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Nutrition & Lifestyle Strategies To Prevent Burnout In The Workplace

In this fast paced world where we need to balance work, life, chores and family, it can sometimes begin to take a toll on our health. We may often compromise our sleep and even our nutrition by skipping meals, eating on the go and using stimulants to keep ourselves going. Unfortunately this can often catch up with us, resulting in the dreaded ‘burnout’ and as leadership and business strategist, Greg McKeown says “burnout is not a badge of honour”.

Here nutritionist Laurann O’Reilly and owner of Nutrition By Laurann guides us through her top nutrition and lifestyle strategies to keep our bodies strong during these busy times.

- What Is Burnout: Burnout is the state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that occurs when you experience long-term stress. Feeling overwhelmed and drained can easily lead to burnout and cause you not to perform well in your day-to-day activities (Forbes)

What Are The Signs of Burnout? Whilst there may be various signs of burnout, occupational (work) health researcher Diane Belanger-Gardner defines burn out as the following: 

- Physical: Includes, persistent fatigue/tiredness, lowered immunity, frequent headaches, back pain, or muscle aches, changes in appetite or sleep habits.

- Emotional: Can include self-doubt, feeling helpless, detachment, decreased motivation, increasingly negative outlook, decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.

- Behavioural: Withdrawing from responsibilities, isolation, procrastination, the use of food, drugs, or alcohol to cope, taking out frustration on others.

What Are the Consequences of Burnout? Whilst we may not see the signs initially, when we experience any of the following, which Belanger-Gardner describes as the consequences of burnout, it may be worth contacting your GP or healthcare provider: Sleep deprivation, changes in eating habits, increased illness due to weakened immune system, difficulty concentrating and poor memory/attention, lack of productivity/poor performance, avoidance of responsibilities and loss of enjoyment

Preventing Burnout - Lifestyle Strategies

- Look For The Early Signs: Early recognition of burnout and related consequences can play a huge role helping you access the care and help you need to recover more quickly. If you notice any of the above signs, please contact your GP who can assist you. 

- Self Care: It’s important to schedule time for self-care and to attend to your own needs. Include daily enjoyable “timeouts”, such as a brisk walk, yoga, a hobby, meditation or even a 5-minute breathing technique (whatever works for you)

- Get Organised: Evaluate a typical weekly schedule and reduce or eliminate unnecessary tasks. Schedule time not only for work tasks but also for family, social life, fun activities and self-care, this can help make the juggle a little easier.

- Regular Exercise: Not only is exercise a great way of clearing the head and relieving stress it can also help to release valuable endorphins or ‘happy hormones’ which lift our mood, whether it’s a walk, run, cycle, swim or gentler form or exercise. Tip: Why not explore and find which one or combination suits you and add it/them to your daily routine. 

- Up The Sleep: Many of us sacrifice sleep and burn the candle at both ends as a means of staying on top of our busy lives. Remember food is our fuel and sleep is our battery, it’s important to get a good night sleep to repair and recharge.

- Build Up Your Support System: It's so important to talk, the smallest stress when bottled up can become the biggest problem and you'll often find when you've said it out loud it's not as bad as you think it is. If you don't feel comfortable talking to someone you know there are plenty of confidential helplines (in Ireland call Samaritans on 116 123 or Aware on 1800 80 48 48) for full support.

Preventing Burnout - Nutritional Strategies

We're all aware at this stage that we get our energy from food. But it's important that the food we consume is also nutritious and provides us with sustainable energy which can help us manage stress, repair our bodies and keep our immune systems strong. I always say “every meal is an opportunity to nourish”

- Carbohydrates: Are our main source of energy but it's about choosing the correct types. 1) Avoid High Sugar Foods: These contain empty calories with little or no nutritional value. These include sugary treats, white breads, white pasta and sugar sweetened beverages - these can cause our blood sugars to crash and lead to sugar cravings. 2) Include Low Sugar & High Fibre Foods: These foods include brown and wholegrain foods such as wholegrain/brown bread, pasta and rice which slowly release sugar into our bloodstream and keep our energy sustained for longer (this is particularly important for any diabetics too and a key to stabilising blood sugar levels).

- Protein: Just like we need our carbohydrates for energy we need a variety of good quality protein for recovery and repair. In fact, virtually every cell in the body is made up of different protein combinations such as muscles, hair, skin and bones at a basic level and hormonal function, immune health, metabolism and oxygen transport to name a few. Tip: The key here is to get a wide variety of protein to meet all the different functions. Animal Based Sources: Include lean meat, turkey, chicken, oily fish, dairy products, cheese as well as eggs (one of the most bioavailable sources of protein). Plant Based Sources: Include lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, rice, oats, soy products and Quorn.

- Healthy Fats: Again, we need some fats in our diet to absorb our fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K. Tip: Include nutritious fats in your diet such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, grains, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and 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, an allrounder for supporting your health.

- Load Up On The Fruit & Veggies: We can often underestimate the importance of fruit and vegetables in our diets. They contain valuable and essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) as well as antioxidants which protect our cells against damage as well as helping to keep our immune systems strong, which is particularly important during times of stress. 

Nutrition Supplements

There may be times where our diet may be lacking or we’re feeling a little more challenged and nutrition supplements may be required to support us.

- B Vitamin Complex: The B Vitamins play an important role in the production of energy in our body as well as maintaining a healthy nervous system. They’ve also been shown to improve memory and concentration! Tip: Dietary sources of our B Vitamins can be found in meat (especially liver), seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, legumes, leafy greens, seeds and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast. Recommendation: I like the Solgar Vitamin B complex, however your pharmacist can help you choose the best version for you. 

- Vitamin D: As our bodies produce vitamin D from sunlight, our levels of this vitamin can seriously decrease during the dark winter months. Vitamin D plays an important  role in regulating the production of serotonin (our happy hormone). Recommendation: The current recommendation based on Oireachtas report released earlier this year is that the entire Irish Adult population should take a supplement of 20-25 μg/day or 800-1000 IU/day, whilst children should take 10μg or 400IU/day

- Magnesium: Can play a major role in combating stress. Many of us underestimate the importance of this essential nutrient. It plays an important role in energy metabolism and has also been nicknamed 'the chill pill' or 'natures natural sedative' as it's been shown to help with anxiety, depression, irritability, headaches, sleeping issues and muscle cramps to name a few. Tip: Dietary sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Recommendation: Magnesium can also be purchased in supplement form in your local pharmacy or health store. I like both the Pharma Nord BioActive Magnesium and the Terra Nova Magnesium Complex 

- CoQ10: If you’re feeling stressed and low in energy this can give you a helping hand. CoQ10 something we make within our bodies which plays an essential role in converting our food energy (calories) into energy our body can use (ATP), without this we can't make energy, so it's kind of important. Unfortunately, our production of CoQ10 reduces as we get older resulting in a reduced metabolism (making of energy) and increased fatigue. It’s also a powerful antioxidant which can help to protect our cells from oxidative damage. Recommendation: I like The Pharma Nord CoQ10 due to its’ great absorption levels.

- L-Theanine: This unique amino acid (protein building block) which can be found in green tea. It helps to support mental calmness by increasing dopamine and GABA in the brain. It also assists the alpha brainwaves associated with relaxation and may help to reduce anxiety.

Recommendation: L-Theanine is also available in supplement form, I like the Solgar L-Theanine which is available in some pharmacies and health stores. 

- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An important nutrient for those who deal with anxiety and stress as it can help to nourish the brain and nervous system. Recommendation: According to the INDI the recommendation for adults is 250-500mg per day of pure omega 3 (unless instructed otherwise by your GP or health professional). Food Sources: Oily fish (especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines), nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts) and plant oils (such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and rapeseed oil). Supplement Sources: Omega 3 can be found in fish oil supplements or plant-based omega 3 supplements which can be found in your local pharmacy or health store. 

- Workplace Wellness Education: As many people lead busy work days with many juggles outside of the workplace. A recent survey by Forbes found that “77% of employees have experienced burnout, especially at work. And with more people working from home, the stresses from mixing work and home life don’t help”. Workplace wellness education can be a powerful tool to help employees understand how to manage stress, build resilience, improve productivity, keep their immune system’s strong and to teach them how to eat well. You can find information on workplace nutrition workshops and talks here:

For information on corporate nutrition talks, healthy eating workshops and workplace wellness packages contact me here

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About the Author 

A farmer’s daughter from Tipperary, Laurann has always had an appreciation for food, nutrition and health promotion.

Laurann has an honours BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham and a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin. She is also an Associate Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society London.

With a passion for nutrition and experience working in Ireland and the UK,  Laurann uses her knowledge and skills to help people achieve optimum health and assists in the prevention and treatment of nutritional related problems through means of nutritional consultation, personalised diet plans, health promotion and education.

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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.

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