A great professional goal is to love what you do and feel invigorated by doing it. I, personally, am constantly evolving my career so it meets (or comes close to) these objectives daily. There were times in my life, however, when this goal was definitely out of reach. During my medical training I experienced several episodes of burnout, with fatigue, disenchantment, and an intermittently despairing mood. This caused me to embark upon a multi-year mission to heal myself and transform my career into something I could genuinely love and successfully manage without losing my balance.
Thanks to dedicated study and practice of Western Herbalism, yoga, meditation, nutrition, art therapy, and Ayurveda I was able to repair my body, restore my nervous system, improve my resiliency, and heal my burnout…twice! Since then, I created a little sub-niche within my practice dedicated to helping others do the same. In this article I will share some of my perspectives, tips, and techniques that can get you started on your own resiliency journey.
A few factors that contribute to burnout are lack of control, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, poor work/life balance, insufficient support, unclear expectations, and unstable (or overly monotonous) work environments. Burnout is characterized by feelings of depletion or exhaustion, a sense of distance from or cynicism towards one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. Symptoms of depression, such as poor sleep, loss of enjoyment, trouble concentrating, and low mood, frequently occur alongside burnout. Resiliency can be thought of as the ability to adapt and maintain equilibrium during periods of stress, challenge, or trauma. Resilience protects against burnout.
I will break my suggestions down into thoughts and perspectives, habits and behaviors, and herbs and supplements. Regarding perspectives, the first thing you want to figure out is why the burnout is happening. What is out of balance? Are you unhappy with your role? Working too much? Experiencing problems at home? Do you feel your current job is disconnected from your purpose?
In some cases of burnout, people are genuinely passionate about their work. Their work environments just may be disproportionately stressful (more pressure than pleasure) and their hours too long. In other cases, people become burned out because they are investing excessive time and energy in jobs they do not really care about. It’s important to discover if your burnout is driven by a mismatch between your current job and your true passions or if it relates to other factors.
It's also crucial to have compassion for yourself, regardless of why you have burnout. Some of the factors contributing to your burnout are likely systemic (part of your industry), and other factors are at least remotely under your control. It’s good to take ownership for what you can change and for choices you made that may have contributed to your imbalance. An attitude of 100% blame rarely serves anyone, in this or other areas of life.
Fundamentally, burnout is a self-care crisis. It is an alarm bell informing you that you require different nurturance strategies moving forward. This may mean you need to be more mindful about what work environments suit you, how many hours you can reasonably work, what kinds of physical spaces are supportive, and what types of tasks or colleagues (or clients) you enjoy. You may even have to change directions completely. If this is the case, I encourage you to see the shift as part of your soul’s path. Not every person can thrive in every environment. Some of us really do have more sensitive or fragile systems. Some of us need more carefully curated work situations. When this is not practical, we can aim to create our “work dream” over time. While slowly making our way to our optimal professional expressions, we can steadily improve our self-care and resilience. These important adjustments enable us to handle stress more effectively, harmonizing our needs with the conditions of our jobs.
Resilience, ultimately, is about balance. If you are in balance, you are naturally resilient. If you fall out of balance, you quickly become sick (mentally, physically, and spiritually). Ayurveda is also about balance. So, if you are following Ayurvedic principles--living a lifestyle/eating a diet aligned with your dosha and taking steps to correct dysfunctions, you will have vitality (ojas in Sanskrit). Vitality creates resiliency.
Herbs and Supplements for Resiliency
The following list includes the Ayurvedic and Chinese herbs, as well as supplements, I prefer for stress and resiliency. There are additional herbs and supplements that can help, and I encourage you to include anything in your personal healing journey that resonates with you and feels good in your body. These are just things that I love, personally, and have used professionally with great success over the years.
- Holy Basil (Tulsi) is my number one herb for resiliency, adrenal support, and stress. I recommend loose leaf organic Tulsi in a tea ball with sliced ginger root 1-3 times per day, but capsules 600-1800 mg/day are also an option.
- Ashwagandha is another classic Ayurvedic herbal adaptogen. It helps the body adjust to stress, physically and emotionally. 250-500 mg/day.
- Rhodiola is a plant from Traditional Chinese Medicine that helps the body (and mind) adapt to stress. It can even facilitate adjustment to high altitudes. 120-220 mg per day.
- Gotu Kola (Brahmi) is another personal favorite. It is soothing for Vata nervous system instability (anxiety, jitteriness, insomnia). This herb is relaxing and regenerative for the nervous system. 700-1400 mg/day.
- Turmeric has significant benefit as an anti-oxidant (oxidation follows stress). It also seems to have some direct impact on cortisol. I prefer to cook with a two-inch piece several times per week, but taking 1500-2000 mg/day via capsule is another option.
- Ginger is similar to turmeric in action and effect. It is Vata/Kapha-balancing and reduces cortisol. I take two inches sliced in a mug of Tulsi tea (above) daily.
- B-Vitamins are definitely helpful during times of stress and depletion. There are many good blends containing acceptable quantities.
- Fish Oils/Omega 3 Fatty Acids can also play a supportive role. 2 grams/day.
- CoQ10 is another of my most used supplements. This powerhouse antioxidant improves nearly every condition, physical and emotional. It can benefit stress, mood, anxiety, headaches, heart health, wound healing, sunburns, and more. 60-500 mg/day.
- Consider also: alpha lipoic acid, Siberian ginseng, vitamin C, resveratrol, royal jelly, bee pollen, reishi mushroom, chyawanprash, and shilajit.
Habits and Behaviors That Encourage Resiliency
- Yoga is a universal healer. It increases glutathione, a natural antioxidant, which helps the body fight stress, as well as infections and inflammation. Yoga has been proven to boost mood, reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and enhance longevity. It was key to restoring my balance after burnout in med school and residency and has been my constant companion since. 2-5 classes/week.
- Meditation is another profoundly useful tool for enhancing resiliency. It is evidence-based for stress, anxiety, depression, and more. 15-30 minutes daily.
- Ecotherapy is a holistic super-remedy close to my heart. I am passionate about the healing power of nature, which is highly evidence-based (and a part of Ayurveda). Time in nature has been shown to reduce stress, enhance immune function, improve anxiety, elevate mood, and reduce inflammation. 1 hour/day is ideal, but 3-4 hours on a weekend can definitely help.
- Massage (abhyanga in Ayurveda) boosts serotonin and dopamine, reduces cortisol, enhances relaxation, and soothes the nervous system. I alternated weekly massage and acupuncture when I was experiencing burnout during my internship. Find time after work one night. It is worth it.
- Art/Dance/Music therapies can be profoundly healing and restorative. They are also very evidence-based. Even if you think you are not creative, making art/music or dancing allows the mind and body to relax and release tension. Creative expression helps us feel inspired and connected to ourselves (and others). 1 activity per week.
- Exercise is a key part of many people’s resiliency strategy and for good reason. It works! I recommend vigorous exercise three times per week or more, if possible.
- Nutrition makes a huge difference. Minimize sugar, alcohol, processed foods, breads/baked goods, and caffeine. Aim for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and small portions of lean meat, if not a vegetarian. Are you eating a plate full of veggies per day? If not, do!
Healing Mind and Body from the Impact of Stress
Burnout is a symptom that life is out of balance. If it has found its way into your world, see it as a teacher with valuable lessons to share. One gift of burnout is that it can show you how to better care for yourself, in multiple dimensions of life. It also may be the nudge that pushes you in the direction of your true dharma (purpose), if you’ve gotten off track (or are stagnating). Burnout prepares you to more effectively and efficiently serve in the future.
If you make the effort to heal your mind and body from the impact of stress, the skills you acquire will benefit you (and potentially others, if you share) for the rest of your life. Evolving your career to be more reflective of your personality, your needs, and your passions will bring more joy and fulfillment than “previous you” could have imagined. Restoring yourself to balance is the ultimate act of empowerment. Energy invested in healing = light available to SHINE!