So we've all been there, where we may be a little burnt out. Perhaps we've been working a little too hard, 'firing on all cylinders' for too long. Maybe we've been sacrificing sleep to keep up with our busy lives 'burning the candle at both ends' so to speak. Maybe it has eventually caught up with us and we find ourselves in a state of exhaustion and fatigue.
What we must come to realise that unless we make the necessary and simple changes it's very difficult to break the cycle.
Hopefully this article provide you with some useful and practical tools, both nutritional and lifestyle to help you combat fatigue once and for all so you can perform at your very best in work and life.
First of all it is important to understand how you got here, into such a state of fatigue.
You Are Only Human
Let's face it life is very demanding and does expect you to be functioning at top form whilst attempting to balance your family, work, social life and all the stresses in between. You are not super human so don't be so hard on yourself it is ok to feel tired.
You see having learnt from experience, the key here is to take note of when you are fatigued as an indicator or red flag as such. It is an alarm bell telling you to SLOW DOWN. It is vital to look after yourself or else you most definitely wont be able to function at your best, you will make yourself ill and I'm guessing you probably don't have time for that right?
Fatigue & Stress
A little amount of stress actually good for us, it keeps us motivated and gives us the fire to get tasks done. Psychology Today discuss the "Theory of Mental Toughness" and that "experiencing some manageable stressors, with recovery in between, can make us more mentally and physically tough and less reactive to future stress" (1). The key here you see is 'recovery in between'.
Think about it, when you train your body in the gym your body needs to recover. Similarly, just like rest your body after a heavy training session you must rest your mind also, you wouldn't run with a pulled muscle would you? You would only do further injury. It makes total sense.
So what happens if we don't take the opportunity to recover?....we burn out.
Fatigue & Burnout
So maybe we've pushed ourselves too far and most of us will experience this at some stage of our lives if we haven't done already. HelpGuide.Org describe burnout as "a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands" (2). They describe how stress and burn out "reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give" (2). Does this sound familiar?
So how do I combat fatigue you may ask?
Here are some nutritional and lifestyle strategies to help both in protection and recovery of fatigue.
I'm sure we're all probably well aware of the importance of sleep. Just like food is our fuel, sleep is our battery. We can't possibly expect to function at our best if we're not getting enough hours sleep. For instance the American Psychological Association describe how poor sleep can "can affect memory, judgment and mood" (3).
In fact we can get ourselves into a vicious cycle with stress preventing us from sleeping, lack of sleep reducing our productivity and thought processes and not being able to sleep because we are stressed.
We're all aware at this stage that we get our energy from food right? But it's not that simple, it's important that the energy we consume is also nutritious.
We want to consume carbohydrate based foods which support us and keep our energy sustained for longer. These foods include brown and wholegrain foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice which are slowly absorbed into our bloodstream and keeps our energy sustained for longer (this is particularly important for any diabetics too, as a key to stabilising blood sugar levels).
The key here is to get a wide variety to meet all the different functions. Good sources would be lean meat, turkey, chicken, oily fish, dairy products, cheese, pulses, nuts, seeds as well as eggs being one of the most bioavailable source of protein. Quorn is also a good source for the vegetarians out there, is a mycoprotein in which is derived from mushrooms which is low in fat and high in fibre (5).
As a nutritionist, my recommendation is to include nutritious fats in your diet such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, grains, olive oil, rapeseed oil, coconut oil as avocados.
These nutritious fats are not alone great for hair, skin and nails (which often suffer with stress) but also circulation, concentration and joint health. So an all round nutrition support for your health (6, 7).
What other nutrients help to support us during periods of stress
Magnesium as also been nicknamed 'the chill pill' or 'natures natural sedative' as it's been shown to help with anxiety, depression, irritability, headaches, sleeping issues, muscle cramps, with stress massively increasing or requirement for magnesium (9).
CoQ10 is also a powerful antioxidant, protecting our cells from oxidative damage. Oxidation can contribute to heart disease, cancer and even the ageing process (10). As it is difficult to get antioxidants through diet alone for instance fruits and vegetables, CoQ10 supplementation could be a great way of protecting our body from illness as well as getting the best benefit in terms of energy from our foods. The Pharma Nord CoQ10 is fabulous supplement and the best that I've been able to find due to it's great absorption levels (11).
WARNING: Do not take ginseng if you are pregnant, suffer from high blood pressure or are taking anti-coagulents (blood thinners). It is also not suitable if you are diabetic, where there is a family history or risk of oestrogen-dependent cancers. This product should not be used with other stimulants (12).
Okay, so what we've started to do here is to fill a toolbox for combating fatigue, so far we have sleep and nutrition but we also need some other tools to help prevent and combat fatigue.
So now we have a full toolkit for which to prevent and combat fatigue through sleep, nutrition and tools to keep us strong in the face of stress and we're ready to take on the world.
Here with you every step of the way,
Laurann O'Reilly - Nutritionist
Laurann has an Honours BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham, a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin, is an Associate Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society London, a professional member of the Celiac Society Ireland, is registered with the Institute of Public Health Ireland and fully insured
Laurann has an Honours BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham, a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin, is an Associate Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society London, a professional member of the Celiac Society Ireland, is registered with the Institute of Public Health Ireland and fully insured.