My Experience with Burnout

If you’ve been following me on Instagram over the last few months, you may know that I’ve been struggling with burnout, resulting in low adrenal and thyroid function. It came on slowly, though it felt like a surprise since I’d been pushing through my feelings of tiredness and other symptoms I thought were “normal” for a working mom of three kids.

I think a lot of women think that we can “do it all,” and we are bombarded in the media by images of women who are working full-time, volunteering on the PTA, making home-cooked dinners every night, oh, and also killing it in the gym daily. I think especially Type-A women, myself included, fall into this trap of being everything to everyone, and pushing ourselves to the limits of what we can do. Eventually the stress of family, jobs, and the pressure to change our bodies to fit into someone else’s idea of beauty adds up, and some of us will break. I wasn’t the first mother to say to my doctor, after receiving my low thyroid results, “So…it’s NOT normal to be tired all the time??” It may be “normal,” but it’s not okay.

One of the first things I work on with my clients – and have been working on myself these last few months – is teaching them to REST and listen to their bodies. This is exactly the opposite of what the fitness and wellness industry is telling us to do. They say, “Consistency is key!” and “Never miss a Monday!” Well, guess what…you should miss some Mondays! Your body has many ways of telling you that what you are doing isn’t working. If you really tune in, you’ll be able to intuitively find what works for you, and it may not be daily gym time or restrictive dieting.

MY STORY

When I first started CrossFit in the spring of 2014, I was terrified. I was intimidated by all the super strong, super fit people, and I’d heard stories of people puking at the end of workouts. I won’t lie…my first workout was hard. But it was also fun to challenge my body. I was about a year out from the birth of my second baby. I had just completed an elimination diet that left me feeling better than ever, but also looking a little too thin. I needed some muscle.

I started going twice per week, and the workouts were different every time. It was fun. I had never enjoyed lifting weights before, but barbells…the first time I deadlifted 200 lbs I felt like Superwoman. I was a ballet dancer in high school, so my legs had always been strong, but now I could do things I never imagined, like pushups and pull-ups. Right after I started I got pregnant with baby number three, but I kept working out twice per week, with modifications. My body felt stronger and faster than ever. I completed the first rope climb of my life at 4 months pregnant (also my last while I was pregnant). I didn’t suffer from much morning sickness during that pregnancy, and I could still carry my very large toddler at 9 months pregnant.

After my daughter was born, I took several months off as I navigated my new life with a job and three kids. I eventually did go back to Crossfit at the beginning of 2016 on my old twice per week schedule. I started getting pretty good, actually getting to the top of the leaderboard for workouts (me – a mom of 3!!). Around the middle of 2017, there started to be more of a focus on getting “shredded.” Body fat was slowing us down, it was time to get rid of it. I thought I was doing okay – my moderate-carb Paleo diet had been working well for me for about 3 years at this point – but hey, maybe I could get better? 

 

The prescribed diet was to stick to a very short food list, with very few carbs, and very few calories. We were also supposed to work out for at least 30 minutes every day, and I started going to Crossfit 4-5 days per week. The first month my menstrual cycle was very short (like 20 days). After that I didn’t get another one for about 3 months. But…I lost weight. I got cut. I could do more and more pull-ups because my strength to weight ratio got so much better. 

I eventually did get my cycle back, but maintained fairly low calories and carbs, and oscillated between 3-6 times per week of weight lifting/Crossfit over the next year or so. I woke up at 5:30am and kicked ass in my workouts. But shortly into 2019 I noticed I was tired and dragging all afternoon. I was falling asleep doing the dishes at 8pm. My body was trying to tell me something, but being the Type A personality that I am, I thought I could do it all and I pushed on.

SIGNS OF BURNOUT

There are many signs of burnout/adrenal fatigue, and it can look different for each person. Here are some signs you may be pushing yourself too hard:

  • Always tired, wake up not feeling rested
  • Always sore, and don’t feel like your making gains in the gym
  • Needing a nap in the afternoons
  • Low sex drive
  • Gaining body fat, or inability to lose body fat
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Low body temperature
  • Lightheadedness
  • Losing body hair
  • Flat mood, or depression
  • Loss of or irregular cycles
  • Digestive issues

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN YOUR BODY?

We are constantly exposed to stress in our lives, whether it’s good (a promotion at work) or bad (death of a loved one). Something most people don’t think about is that dieting and exercise are also a form of stress. While they can be beneficial when applied in the right amounts, too much puts your body into “fight or flight” mode. When your body is under stress, it produces the hormone cortisol. This signals to your body to stop applying resources to bodily functions like reproduction and digestion, and focus on getting away from the stress. Our bodies don’t know the difference between that Crossfit workout and a tiger chasing you (or your stressful commute, for that matter). While we’re designed to have cortisol rise and fall intermittently, a lot of us are under constant stress, so cortisol and adrenaline stay elevated. This is why you might do really well for a while, feeling like you can do everything and have more than enough energy left over. However, at some point your body will reach its limit, and will be unable to produce cortisol. When your cortisol is low mid-day, you can’t stay awake. You lose cognitive function and may feel “fuzzy headed.” You may lose the ability to react appropriately to actual stress.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE SUFFERING FROM BURNOUT

Here are some of the things that have helped me and my clients reduce stress and start to recover from burnout:

SLEEP

Get enough rest, at least 8-9 hours per night, more if you feel like you need it. Now is not the time to be the early bird at the gym/yoga studio. Move your workouts later in the day or skip them altogether (more on that later). If you’re in the early stages, take naps if possible until you feel rested. Try to get to the point where you can wake up before your alarm because you’ve had enough sleep.

EAT

Make sure you’re getting enough calories. This may mean you stop counting calories, or it may mean you set a higher target and aim to achieve it every day. You should not be starving between meals (if you are, eat bigger meals!). I don’t know that WHAT you’re eating makes a big difference, but make sure you’re focusing on whole foods. You may have developed some food and/or carb intolerances while you were pushing your body too hard. Whatever it is that works for you, make sure you’re eating enough of it. 
This may also be a good time to skip your intermittent fasting routine. Your body needs to know it’s safe, not running from a predator, and regular meals are a great way to send that signal.

MOVE LESS

What did I just say?? Some of us need to be told to rest more, or we’ll push our bodies over the limit. This may mean cutting back your high intensity exercise to only 2-3 times per week, or it may mean leaving the gym altogether for a little while. Focus on easy walking, hiking, swimming, and yoga. Listen to your body and do what feels good. If you’re really burned out, those extra gym days aren’t doing you any good anyway.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

Recovery may take weeks to months, and it’ll be one step forward and two steps back for a while. The important thing is not to jump back into your old routine too quickly. Start adding workouts and/or fasting days back slowly, maybe adding one for a few weeks and seeing how your body responds. Remember that exercise and dieting are stressors. Some amount of stress builds resilience, but too much puts your body in fight or flight mode. Make sure your body continually knows that it’s safe, and it will reward you with healthy weight, healthy energy levels, and increased strength. 

If you’re interested in getting some help recovering from burnout or getting your health on track, schedule a discovery call with me today to learn the basics of listening to your body for optimal health.


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Have you struggled with burnout? What were some of the lessons you learned in the process?

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Meagan Noble Health Coach

Hi, I'm Meagan.

I'm a full spectrum doula and wellness coach helping you thrive through birth, baby, and beyond. Learn more about me here.

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Meagan Noble Health Coach
Meagan Noble

CERTIFIED DOULA (DTI)

Meagan is a full spectrum doula and wellness coach helping families follow their intuition to discover balance in family life. With her focus on ancestral practices, relaxation, and self care, she guides her clients to a calm, confident, and connected birth and postpartum experience.