Business executives are under huge amounts of pressure and burnout is reportedly seen in anywhere from 30% to nearly 50% of leaders and employees (1, 2). Using nutrition as a main-stream tool to support or avoid burnout is a fundamental basic that should be available for everyone exposed to any significant stress on a perpetual basis.
So what exactly is ‘burnout’ and what is ‘stress’? Burnout is not a medical diagnosis but a term that is commonly defined as a state of exhaustion from prolonged and excessive workplace stress (3). The World Health Organisation describe it as a conceptualised syndrome from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed (4).
This lack of successful management is something that can easily be addressed with adequate resources and knowledge. The accompanying markers of measurable changes in both body and brain (5) that are seen, provide great ways to assess and monitor progress (see below).
‘Stress’ is an ambiguous term but comes in various different guises – physiological, pyschological and physical. We all have a certain amount of resilience to withhold to buffer these stressors but this can slowly be degraded as the years go on and an individual’s nutritional foundations are absolutely key in maintaining or rebuilding resilience. Bear in mind that work stress is only part of the story, what is going on at home, with family, in relationships, any underlying chronic health conditions, all contribute to the stress load or ‘stress bucket’.
Stress can also be very subjective so the individual sources are all different for each and every one of us. What is perceived as stressful for one person is not necessarily perceived as stressful for another but this makes it no less impactful.
How to spot burnout: there are various stages that can lead to what may be categorised as full-burnout and recognising the signs earlier on are going to be important for a quicker recovery (rather like over-training in an athlete). Bear in mind burnout can takes years to build up giving ample opportunity to avoid it if you are proactive.
Early warning signs:
- Lowered motivation and drive.
- Inability to make decisions as quickly and effectively as you used to leading to reduced productivity.
- Recurrent infections that you are struggling to throw off.
- Loss of empathy for employee/team and others around you.
- Reduced quality of sleep.
- Lack of love/enjoyment for other areas of your life eg exercise, relationships.
- Loss of libido.
Later signs and symptoms:
- A possible diagnosis of depression.
- A diagnosis of automatic nervous system dysfunction – this may be presented as low/high blood pressure, gut issues (due to dysregulated vagal tone), heart palpitations, recent onset exercise intolerance or excess/lack of sweating.
- Struggling to get to work and overwhelm of life and/or feeling of apathy.
- Social withdrawal.
- Emotional breakdown.
Some of the physical symptoms that may be overlooked are (5)
- poor exercise recovery
- chest pain
- unexplained or unusual fatigue
- vulnerability to illness’s (cold/flu/other infections) with poor/prolonged recovery .
Bear in mind that these symptoms can be due to multiple root causes and any symptoms that are of concern should always be checked by your GP.
Its important to emphasise that not all stress-hormone production is bad, in fact we need cortisol to not only get out of bed in the morning but to thrive. However, there is a balance which even the most resilient leader can struggle to recover from over time leading to dysfunction in numerous systems, many symptoms of which are overlooked until they are too-hard to ignore.
It is also important to realise that the path to burnout is not linear but a progression over time as we fail to recover back to a state of homeostasis – a natural balance at which each of us functions naturally and optimally.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO ?
- Recognise the signs and decide to do something about it. Nutrition is the FOUNDATIONAL BUILDING BLOCK TO SUCCESS – if you don’t have the foundations of your health, performing well mentally day-in, day-out is going to be challenging.
- Understand HOW to personalise your diet in a ‘doable’ manner that is going to meet your nutritional demands as closely as possible bearing in mind other metabolic demands you may be faced with. Comprehensive functional blood testing, ideally alongside some nutrigenomic testing, is the fast-track way to do this.
- Understand that your nutritional requirements will change depending on the type of day you have ahead of you – so how to PERIODISE YOUR DIET. Again, this is just like an athlete – you don’t eat the same in day in day out but adjust for different training sessions, different training blocks – as an executive you do the same for the mental demands (talking at a conference, team meetings, long-haul flight etc).
- Seek professional advise to address points 2-3 and come ‘to the table’ motivated to make changes.
Example Page from Comprehensive Functional Blood Chemistry Panel assessing 110 Blood Biomarkers – full list of bloods available on request however, understanding here to CONNECT THE DOTS is key.
Nutrigenomic Panels – to overlay on bloods and symptoms to history to understand how to create bespoke dietary and supplement plans. Example reports available on request.
Why work with Katherine:
Working in a driven, focused organisation in a position of responsibility for any period of time is a little bit like being in a (very-long) ultra-endurance race. Looking after your body and your mental health needs to be done consistently and needs to be tailored to you. As a previous Investment Manager at JP Morgan and current GB Age-Group Athlete, Katherine understands the cross-over in demands physically and mentally and how to juggle the many challenges life throws at us. She believes strongly that testing to personalise and create bespoke plans is key to getting the best out of yourself and your team.
Katherine is also a mother of two teenagers, has BSC Hons. (1st class) Nutritional Science, BA Hons. Economics and is currently completing a MSc at Kings College London in Applied Neuroscience. She is also an NLP Practitioner and training as a Performance Coach at Hinsta. She lectures in Functional Sports Nutrition for CISN and has done additional training that allows her to work with eating disorders and cancer.
If you would like to know more about how Katherine and her team could help you please get in touch on email@example.com