your training!