So how was your last couple of months at work? Nice and relaxed: you've been making the most of your lunch breaks, nipping out for yoga classes and managing calmly. Or - and this, perhaps, is the more likely scenario - there's a rising tide of emails in your inbox, you're on a tight deadline and doing the work of three people after recent cuts. Sound more like it? Join the club. The majority of us are under assault from a million daily stressors, rattling our nerves and goading our bodies into pumping out 'fight or flight' hormones like there's no tomorrow.
Because, that's how our bodies react when we're under stress; we are literally are fighting for our lives, pumped up with hormones that prime us to freeze, lash-out or run away. Adrenalin pumps through our veins and cortisol (the main stress hormone) releases more sugar into the blood, sending energy to our muscles and brain. But it also shuts down, non-essential functions to deal with the 'emergency' and the immune system shuts down, along with the digestive system. All very well if the stress you're dealing with is a sharp-toothed mammal. Not so useful in the modern-day office.
And what do most of us do then? Take a few deep breaths or nip out for a run? Nope, we grab a cup of strong coffee - throwing yet another toxin at our system - and battle on through. By mid-afternoon, usually after skipping lunch, we're hitting a slump and reaching for a Mars Bar. Our insulin levels shoot up to deal with the sugar rush, but then we crash and burn. We arrive home tired but tense, craving a glass of wine (or more likely three) to unwind. Pity your poor liver. It's a self-destructive cycle.
It's not unusual for people to live for months or even years in this purgatory, rarely aware that those breakouts, frequent colds and coughs and headaches, are actually early signs of burnout, because burnout is a gradual process. It doesn't fell you overnight. It wears you down over months and years. The long-term effects of stress hormones on the body can be devastating. Soon we feel tired, depressed and have digestive problems. We might gain weight, develop erratic sleep patterns and may even have problem thinking straight.
Eventually, after over-producing adrenalin over an extended period, the adrenals shut down and without the get-up-and go hormone, life starts to feel very flat your libido takes a nose dive and you are unable make even smallest decision. It's at this point many people quit their jobs (or are pushed due to an erratic temper, or poor decision-making). But it doesn't have to be like that, that's why we set up the Stress Reset programme at the Body Retreat, to help people step off the burnout treadmill, before it's too late.
The first step to recovery is to take stock of where you are on the burnout continuum and support your liver.
* Drink plenty of water (7 glasses per day). If not you will get a headache.
* Start with a short liver detox. On our Stress Reset at the Body Retreat, the first 24 hours are always a vegetable juice fast. Start the detox in the evening with a clear vegetable both for supper. It's good to support the detox, with a little protein in the form of chick peaks or beans. (You can use a little fruit to sweeten vegetable juices to make them more appetising).
* Take a niacin supplement. This B vitamin will support your liver. Then take a sauna. The sauna increases the efficiency of the lymphatic system, which transports toxins out of the body, by forcing a sweat. If you can't get to a sauna, take a hot bath.
* Practice mindfulness for three minutes a day. You'll need to do this in your ongoing life. When you are constantly wired and tired, mindfulness can tap into your parasympathetic nervous-system - the part that releases stress hormones - and slow everything down. Use your mindfulness exercise before a stressful call or meeting.
* Take 15 minutes of exercise a day. This is good for mental health as well as fitness.
* Avoid intense exercise, unless in short bursts. High intensity exercise like spinning, squash are great for stripping fat but they not so good for balancing stress, as they add to the stress on your system Instead, try yoga and stretching. If you do want to do HIT training, limit the intense phases to three twenty second bursts. Much longer and your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which leads to poor health and feeling of burnout.
* Don't feel guilty. It's OK to admit you are not OK. Lots of women I see ping back and forth between worry and guilt. If you beat yourself up constantly, you could tip over into chronic anxiety or depression.
* Try using a hypnotherapy tape to go to sleep.
* Have fun. Do activities that make you laugh or give you back your joie de vivre.
* Re-engage with the woman you are. Remember you are more than the sum or your roles.