In our fast-paced, high-pressure modern world, burnout has become a prevalent issue. The demands of work, study and home-life plus the constant information overload can sometimes feel overwhelming, leading to chronic stress and burnout.
Burnout itself is not a disease, but a condition characterised by mood changes (like depressive symptoms, anxiety, stress, and sleep disturbances), which are also present in diagnosed mental diseases (such as depression or anxiety disorders).
Burnout symptoms can be separated into three domains:
- emotional exhaustion
- decreased productivity
- feeling of detachment from work and personal life.
We cannot discuss burnout without first introducing the nervous system, which as the name suggests is involved in receiving and transmitting information between different parts of the body, processing sensory input, and controlling various bodily functions. The nervous system is a complex network of specialised cells, tissues, and organs that coordinates and regulates the activities of the body.
Burnout is a chicken-and-the-egg type of situation. The food you eat provides the building blocks for your nervous system to function properly, but chronic stress also increases the demands for micronutrients such as magnesium and B vitamins.
When we are stressed, making nutritious food choices can fall down on the priority list. Poor food choices mean we don’t get the extra nutrients we need to combat the extra stress. The “busy-ness” often means we are eating on the run, and eating on the run also leads to inadequate digestion, further exacerbating nutrition deficiencies.
If you’ve ever been caught, or are currently in the busy/stress trap then likely you’ll know all too well how easy it is to lean into convenience foods which can lack in nutrients but are also high in refined carbohydrates and sugar which can lead to blood sugar crashes, sending our brain more signals that we are in crisis.
Banishing burnout is indeed a multi-pronged approach to your work, life, mental, physical and emotional health. Let’s tackle one part for now and look at nutrition to support your nervous system and prevent burnout:
Several vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. These include:
- B Vitamins: B vitamins, such as B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin), are vital for nerve function and the production of neurotransmitters. Good sources of B vitamins include whole grains, leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and animal products like meat, fish, and eggs.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are crucial for brain health, cognitive function and the structure and function of cell membranes in neurons. Fatty fish (such as salmon and sardines), walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and selenium, help protect nerve cells from oxidative stress and damage caused by free radicals. They have neuroprotective properties and support overall brain health. Colourful fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are rich sources of antioxidants.
- Minerals: Minerals like magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron are involved in various aspects of nervous system function, including neurotransmitter synthesis, nerve signalling, and muscle contraction. Including a variety of plant-based foods, lean meats, dairy products, and legumes in your diet can help ensure adequate mineral intake.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells. Adequate nutrition is essential for the synthesis and regulation of neurotransmitters, which influence mood, cognition, and overall brain function. Consuming a balanced diet with sufficient protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats provides the building blocks for neurotransmitter production.
Blood sugar regulation
The brain relies primarily on glucose as its energy source. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels through regular, balanced meals and snacks can prevent energy crashes and support optimal brain function. Including complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, along with protein and healthy fats, helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Emerging research highlights the importance of the gut-brain axis, which involves bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain. A healthy gut microbiome, influenced by diet, plays a significant role in maintaining brain health and neurotransmitter balance. Consuming a diverse range of fibre-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and whole grains), fermented foods (kraut, kimchi, kombucha, yoghurt), and pre-biotics (which feed beneficial gut bacteria) supports a healthy gut-brain connection.
Proper hydration is essential for optimal nerve function. Dehydration can impair cognitive function, mood, and overall brain performance. Drinking adequate water and consuming hydrating foods, such as fruits and vegetables, helps maintain proper hydration.
Sit to consume your meals and avoid eating on the run or at your desk. Chew your food, digestion starts in the mouth after all. Savour your food, which will in turn regulate hunger cues but also help to reduce stress.
For more nutrition advice from Brittany Darling, visit Day One Fertility.