I spent a lot of time unpicking the healthy habits I’d created with food and drink whilst I was going through burnout. Leaning on coffee, booze, and sugar to take the edge off my feelings and get me through the day. I felt like they were helping but really they were just contributing to my anxiety and low energy.
So when I finally hit that wall and decide to get better, my diet was one of the first things I started paying attention to. I previously loved cooking and I tapped back into that, as much for my own enjoyment as to support my body’s burnout recovery.
I know it helped me massively. I felt better just for making time to look after the most basic of human needs. But I am not an expert in the field of nutrition so thought I would ask someone who is to share their wisdom with you.
Joanna, specialises in chronic fatigue; burnout, ME/chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and long covid. She helps people understand and address the root causes of their symptoms with personalised nutrition, lifestyle, mindset and environmental changes.
Her science-based approach seeks to understand why someone has become unwell and what might be continuing to drive their symptoms. She started this work through her own experiences of recovering from ME/CFS and experiencing first hand the transformative power of nutrition and lifestyle medicine.
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did.
Tell us about your specialism?
Conventional medicine tends to follow the format of a diagnosis followed by a medication either to cure to the condition or manage the symptoms.
This model doesn’t fit well with anxiety, burnout or chronic fatigue as it’s far more complex than that and we need to get to the root cause. It’s that analogy of if your sink is overflowing – are you moping the floor or are you going to turn off the tap?
In my clinic I work a lot with functional testing, which can give us a picture of what is going on in our microbiome, our brain chemicals and even our genetics. I love working with genetic results as it really gives you an insight into why you are the way you are – you might have genetic variations that mean you are more sensitive to stress hormones, or they are slow to leave the body meaning you feel the effects for longer.
The big plus is that some genes can be switched on and off with nutrition and environment – so if we know what’s going on we can get support in place.
How can it help people suffering with stress, anxiety or burnout?
Nearly all of my clients have a history of burnout, stress and anxiety. Many have had repeated cycles of burnout, pushing themselves to the limit and crashing over the years then they come to me when it has become more chronic.
When we unpick their health history it’s usually a combination of triggers and events; stressful period, work pressures, mould exposure, achiever mindset, glandular fever, exercise/overtraining, traumatic incident, gut infections, perfectionism… the list goes on!
The magic starts to happen when we address these biochemical imbalances alongside stress and mindset, meaning history isn’t going to repeat itself again.
Do you have any tips that people can try on their own?
The food we eat is essential for avoiding and overcoming burnout. Food is information and it provides the building blocks for our body to function optimally.
It can be protective as well, studies have found that the healthier the diet someone consumes the less severe burnout symptoms are.
My top 5 foods to include in your diet would be:
– oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel)
– nuts and seeds
– leafy greens
– extra virgin olive oil.
My other favourite thing to suggest is epsom salt baths – they are an absolute gamechanger, go and buy some!
Add 2 cups to a hot bath a few times a week. They contain magnesium which is a relaxant and can be a lovely way to double up on getting a mineral hit as well as a calming activity.
Why do you think that so many people burn out?
Our bodies haven’t evolved as quickly as the world around us has! We are still cave(wo)men at heart. Our body doesn’t know the difference between a perceived threat or actual.
An anxious thought or an email has exactly the same response as a physical threat. Very useful if your life depended on running away from a sabre tooth tiger, but has its implications now we are in a constantly high pressure and stressed environment.
A lot of the work I do is getting people back to connecting with the ‘basics’ which actually our life depends on; natural light, bare feet on the ground, being in nature or near/in water (cold if you can face it!) seasonal local eating and sun exposure.
If you could only give one piece of advice to reduce stress & avoid burnout, what would it be?
It sounds so simple but get into the habit of checking in with your body and asking yourself ‘what do I need in this moment?’ chances are it will be an essential need that you are ignoring and powering through.
You might need to rest, get a drink, go to the toilet, get some fresh air – see what comes up when you ask. You can habit stack this so you remember to do it, I often get people to check in whenever they boil the kettle.
Stick up a post-it so you remember! By tapping into our needs and our warning signs early, we can avoid more serious burnout down the line.
If you’re feeling the effects of stress and would like some support – whether that’s for you, your team or your business – drop me an email or book a free call, to find out how I can help you work in calm, productive ways that keep you burnout free.