Burn Out or Depression?
Lovely ladies, and gentlemen too, if you are reading this blog. First of all, I am sorry I have been "quiet" the last month and a half (gasp! has it really been that long!?). Busy e-learning life suddenly took its toll and I've been feeling stuck with my writing. But the last few days I have come across conversations about something very very interesting that I think a lot of us moms and dads can relate to. I'm talking about burn out.
Have you ever been burn out? I think I've been burned out for sure. Maybe even been burned out and depressed at the same time.
Kelleigh Kincaid's Instagram post stopped me in my tracks. I was reading it and identified many of the signs she lists. I used to feel overwhelmed by simple things like making decisions of what to eat (I started using Superhealthy kids recipe planner), I felt like I was always in brain fog. I was feeling anxious over everything, apathetic about things that previously made me happy (hello, running!), I could not shed the kangaroo pouch I was (am) carrying, I craved my drive through Starbucks with a blueberry muffin- yuck, sugar rush followed by a sugar crash. Sex drive? What is that? I was waking up with heart racing and feeling fatigued, and the only thing I was looking forward to was my next nap or bedtime. I was constantly sick and could not figure out why.
Sure these symptoms are signs of depression and anxiety, but thinking back on what I was doing every day, day in day out alone, burn out bell rings - loud. Just having three kids in three years living in foreign countries without help throws the strongest mama into burn out. Societal unrealistic expectations, my a-type, ambitious personality and trying to do it all-attitude, and always putting self-care at the end of the list.
Let's compare signs of depression and burn out for sec:
Hopeless outlook - "What is the point?" is a question you ask often. You've just lost the look on the future where you feel empowered and in control.
Lost interest - You don't feel the pleasure of doing the things you used to love. Loss of sex-drive.
Fatigue and sleep problems - This is where depression gets so debilitating. You may be so fatigued all you want to do is sleep. But depression is also linked to insomnia, depression can lead to insomnia. These two can make each other worse. And this is a great old big spiraling vortex. The lack of quality of sleep and rest can lead to anxiety. Here we go again. So be gentle with yourself if you are not sleeping well. What gets so complicated here is that when women hit perimenopause or menopause, their estrogen levels get out of whack and this can lead to insomnia. If you are struggling with insomnia because of your hormones, be extra mindful to get rest. Nap if you can.
Anxiety 101: feelings of nervousness, restlessness, anger, panic, or dread. You have a rapid heart rate and breathing, heavy sweating, muscles twitching, trouble focusing. These are clear physical signs of anxiety. These are not the signs of one too many cuppas of joes that goes away. I usually get these feelings at the mall. There is something about malls that trigger anxiety in me. So much for shopping for fun!
Men - if your hubby is cranky, or suddenly start behaving riskier, starts using alcohol or drugs to escape or even if he gets angry all the time are signs of depression.
Your appetite changes or your weight drops/increases.
You cannot control your emotions. The outburst of anger you can't control, then crying your eyes out. Mood swings, baby!
Thoughts of death - if you or your loved one is thinking/talking about ending your days... please please seek help. Don't wait. Depression should not be something to suffer in silence, alone. IT should not be taboo. You need help to deal with it.
If you have been under prolonged stress whether it is due to economic pressures, work relations, family, taking care of children or your parents, or major deadlines in your studies, you are at risk of being burned out. Burn out is emotional, physical, and mental Exhaustion. If you feel like you are drained and unable to meet the demands, you may be burned out.
You may be under heavy workload, who isn't right now when covid19 changed our lives?!
You may be feeling undervalued, unappreciated or you are feeling like there are no real opportunities for your genius. This can hit a stay-at-home mom/dad real hard if you are wanting to develop yourself professionally but stuck at home with kids. We all know stay-at-home mom/dad's jobs are the most unappreciated job in the world. There are no promotions, no pay rises, no "good job" mom or "you were on fire there mama". I personally can attest to this.
You may feel like your job/ study is too difficult for you to handle.
Physical signs of burn out can be: exhaustion, headaches, muscle aches, getting sick, negative outlook, everything is overwhelming, withdrawal from responsibilities, people, opportunities. Avoiding tasks (hello laundry pile!). You are short-tempered, you've lost motivation and positive outlook in life. You have damn hard time taking care of yourself like exercising and eating well.
Certain personality types like high achievers, ambitious people may be feeling burned out more often than others.
Can you see how it is easy to mistake depression for burnout and vice versa? Heck, you may be experiencing both at the same time!!!
I want to address sleep, because it is our biggest and most important re-chargers, and typically the first one to go when we are under heavy stress, or in small kid's parents for years if their kids don't learn good sleep hygiene.
Sleep depression has been shown to alter brain chemistry and can lead to mental disorders, difficulties in making decisions, and memory. Hello, brain fog. When you mix a chronic sleep deprivation with a huge overload of work, in my case child care, burn out is the name of the game.
If you lose your sleep for whatever reason, the first question you should ask yourself is why? Why can't I sleep? Kids up at night? Start looking at how you can get them to sleep without getting up and waking you up. You have trouble sleeping because you are on your phone until you turn off the lights? Leave your phone somewhere else in the house and do not look at it right before bed. Hey momma, who is breastfeeding your baby! Put down the phone in the middle of the night! You do not need to be on it, even in the middle of the night, scrolling news or social media. The blue light messes up your brain! YOU, especially YOU need a good night's sleep and browsing while breastfeeding is not doing it for you!
My sleep got amazingly so much better when I started leaving my phone downstairs in the kitchen when the rest of the family went upstairs for bedtime. Bonus is, no more distractions from the kids and I fell asleep quicker and had deeper sleep. WIN-WIN!
Perimenopause and menopause. Ah. What can I say? You wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall asleep again.
Sometimes drenched, soaking wet. I am there, girlfriend! About a week before periods, I struggle sleeping. Time to ease up on training and nap if I can. If I wake up around 4 I might just get up and use the opportunity to write but otherwise, I just try to get back to sleep. Valerian root pills have improved my sleep a little bit.
Suddenly, most of our workload and life stress took a sharp and dramatic turn this year. I had a conversation with one of my athletes about the dangers of burn out today during our coaching call, and it got me thinking how so many of us may be on the brink of losing control.
My athlete is an executive businesswoman with two young boys, and she has been in the difficult situation of having to let go people, she is selling her house, and renovating her new home. She has A LOT on her plate.
As a coach, I want to make sure that her training schedule is doable, enjoyable, and giving her enough leeway so she feels like she is accomplishing fitness goals she has set for herself while juggling everything on her schedule. It is a very fine line between balance and overload. When she is working 10-12 hours a day, stress levels soar. The mental energy bank is empty. Dragging yourself out and exercise can feel like an unbearable task. It is important to listen to your body, but it is also important to make sure self-care gets prioritized. When stress levels are soaring and you are working like mad, sitting in meetings, your body may respond to it by feeling exhausted, when a little bit of movement can energize your mind and body.
We've talked about "just do 15 mins" or "just do the warm-up", meaning that she makes a conscious effort to get out of the door, which is often the hardest part, and commit to doing the warm-up, which is usually around 15-20 mins. Often this is enough to trick a tired brain and she keeps going and going way beyond 15 mins.
Balancing the need for movement, and understanding when your body truly needs rest can be difficult. IF you are on the verge of burn out, I would advise you to keep the intensity down. Choose something that you really enjoy and preferably outside, as nature has an amazingly calming and balancing aspect to our mental health.
My executive athlete's training program is adjusted to her overall stress, responsibilities, and I've given her the autonomy to move workouts around and deciding when she feels energetic enough to do a harder intensity workout. I've cut down structured workouts and opted for fartleks instead. It gives her more power over her effort based on her daily form, and mental freshness. I believe this way she feels accomplished and stays positive about her progress. The last thing I want as her coach is for her to feel more stressed about a training program in this situation. Exercising should be more of a stress-relief than bringing her more stress.
When we are stressed out, we tend to get cravings for unhealthy choices. I used to crave for blueberry muffins like a madwoman. My muffin top really liked that. Women who are stressed, in the survival mode, tend to store extra energy in the belly. When you are in survival mode, super stressed, burned out, your stress hormones, especially cortisol soar. Your body wants to keep you alive and start storing those muffins and 5 o'clock wine or stress chips as belly fat. I could not for the life of me lose the last 5 kgs of pregnancy weight... It bugged me. My body image was not great. So I decided to start simple with the mantra "Make One Good Decision Every Day." To me, it was to NOT order that blueberry muffin with my afternoon coffee.
I also started prioritizing good sleep. To me, this meant my cell phone stayed in the kitchen two hours before bedtime. No more last-minute Facebook scrolling. I also stopped using Facebook altogether for a while as I felt social media was not making me happy. Quite the contrary, it was making me miserable, stressed out, and feeling inadequate. Not using the phone as much also made me more active. Instead of taking the kids to the park and scrolling news or social media, I used the time kids were playing running around the playground/park, while keeping an eye on the kids, kicking a ball with them, or doing my bodyweight strength training. NO more feeling lost and anxious!
Did you know that daily physical activity is correlated with a sense of purpose in life?
If you do regular exercises and then stop for even for a few days, do you feel more anxious, tired, and hostile? Yup, I sure do! My husband is the same, and I am pretty sure my kids are the same way. A study in a book that I am reading right now, The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal, states that if adults are forced to reduced their daily activity, 88 % of them become more depressed, within one week 31% reports reduced life satisfaction! They even put a number on steps that were required to induce crankiness: 5649. Let me tell you if you do not go for a daily walk/run, and sit in your office all day, you will not get to this measure.
Isn't that enough incentive to stay active, especially during these challenging times?
If you are a runner, you already know about "runner's high", right? Well, research shows that the euphoria you feel after about 20mins of running is in fact, a high, buzz. The brain chemicals that are released after about 20 mins of moderate running (not by walking or running at your max) a called endocannabinoid, the same class of chemicals as cannabis or marijuana. They reduce pain and boost mood, make you feel good. HOW ABOUT THAT?
Could burn out, anxiety, depression be as easy to alleviate as to kick out on a nice run!? If you want to blast your worries and stress away, reduce your pain, and heighten your sense, go for a run!!! Researchers found the same effect in treadmill running and walking uphill, cycling, and hiking! They found the same effect of released endocannabinoids in dogs who were jogging on the treadmill for 30 mins! Your pooch needs the high as much as you do.
Well, maybe this is all old news to you, but we tend to forget how important a good run is. When you are stressed and don't have time, the last thing in your mind is to strap on your big girl undies and head out the door for a run. I get that. And that's where the "just do 15 mins" comes in handy. It tricks your brain to get out the door and keep going until your brain releases the "feel good" chemicals!
I love the advice by Kelleigh Kincaid (please DM her on insta : @kelleighkincaidwellness)
on burn out. "Know this will take time", there is no quick magic pills. Working with a professional skilled in burnout recovery is the best you can do for yourself.
"Slow down", seriously, take some time off. Kelleigh recommends working with a practitioner skilled in burnout recovery to heal the adrenals, thyroid, gut, brain, and nervous system. The pile of laundry on your couch can wait, dishes will be there, they are not going anywhere. Do you have to do them right now? Can you let go of some of the tasks that are draining your energy and soul? Can you do that meeting over zoom instead? Maybe a quick video message would be better than a long email or a meeting? Do you have to send that email at 8 pm and having to engage in more conversations that follow until late into the night? You need to learn to set boundaries.
Nutrition is so important! When you feel good, you tend to make better choices, and when you feel like crap, you tend to stuff anything in your mouth. If you don't know how to make good choices for you, work with a nutritionist instead of trying the newest diet-fad!
Kelleigh tells you to stop doing High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and running if you are experiencing burn out. I agree that you should not be hitting it hard right now. But I don't agree you should not if you are burned out, especially if you are used to running and loving it. As long as you enjoy running, I believe you can run, but skip the high-intensity intervals for now. You can still go running if you can resist the urge to push yourself hard. A good run for 30 mins at an easy pace and never go above 3 out of 10 on the rating of perceived effort is totally good for you if you are used to running! However, if you haven't been running regularly before, and you are burned out, now is not the time to take up running. Go for a hike instead!
Here you go, I hope this has brought you some good info on both depression and burn out and you are better able to identify if you are at risk of them. Listen, it is completely okay to admit that you have taken a bit too much on your plate. I realize the situation as it is right now is overwhelming, scary, and uncertain, but taking care of yourself now is more important than ever. Set clear boundaries and secure good sleep! Protect your sleep like it's the most important thing you do all day.
Love, Marjaana AKA Tiredmomruns