What No One Tells You About Stress and Burnout


Struggling with stress? Worried about burnout? Well, you’re not alone.

Why is stress and burnout such an important topic for busy professional women in particular? I put myself in this category also, and I’m so passionate about it because it almost sabotaged my life and professional work early on in my career. Women often take on too much trying to care for everyone else but themselves, and frankly, we are typically conditioned by the world around us to do so. This is one reason why we do not tend to our own stress. Another reason is that we do not know how to, nor understand what really causes stress and burnout.

What is stress? If you search the word online, you will likely see some scary images of people who look like they are being tormented with anxiety or severe mental distress. Some look totally overwhelmed and unable to cope. This is a common misconception and a gross exaggeration! The fact is, most people in our society are struggling with stress on a daily basis…even with a smile on their faces. When we realize what stress is and where it comes from, we are better empowered and enabled to avoid burnout.

As an MD medical doctor extensively experienced and trained in psychotherapy coaching techniques, and also functional medicine, stress is one of the most prevalent issues I see in my practice. I believe that you need to take a holistic Mind-Body-Spirit approach to resolve stress before it turns into burnout.

Fortunately, I have learned over time just how dangerous this is for our health and well-being and made it a part of my business (literally) to learn what stress really is, and to learn stress self-regulating skills. Let’s face it – the world around us is not likely to change much very soon. The sooner we learn how to better deal with it, the better!

Chronic stress leads to common symptoms for example, such as anxiety, irritability, weight gain, hormonal imbalances, food cravings, sleep disturbances, recurrent colds, cold hands and feet, hair loss, digestion issues, recurrent infections, low energy and libido, and even lack of motivation!

You can probably see how this will affect your confidence, career, and even relationships!

You can think of stress as feelings of overwhelm that connect with our sense of survival and activates our body’s ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. Also, stress affects our adrenal-brain connection physiologically, which leads to these physical symptoms and if not treated at the root cause, can result in chronic disease. As stress becomes chronic, it can lead to burnout which causes common mental, emotional, and physical, ‘dis-eases’ which are currently plaguing our society at this time.

There are four key stressors that you want to learn about in order to begin to ‘take back control’ and live a more healthy and thriving life. One has a focus on the mental and emotional realms, and the other three have to do with our food and lifestyle habits.

When we overemphasize ‘hard work’ and struggle and do not understand the necessity of rest, restoration, and renewing our mind as well as how some foods contributes to this, we accelerate our aging.

We increase our risk for low energy and low libido due to inflammation and hormonal issues, and chronic weight gain in particular when we do not understand how food, mindset, and lifestyle are at the root causes of these symptoms. These symptoms are commonly associated with a variety of health concerns. Considering how expensive our traditional disease-care system is these days, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a TON of cure’, not only a ‘pound’.

I can say that it is better and easier to stop a problem, illness, etc., from happening than to stop or correct it after it has started. Though now that I have also trained as a Functional Medicine specialist, I am grateful so say that we can actually reverse and prevent much of chronic disease that I was taught in traditional medical school to be ‘incurable. Our bodies are very resilient and can heal when we know what to do and why.

In the realm of Functional Medicine, you would be surprised how much capability we have to heal and reverse many chronic, common diseases. At the root cause of 90-95% of chronic disease is stress and the root causes of stress. This is why is it very important to educate yourself about prevention and reversing stress and burnout and their causes, and what you can do about it.

The 4 Key Stressors

Stress essentially is triggered by four basic pillars as shown in the photo below. I will briefly address all four. While you may be familiar with the idea that food, inflammation, and sleep could be connected to stress, very few health practitioners specifically discuss what follows.

The mental/emotional and even spiritual causes of stress (no sense of purpose or feeling disconnected) are often totally overlooked in terms of what is at the root cause of this category of the four stressors. I want to emphasize these areas in particular because hardly anyone talks about this area in the way I will share in this post.

1. Blood Sugar Imbalance

Sugar. Sugar by itself, in excessive amounts, can cause adrenal-axis dysfunction, known as Glycemic Dysregulation. Your brain and body need energy under perceived (whether real or imagined) stressful conditions. Sugar or glucose is one form of energy that is readily available. One important role of the adrenal gland and cortisol is glucose regulation.

Your adrenal glands (located on top of your kidneys) release cortisol as a response to regulate blood sugar levels by affecting insulin levels. While this can be helpful for acute ‘fight or flight’ they can be disastrous when we have chronic stimulation of this process, day in and day out. Individuals who consume a lot of sugar can become ‘insulin-resistant’ and this process starts to dysregulate or dysfunction. This can lead to a low blood sugar crash after a meal, which again, will retrigger the cortisol response. This rollercoaster response of the blood sugar can lead to a vicious circle and become difficult to control.

The macronutrients (fat, protein, or carbohydrate) content of our foods matter, particularly at breakfast time. If your first meal of the day is high in sugar (carbohydrates), over time you may accelerate problems within your hormonal and stress response systems. People who have chronic stress will likely to experience these types of dysregulation problems. Eating low-glycemic fruits and vegetables are quite important to this process to keep a good balance in blood sugar.

Read those labels! For the purpose of this discussion, let’s define high levels as more than 15-20 carbs per serving. Having been a ‘go-getter’ and over doing things for too long, I like many, have a history of being in the chronic stress category. I see a definite improvement in sugar craving and hunger since making this breakfast shift. I no longer need to carry protein bars and can go 4–5 hours between meals without any hunger during the daytime, even longer between dinner and breakfast the next day. What a difference!

There is no such thing as an overall ‘one size fits all’ best diet/food plan; this concept of the effects of breakfast sugar is based on the physiology of the stress response, particularly under chronic stress.

Having a ‘my diet is better than your diet’ argument is probably not going to be productive and may even raise our stress levels! In general, breaking your overnight fast (which is what ‘break-fast’ is), with high carbohydrates will likely cause mid-morning or afternoon brain fog or energy crash. Healthy fats and protein do not cause a sharp rise in blood glucose levels and tend to suppress hunger much better.

2. Chronic Inflammation

We are starting to hear more about inflammation, but we often do not connect the dot as to where this inflammation is coming from. It can come from our food sources, with sugar and processed foods leading the charge. It can come from toxins in our environment. It can also come from excessive ‘bootcamp’ style exercise!

What is often not considered as a source that is a very real source, are our toxic thoughts and emotions. Our mindset can ‘inflame’ our bodies. Just think about the effects of anger. While anger is a natural emotion and can inspire or energize us to take action, when we are chronically angry, anger itself is a cause of inflammation. Think about the idea that, ‘he was inflamed with anger.’ This is more than just a metaphor!!

One final cause I will mention here is lack of sleep! Sleep is our body’s chance to heal itself and to recover. When we don’t sleep enough or have restorative sleep, we are much more likely to trigger the biochemical responses of excessive inflammation in our body. Some inflammation is normal and an important part of our immune system, however when out of balance high or low end, it can lead to autoimmune problems or even lack of an ability to fight off infection.

3. Sleep

Well, you probably knew this was coming! I have personally come to realize just how dangerous lack of sleep is. Even as a physician of many years, I had no idea how deadly a lack of sleep can be for our health and well-being until I retrained in Functional Medicine in recent years.

There was a period of time of four years when my children were younger that I would routinely go to bed at midnight and wake up at 4:30am! This was during a time when I was also running a very busy medical practice and doing such a good job with spending time with my children, that at age 7, my son said to me, ‘mom, you don’t seem like you work because you are always here’. I built my schedule, planning and life around their schedules.

Little did he realize at that age and time just how much effort I was putting in to make this impression! Knowing what I know now, I would not have pushed myself this hard.

Lack of enough sleep can dysregulate not only your stress and cortisol, through this mechanism you can disrupt your thyroid, your sex hormones and even add inches to your waistline!

This is nothing to play with. When combined with lack of sleep, poor eating habits and inflammation, a perfect storm of chaos is created in the body’s system that can lead to prediabetes, hypothyroidism, autoimmune conditions, ‘leaky gut’ and gut disturbances, menopausal and peri-menopausal problems, PCOS, anxiety and more.

Hopefully, it is obvious why sleep is fundamental to ‘anti-aging’. As you can start to see by now, chronic disease is not about our age in years – even young adults are now experiencing these conditions with greater and greater frequency. HOW we age is what really matters.

One key area that is typically ignored is staying on technology devices or watching television into the evening hours. The blue-white light that is emitted can literally raise your cortisol and stress levels and disrupt your sleep quality! No joke! At the very least, use a good quality blue blocker eyewear protection, and even better, stay off of devices at least one hour before bedtime. Lifestyle medicine is an idea whose time has arrived and is greatly needed.

4. Mental and Emotional

Mental or emotional causes of stress can also be perceptual in terms of ‘how we see or feel’ about a situation. If this situation feels ‘novel’, or like a threat to our person or ego, or feels unpredictable or that we have a sense of loss of control…. it triggers our stress response of ‘fight, flight or freeze‘. This is why some people may love public speaking while others are terrified even at the thought of it! This category of stress requires special skills training to overcome.

Many people think that practicing mindfulness is a panacea that will alone,…and of course, in a short period of time (the quick fix), take care of this category. This is simply not the experience of many people, nor of my own. Mindfulness practice is an important aspect of beginning to retrain our brain to deal with this aspect of stress, but it is only the first step.

Mindfulness allows us to observe our thoughts and feelings, but we must then have tools and skills to ‘self-regulate’ our thoughts, feelings – intentions and attention – so that we are best able to take back the steering wheel of our mind. We must learn emotional resiliency.

This is more layered than it initially appears. This is where I tend to pay attention to stress management in a different way and where most physicians are not aware to do so. Remember stress management is not just about food, exercise, and sleep, though as I have already pointed out, they do matter.

For example, our own self-image and level of confidence will affect how we respond to the 4 Key Aspects of Mental/Emotional Stressors, which are:

  • Novelty
  • Threat to our ego (real or imagined)
  • Lack of predictability
  • Need for control

This is where learning how to transform our perception and ‘retrain our brain’ comes in. This is a skill set that we can all learn. As an entrepreneur, I can say that I am exposed to all four of these key aspects on a regular basis. I have observed in myself over the decades the power of these skills to bring greater confidence, fulfillment, less stress, and greater physical health and well-being when used with self-awareness. I now have greater emotional resiliency because of this.

A few words about spirituality and stress. When we do not have a sense of purpose or contribution that comes from our authentic heart, we may struggle with the meaning of our lives. Having a sense of connection with a higher power, purpose, or to nature can help us to live with more joy, inner peace and even tap into our own unique form of creativity easier. As you can imagine, this would all be stress alleviating on several levels.

You will generally not hear about these mental/emotional/spiritual aspects of stress management from your healthcare provider, whether in functional or traditional medicine. Understanding our ‘whole self’ is central to being able to live a life of thriving, not simply surviving.

Maintaining good health takes conscious effort in the world we live in now due to food quality challenges, excessive environment toxins, and a work environment and society that does not tend to honor self-care and downtime.

In order to be in control of our health, we will have to reeducate ourselves and look for alternative healthcare options and modalities that allow our body to tap into its natural healing powers. We can prevent and reverse many common chronic conditions when we understand how and have a strong enough desire to learn how to do so. This is a personal journey and the science is here now to validate many of the holistic approaches I use.

Yet, many of these approaches I used before the science substantiated it – like mindfulness of example – are now recognized quite broadly. Personally, I decided a while back not to wait on consensus from science but to trust my own experience – and it has served me well. I invite you to explore new ways of thinking about your health so that you can better empower yourself to thrive also.

Next Steps….

It’s my mission to help as many people as possible to live beyond stress and burnout. Please help me with this mission by sharing this blog post! ????????

If you’d like to learn more about how stress can lead to burnout, aging and low energy, I invite you to watch my free webinar on this exact topic.⁠ You can access it by going to the link at Taking Control of Stress and Burnout .

If you would like to learn how you can begin to transform your experience with stress, schedule your Free Discovery Session with me Here

Take The First Step Today on Your Journey Back to Health and Wholeness

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