Burnout: How To Recover Naturally
Dr. Lauren Dyer,
DAc, LAc, Dipl. Ac (NCCAOM)
On the Acupuncture-side of our practice, I work with a lot of people who are, let’s say, totally overwhelmed.
This is beyond stress. I am talking about taxation on a physical, mental, and emotional level.
My patients are givers, go-getters, parents, students, executives, care-takers, and self-proclaimed workaholics. But they are over-worked, over-tired, and all share how they are running on empty. They have all of the responsibilities, but hardly any of the rest and support outside of our time together. Many of them enjoy their jobs—they’re good at it and have high satisfaction—but they still feel overwhelmed and have a hard time turning "work-mode” off.
The more I hold space for and support those who experience burnout, the stronger I felt I had to share more about this condition.
My intention for this article is to create awareness of all of the ways burnout can affect you and how I approach it with Acupuncture + Chinese Medicine. At the end, I offer some things to consider to help you recover, re-establish healthy boundaries, and prioritize yourself for better health.
So, let’s get into it…
If it seems like “Burnout” is talked about as if it was a national epidemic, you would be correct. What makes this phenomena so unique is that even though it is not officially recognized as medical condition, it is as real as the people who experience it.
Burnout has become so pervasive that research can now measure the cost and toll this syndrome takes on individuals and our health care system:
“A 2018 Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44 percent reported feeling burned out sometimes.”
Job burnout costs an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending each year.
Current research through the National Institute of Health “has attributed it to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.”
(Statistics are from CNBC News with direct links to findings above)
What is Burnout exactly?
Formally, the World Health Organization describes it as a syndrome that develops from chronic, poorly managed workplace stress resulting in exhaustion, apathy, pessimism, and decreased productivity.
From my experience in working with hundreds of patients who experience work-related stress, I agree that burnout include these symptoms—but there is so much more that happens. The toll burnout takes is often deeper and widespread, affecting a person’s nervous, circulatory, endocrine, digestive, and musculoskeletal systems. In other words: our bodies internalize stress in several uniquely different ways.
This is why, through Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture, I consider each person’s experience of burnout individually. We discuss how it impacts their emotions, sleep, energy levels, relationships, self-esteem, digestion, and more. Symptoms are important, but treatments always address their root pattern(s) to recover holistically.
Re-Kindling The Kidneys
The Root of Burnout in Chinese Medicine:
In Chinese Medicine, there is a saying: “one disease, many roots; one root, many diseases.” Just like how burnout presents in slightly different ways depending on the person, there is still a common root that is typically to blame for burnout— it’s called a Kidney Deficiency.
My Kidneys are What?!
In TCM, our Kidneys (combined with our Adrenal Glands) are one of the most important organs systems. Together, they connect our brain to our instincts and intuition. The Kidneys influence our hormonal rhythms and response to stress, shock, fear, and trauma: think, the release of cortisol and your body’s Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis (the pathway responsible for regulating your body’s sympathetic “fight or flight” response) .
In TCM, the health of the Kidneys are expressed through the brain (cognitive functioning), bones (their integrity), ears (hearing) and hair (quality). After considering this, it makes sense why the more our Kidney Qi (energy) naturally declines with age that mild memory loss, osteoporosis, deafness, and hair thinning become more prominent. However, there are environmental and lifestyle factors that weaken the Kidney Qi prematurely: sleep deprivation, substance abuse, nutrient deficiencies (from poor appetite/diet), and long hours of physical/mental exertion without rest. Sound familiar? These are all side effects (or coping mechanisms) of burnout.
On an energetic level, the Kidneys are the sacral root of our body’s Life Gate, as they withhold our reserves of Inherited Qi and Vital Essence (Jing). In this way, I like to think of the Kidneys as our body’s deepest well...a reservoir that we too often take from but forget to replenish.
When your Kidney Qi is abundant, you’ll have a healthy sense of self, direction, and will-power to pursue your goals.
You can take on the demands of the day with ease while making deliberate choices in what (and who) you give your energy to.
How is your Kidney Qi?
Signs & Symptoms
What to pay attention to:
These are signals the body gives when the Kidneys/Adrenals are taxed…
MENTAL + EMOTIONAL symptoms
Feeling “burnt out” and exhausted
Feeling numb or apathetic, little motivation
Foggy-headed, trouble concentrating
Poor memory, trouble recalling words
Trouble falling and/or staying asleep
Chronic worry, overthinking
Increased irritability and anger
Substance dependency (caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs)
If there is a history of trauma (which is stored in the Kidneys), there can also be uncontrollable fear and hyper-vigilance
PHYSICAL symptoms may/may not include:
Low Back & Knee Pain
Thyroid & Hormonal Imbalances
Premature Aging & Hair Loss
Things to consider:
If you have read up to this point, first of all, thank you. Second, please know that your symptoms, any supposed Kidney Deficiency, and Burnout do NOT have to define you. As a clinician of Chinese Medicine, I am sensitive to how my patients may have been treated by other providers (many share how they have felt dismissed or discouraged) but are hopeful in coming to me for solutions. That is why I help them look at their TCM diagnosis not as a sentence, but a starting point. By identifying the imbalances, only then we can start to have a conversation about how to address them.
With that said, I think it is worth stating that burnout is not just something you bounce-back from.
It takes patience and a deep sense ofself awareness.
It requires you to re-evaluate your priorities and be willing to create better boundaries.
It’s also embracing that actively maintaining those boundaries is how you get balance.
You have to WANT to create space for yourself to recover so that you can willingly give more of yourself to your job, relationships, and hobbies.
Lastly, you have to give yourself permission to start somewhere and know when you need professional support.
How Can Acupuncture Help?
Acupuncture is a gentle, safe, and effective therapy that promotes your body’s own physiological processes which become weakened or pathological from chronic stress, trapped emotions, as well as long-standing illnesses and injury.
In other words: Acupuncture reminds the body how to repair, regulate, and heal itself again.
From a TCM viewpoint, Acupuncture can help you recover from burnout by improving circulation of qi and blood to the Kidneys, Adrenals, and other affected organ systems based on your clinician’s findings. From a Western-scientific, it:
Down-regulates your body’s stress response by shifting it from a “fight or flight” state to one that can “rest and digest.” This is why patients fall asleep during treatments, feel a deeper sense of calm, and report having better quality sleep sometimes in as little as one treatment.
Increases body’s natural opiates, endorphins, and enkephalins (feel-good hormones) to reduce pain.
Reduce cortisol and increase serotonin to alleviate anxiety, depression, irritability, and stress.
Promotes bloodflow to the brain to improve cognitive functioning as well as the viscera to regulate autonomic functions (heart-rate: reduce palpitations, digestion: improve nutrient absorption, appetite, and energy levels; regulates bowel movements).
Increases circulation to relax tight muscles and reduces joint stiffness
Enhances the body’s the body’s immune system to decrease inflammation and quell inflammatory & auto-immune related conditions.
For those who see me during and in the aftermath of burnout, their Acupuncture appointments are their designated time to unwind, re-cultivate their energy reserves, and re-establish resilience to life’s stressors. It’s a time where you are not on high-alert so your body can heal in the ways it needs to.
I am grateful to offer a safe space as well as the time, attention, and compassionate presence where you can vent, cry, laugh, celebrate, and be heard. In addition to your Acupuncture treatments, we can discuss some mindset, lifestyle, and/or Eastern Dietary tweaks to start shifting your mind + body into a better place where “burnout” isn’t your new normal. In the meantime, start by creating space for yourself everyday, even in small ways to start.
If you know you need a little more guidance, significant relief, and deeper healing, Acupuncture with me is a wonderful place to start.
**Please note, the information presented in this article is not meant to diagnose or replace the treatment for any medical condition: it is meant to be educational only. Regarding Chinese Medicine diagnostics, only a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) can confirm if patterns discussed in this article (or others not discussed) are contributing for your health concerns. Please seek out professional care as needed. Feel free to reach out and direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org**
Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases. (2019, May 28). Retrieved June 20, 2019, from World Health Organization: Mental Health, https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/
Salvagioni, D. A., Melanda, F. N., Mesas, A. E., González, A. D., Gabani, F. L., & Andrade, S. M. (2017, October 04). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. Retrieved June 20, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5627926/
Sheryl Kraft, S. T. (2018, August 28). Companies are facing an employee burnout crisis. Retrieved June 20, 2019, from CNBC News: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/14/5-ways-workers-can-avoid-employee-burnout.html