There’s been a lot of discussion around the word “burnout” in the wellness space. And unfortunately, the overabundance of the word has diluted the impact of the word, causing many people to dismiss the symptoms they may be experiencing. However, especially after this past year, more and more people are dealing with an extreme amount of prolonged stress that has them feeling exhausted, empty, and unable to cope.

While nutrition is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to coping with stress and finding balance in your day-to-day life, it’s an important one. Below, we talk to Dr. Eva, the partnered doctor on hand for FLO Vitamins, and Carly Oates, founder of The Beauty Chef, about how we can use nutrition as a tool to fight burnout and regain our sense of self. 

Is there a difference between stress and burnout?

According to Dr. Eva, stress is something we all deal with—it comes and it goes, and most people can manage the ebbs and flows. “People who are stressed out can still imagine feeling better once everything is under control,” she says. “Burnout on the other hand is the accumulation of built-up stress over a period of time that hasn’t been successfully managed.” People who feel burnt out, Dr. Eva adds, feel like there is no hope. That’s why it’s imperative to take the necessary steps to address burnout: “It generally only gets worse and may even lead to depression,” says Dr. Eva. 

“When treating burnout, you are looking to focus on your mental exhaustion and boosting your mood,” says Oates. “Whereas when treating stress, the aim is to calm the body down and allow for the body to recuperate to be able to more effectively manage a high-stress environment.”

In addition to placing a greater emphasis on eating nutritious foods (more on that later), Dr. Eva also states that it’s important to set boundaries, practice self-compassion, exercise, prioritize sleep, engage in pleasurable activities, and talk to a therapist, if you have the means to do so. 

How can food be used as a tool to combat burnout?

When you’re dealing with chronic stress and burnout, it has an influence on how you eat, says Dr. Eva. “It contributes both to excessive eating, under-eating, and the development of chronic diseases. However, certain foods can help lessen the internal tension and take the edge out of your day by providing your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive. “Homeostasis is the tendency to maintain a stable, relatively constant internal environment,” says Dr. Eva. “One of the most important aspects of maintaining homeostasis in the human body is related to diet.”

“Opt for an array of fruits, lean meat and vegetables that contain high levels of B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium that assist in energy production within the body as well as maintaining stress levels and boosting mood,” suggests Oates. “As well as foods that are high in zinc, folate, iodine and copper to ensure healthy neurotransmitter synthesis and thyroid health.” 

In regards to what you should specifically add to your grocery list, here’s what Dr. Eva recommends, below:

  • Green leafy vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, wild rice, beans, oats, and whole-grain pasta are a great source of energy.
  • Almonds contain acid tryptophan, which is a building block of serotonin. Serotonin is a feel-good hormone believed to promote relaxation, trigger sleep and facilitate deep sleep in particular. Almonds also contain magnesium and calcium assisting further and relaxing your muscles’ nerves.
  • Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones like cortisol.
  • Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants which may also help with stress. (Make sure that it does not contain an unnecessary surplus of added sugar.)
  • Sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamin E which is a powerful antioxidant and is essential for mental health. It also contains a high amount of other stress-reducing nutrients such as magnesium, manganese, selenium, zinc, B vitamins, and copper.
  • Low fat, one percent, or skim milk contains B vitamins, protein, vitamin D, and bone-building calcium that can help relieve tense muscles.
  • Chamomile is well known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and relaxant properties which can help de-stress. Chamomile also has antispasmodic properties which help alleviate menstrual cramps in women. It also contains a potent flavonoid called apigenin, which is a mild tranquilizer that can help benefit sleep onset and sleep quality.

“Ensuring you are adequately hydrated is also important,” says Oates. “You could add in a supplement like The Beauty Chef’s Adaptogen Inner Beauty Boost which contains adaptogenic herbs, ashwagandha, and holy basil to help recharge your energy.”

Are there foods that can perpetuate symptoms of stress and burnout?

Foods that are made up of refined sugars and simple carbs can lead to a crash in mood and energy, says Dr. Eva. And you might want to cut back on your coffee habit, as well. “Foods that are high in caffeine can stimulate the nervous system,” says Dr. Eva, “and cause a rise in blood pressure and heart rate that will ultimately increase feelings of anxiety.”

Alcohol is fine in moderation, but according to Dr. Eva, too much can interfere with your neurotransmitters, like serotonin, and worsen anxiety symptoms.

Regardless of the other practices you engage in to soothe your stress, nutrition is a very important factor to incorporate. “Diet is a significant component of stress management that many people tend to ignore,” says Dr. Eva. “Eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and lean protein can be helpful.”

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