Friday, March 18, 2011

Update on Avoiding Work/Life Burnout: Recognizing Adrenal Burnout

2007 - Our family was awaiting our newest
addition to the family. We were
in for a surprise having two in
diapers at the same time.  It was a
crash course in the work/family
balancing act. Now in 2011, we
are about to welcome our third child,
welcoming new challenges in maintaining
our equilibrium (and sanity).
Sometimes there comes a time in our lives, as women and men, mothers and fathers, and corporate ladder climbers and exhausted parents alike, when we must choose rest.  And if we do not listen to our body - we end up being forced to rest. We run the proverbial hamster wheel until - we chronically fatigue our body and its systems.

How do you know if you are dangerously close to BURNOUT?

During my musings today (aka finishing the third volume in my medical therapeutic yoga textbook series), I was doing research on recognizing signs of burnout, part of a complex dysfunction called the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis dysregulation phenomenon, or adrenal burnout.

If you are living and breathing today, especially in the American workplace (whether it is at home or in an office building), you should know how to recognize the signs of adrenal burnout and more importantly, what to do about it to get you or someone you love back into balance: 

Adrenal Burnout & Fatigue (Wilson, MD 2007; Farin, ND 2008, and others*)

    Here is a quiz that can help you determine if you should see your health care provider about possible adrenal fatigue or burnout.    
    • Low cortisol symptoms - fatigue, low blood pressure, use of stimulants to get through the day; joint pain, cravings for sweets or other unhealthy foods, low back pain, excessive thirst; emotional and psychological symptoms (depression, mood swings, bipolar disorder, emotional instability, anxiety); loss of faith in people and the world (hopelessness); compulsiveness and obsessive-compulsiveness; addiction 
    • Systemic dysfunction affecting metabolism, sleep, immunity, the nervous system, and digestion.
    • Copper toxicity – chronic infections; degenerative conditions (cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s); panic attacks, bipolar disorder, mood swings. 
    • Thyroid imbalance – premenstrual syndrome, hot flashes, hypothyroidism 
    • Reduced cellular energy production – depression, apathy
    • Hair mineral analysis (sodium/potassium ratio; sodium/magnesium ratio; copper level)Blood, urine, saliva hormone testing
    • People with burnout can hold full time jobs, and are often found to be using stimulants in order to get through their day.
    • Burnout is not just psychological.
    • Vigorous exercise is not a solution for burnout.
    • A vacation, diet, or nutritional supplement can “cure” burnout.
    • Burnout occurs more commonly in women today, mostly related to the fact that most women hold both a job and are primary manager of their household, which includes childrearing. In fact, it was found that mothers who also held full time jobs outside the home still handled 75% of household management tasks (Crittendon 2002)
    • Burnout does not only occur in people who have high stress jobs.
    • Burnout does not only occur in adults.
    • Burnout can possibly have a genetic link, or be influenced by mothers' diets during pregnancy.
    • Burnout affects all facets of one’s health, physical, emotional,psychological, social, intellectual, energetic, and spiritual.
    • Improve diet (research suggests a diet that oxidizes slower - higher in protein, lower in carbohydrates, especially simple ones, low in sugar, seasonal and organic)
    • Get adequate water intake (8-8 oz. glasses a day)
    • Make lifestyle changes.  Consider who and what you fill your life with and make changes accordingly.  Ask your employer for a flexible work schedule i.e. working from home or telecommuting, compressed work schedules,or job sharing.  Mend or eliminate relationships or activities which are a constant drain on your psycho-emotional health.    
    • Take a multi-vitamin. (pro-biotic, organic)
    • Begin a detoxification program (where needed, one must consult with a holistic physician or therapist for close supervision and instruction in completing a detox)
    • Meditation (this can include spiritual methods of prayer as well)
    • Consider shifts in attitudes and perspectives (what would be most important to you if you lost your health, or someone you love lost theirs?) 
    • Consider music therapy
    • Make time for quiet reflection.  Researchers describe the constant din of activity and noise in urban areas as an "emerging humanitarian health disaster" (Patel and Burke 2009) and report numerous psychological and physiological health threats associated with a lifestyle constantly filled with sustained noise and stimulation.
    All of the recommendations listed are not a substitute for medical advice and in no way offer a cure or solution for adrenal burnout. See a physician or therapist to identify strategies which best fit your life and needs.

    The best way to have optimal health is to be your own advocate. Get educated before you visit your doctor or therapist, so you know your rights and all of your options for treatment and intervention. When in doubt, ask questions. In addition, know your insurance coverage before you go. Know what your copay is, how many visits you are allowed (visits are often limited with therapies), and if you have an annual cap or limit on benefits.

    Being proactive is the best medicine for getting and maintaining optimal health.

    Metabolism: Behan 1992, Riley et al 1990, Behan et al 1991, Nicolson and Ellithorpe 2006
    Sleep:  Pillemer et al 1997, Drewes et al 1995, Scharf et al 2003, Moldofsky 1986, Moldofsky 1989, Moldofsky 1990
    Immunity: Klimas et al 1990, Fletcher et al 2002, Vojdani et al 2003, De Meirleir et al 2000, Jo Nijz et al 2002, Nicolson and Nicolson 1996, Knox et al 1999, Brewer et al 1999, Nicolson etal 2003, Buchwald et al 1992, Martin 1992
    Nervous System: Rowe et al 1995, Naschitz et al 2003, Gerrity et al 2002
    Digestion: Wallace and Gallegua 2004, Sivri et al 1996, Triadafilopoulos et al 1991, Pinmental et al 2004, Pimental et al 2001 
    Music therapy: Brandes et al 2009


    1. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. As a single mom with a high stress job, I raised 4 children. In retrospect, adrenal fatigue was really the only possible outcome. I sustained 2 near death experiences from this condition.
      I am in deep gratitude for yoga, a spiritual discipline and healthy eating for these modalities where the core of my recovery.
      My collapse was almost 4 years ago. My life is completely different now. My relationships are better, I work about 1/3 as much, I adopted a simpler lifestyle and many, many other changes have occurred since then.
      Regular down time is important because waiting until you are completely depleted is not pretty.

    2. Dear Kathy,
      Thank you for your generous and heartfelt comments. You are so right, as I have friends, family, patients, in addition to personal experience with ABS as well. It is almost epidemic it seems, in women, to suffer from these symptoms - especially in the US where stress is high and support is low.
      Thank you again for your comments - they are MUCH appreciated. Please come back and visit BITL soon - and let me know if you have any specific questions or topics you are interested in knowing more about in women's health. I'd be happy to post on them - and/or have other experts in the field post on them as well.