Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your Health: How to alleviate stress-related burnout naturally

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Common symptoms of stress-related burnout include emotional exhaustion, reduced performance, withdrawal from relationships and the development of a negative outlook. Photo / Getty Images
Common symptoms of stress-related burnout include emotional exhaustion, reduced performance, withdrawal from relationships and the development of a negative outlook. Photo / Getty Images

I was recently diagnosed with stress-related burnout. I'm taking an antidepressant and have been referred to a counsellor, but I was wondering if there is anything natural that might help to restore my energy and speed my recovery? Thanks, John.

Hi John, thank you for your question. There is emerging evidence that burnout is becoming increasingly frequent as the pressure of modern life takes its toll. With the advent of smartphones and remote working, we have never been more available. For some, it is becoming increasingly difficult to "switch off" as work begins to encroach on what was traditionally "home time".

Burnout results from chronic stress. While the term "burnout" is most commonly associated with work-related stress, it can also arise due to cumulative emotional stresses, such as divorce or the death of a loved one. Burn out carries a certain stigma in societies that pride themselves on productivity, so early-warning signs are often not addressed until the syndrome becomes severe.

Common symptoms are emotional exhaustion, reduced performance, withdrawal from relationships and the development of a negative outlook. There are also physical symptoms; sleeping problems, waking unrested, brain fog, low libido and dizziness are all common.

Physiologically, burnout is the result of an overtaxed nervous system that has lost its self-regulating ability. This calls for the use of traditional plant medicines that affect the perception of stress in the nervous system - classes of plants known as adaptogens and nervines - which protect and set an upper limit on the stress response, allowing the body to begin replenishing its spent reserves.

Key plant medicines to incorporate include:

Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra): The most outstanding feature of this herb is its ability to improve resistance to stress. Useful in times of physical and emotional exhaustion, it is a potent tonic for the adrenal glands that are responsible for stress hormone production (e.g. adrenalin and cortisol). The glycyrrhizin present in Licorice has a similar structure to these hormones, letting the brain know there is plenty of response happening and it doesn't need to stimulate more.

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum): One of the most researched and best medicinal plants for stabilising and nourishing the nervous system, it is an excellent remedy to restore energy levels and support mood. While it is most commonly known as an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medicine, it also strengthens immunity and encourages restful sleep. If already taking an antidepressant, opt for St John's Wort in the traditional preparation of a herbal tea remedy which do not cause herb-drug interactions. Concentrated extracts like those found in pharmaceutical-type tablets and capsules standardised to high levels of hyperforin can interact with medications and should not be combined unless under professional supervision.

Other key herbs to include are Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) and Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla). Known as nervines, these plants help to rebalance internal tension, and support calm and balanced responses to the stresses of daily life. When the body is spared the highs and lows of the stress response, it can recover faster from burnout. Rather than being heavy sedatives, these plants have a mild action that allows them to be used throughout the working day to relieve anxiety and tension, without any drowsiness. They can be safely used without the fear of developing dependence.

I wholeheartedly recommend traditional plant medicine as a safe and effective aid in recovery from burnout. As these plants begin to support the healing response, you will naturally find yourself turning to them less and less. This is a fantastic sign that your nervous system has begun to find its balance once again.

If this condition worsens or does not improve, see your leading healthcare professional.

References: Derks, D & Bakker, A. (2014). Smartphone Use, Work-Home Interference, and Burnout: A Diary Study on the Role of Recovery. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 63(3), 411-440.

- NZ Herald

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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