It’s official; “burnout” has finally been characterized as a medical condition by the World Health Organization. While it’s satisfying to know that people with burnout can now use this diagnosis to get appropriate help, it’s equally unfortunate that so many people are experiencing this phenomenon that it has become medically characterized.
Taking a brief look at the way most people live their lives, it’s really no surprise. While the medical definition categorizes burnout as something that happens specifically due to work stress, it would be an oversight not to factor in the everyday stressors that are non-work related such as managing a family or dealing with health issues.
While burnout primarily affects your capacity to carry out your work duties, one of the most common side effects also happens to be weight gain.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- The relationship between burnout, stress, and weight gain
- Why workaholism is likely working against you
- Simple tips to prevent or manage burnout
- The most effective way to boost your physiological health, while shedding pounds and calming your mind
Why Does Burnout Cause Weight Gain?
Several factors may contribute to the weight gain that we experience with burnout.
First is the stress itself. Burnout is characterized by chronic workplace stress that has not been properly managed. Therefore, if you’ve gotten to the point of burnout, you can be sure that your stress hormones are well out of balance. This can lead to either excessive amounts of the stress hormone cortisol or low cortisol (due to your adrenal glands being completely taxed).
Among the many unwanted side effects of excessive cortisol are weight gain and the risk for obesity. And while low cortisol is not directly correlated with weight gain, in order for your adrenals to have gotten to the place of producing low cortisol, you must have gone through a phase of high cortisol, which would leave you with excess weight.
To make matters worse, stress-related weight gain tends to accumulate around your midsection. Central adiposity is a risk factor for several conditions, including metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
Another factor that may contribute to obesity with burnout is the emotional fatigue that comes with this condition. Research shows that workload and exhaustion lead to emotional eating, uncontrolled eating, and excessive calories consumption.
What’s more, people that are experiencing burnout are less likely to engage in physical activity. With more calories and less movement and high cortisol, there’s really only one outcome – weight gain.
And finally, studies show that workaholism is directly related to depression. While depression alone won’t cause weight gain, the behaviors that come with depression may certainly contribute. If you’re feeling depressed, the motivation to go to the gym, eat healthily, and take care of yourself goes out the window. Of course, this only snowballs into more feelings of depression, and the feedback loop continues.
Regardless of why the weight gain occurred, the first step in getting to the root of your excess weight is managing your burnout.
How To Manage Burnout
The below tactics for managing burnout will help you reclaim a sense of self and teach your nervous system that you are safe and able to relax. From here, you can begin the work of getting physically healthy.
#1 Social Support
Research shows that strong social support can mediate the negative effects of burnout on health.
While your friends and family may not be able to make your stress or trouble go away, their support can significantly reduce the negative impact of stress on your life. Having someone to call, get lunch with, or even just go for a walk with can make a big difference in the way work stress impacts you.
As humans, we were never meant to live alone or take on the world by ourselves. Having friends and family around can remind you that you are not alone and provide a perspective that there is more to life than work.
#2 Leisure Time
To prevent burnout or help slow it down, make sure to incorporate leisure time into your life. If you find that you wake up, go to work, move through your to-do list, and then go to bed without a moment for yourself – it’s time to rework your schedule. Research shows that providing yourself with some free time to do what makes you happy can support your ability to manage stress and prevent burnout.
With that being said, one of the predictors of burnout is a preoccupation with thoughts of work during leisure time. Therefore, choose activities that are engaging and can keep your mind off of work.
A poor night of sleep can make all the stressors in your day feel ten times greater, which is why it’s no surprise that poor sleep is another predictor of burnout.
Luckily, research shows that allowing yourself to get enough sleep significantly assists with burnout recovery.
Getting a good night of sleep may be easier said than done – especially when your mind is moving a mile a minute. If you have trouble with sleep, try some of these lifestyle techniques to adjust your environment:
- Turn off electronics (no screens) at least two hours before bed.
- Turn off your WiFi while you sleep
- Turn down your lights and wear blue light blocking glasses at night to avoid melatonin-disrupting light in your eyes
- Read fiction novels before bed, it gets your imaginative brain going which takes the focus off your analytical (thinking) brain
- Don’t eat or drink an hour or two before bed
- Stop drinking caffeine by 2 pm (or cut it out if you are sensitive)
Meditation is super popular these days, especially for anything related to mental health. Research shows that mindfulness-based meditation, in particular, is associated with significant improvement in burnout scores as well as mental well-being.
To get started with mindfulness meditation, you can seek out online or in-person lessons or follow a mindfulness meditation instruction on youtube or one of the various apps (headspace, calm, insight timer). I particularly like guided meditations.
- A simple meditation I like to use when I have a few moments is as follows:
- Sit comfortably with your spine erect or lying down.
- Close your eyes and begin to pay attention to your breath
- Notice your inhale and exhale without trying to control your breathing. Simply allow for the flow of your breath to happen naturally as you pay close attention.
- When your attention starts to wander, gently return it to your breath, trying not to be judgemental of your wandering mind.
- Continue for five to ten minutes.
This simple mindfulness meditation technique is incredibly powerful yet subtle. The more non-judgemental you can be, the better. It doesn’t matter if your mind wanders one hundred times in ten minutes, as long as you keep bringing it back to your breath as soon as you remember. If you have a hard time sitting still doing a silent meditation, do a guided meditation you can follow along.
Although many people with burnout feel like exercise is the last thing they want to do, research shows that getting moving is one of the best ways to treat burnout.
In one study, researchers found that after four weeks of exercise, participants with burnout felt greater positive well-being and sense of personal accomplishment, less psychological distress, and less emotional exhaustion.
Although it may feel like all you can do to get out of bed in the morning, even small bouts of physical activity will make a difference.
Beat Burnout and Lose Weight
The above lifestyle tips are an excellent way to start to turn the tide and help you become more grounded in your life. But if you really want to kick weight loss into gear, you’ll need a complete mind-body reset.
That’s why I created my 14-Day Weight Loss Challenge that includes everything you need to get your physiology back in balance so you can feel emotionally and mentally resilient and strong.
While this challenge will certainly promote weight loss and help you burn through that stubborn fat, it will also support you with the nutrients you need to restore health on a cellular level.
In turn, you’ll be able to support your body as it naturally detoxes excess stress hormones, boost your energy, and support your immune health.
The challenge includes:
- 3 pre-recorded webinars (watch anytime!)
- 14-day meal plan (with paleo, vegan, and vegetarian options)
- 9 how-do videos for weight loss, emotional eating, stress relief, skin detox, and more
- 14-day meal plan with cookbook
- Access to our ultimate health reset e-library
- And more!
Burnout is becoming increasingly common, and unfortunately, it looks like we have a long way to go to change the structure of work to prevent further burnout from happening. That means it’s time to take matters into your own hands. If you feel like you’re nearing the end of your rope, it’s time to shift gears. There is no job or any amount of money that’s worth sacrificing your health.
Click Here for References+
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Steptoe, A., et al. “Central adiposity and cortisol responses to waking in middle-aged men and women.” International Journal of Obesity 28.9 (2004): 1168-1173.
Després, Jean-Pierre, and Isabelle Lemieux. “Abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome.” Nature 444.7121 (2006): 881-887.
Padilla, Heather M., et al. “Health behavior among working adults: Workload and exhaustion are associated with nutrition and physical activity behaviors that lead to weight gain.” Journal of health psychology 26.6 (2021): 892-904.
Nie, Yingzhi, and Haitao Sun. “Why do workaholics experience depression? A study with Chinese University teachers.” Journal of health psychology 21.10 (2016): 2339-2346.
Padilla, Miguel A., and Julia N. Thompson. “Burning out faculty at doctoral research universities.” Stress and Health 32.5 (2016): 551-558.
Söderström, Marie, et al. “Insufficient sleep predicts clinical burnout.” Journal of occupational health psychology 17.2 (2012): 175.
Ekstedt, Mirjam, Marie Söderström, and Torbjörn Åkerstedt. “Sleep physiology in recovery from burnout.” Biological psychology 82.3 (2009): 267-273.
Goodman, Matthew J., and John B. Schorling. “A mindfulness course decreases burnout and improves well-being among healthcare providers.” The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 43.2 (2012): 119-128.
Bretland, Rachel Judith, and Einar Baldvin Thorsteinsson. “Reducing workplace burnout: The relative benefits of cardiovascular and resistance exercise.” PeerJ 3 (2015): e891.