If you suspect that you have or are on the road to burnout, then you know how challenging it can be to admit to yourself that you might have a serious problem. And also to face the inevitable stigma from others when this topic is brought up.
Burnout is only considered to be an “occupational phenomenon” by the World Health Organisation, and specifically not a medical condition. Therefore it’s not surprising that many people have a dim view of people who say they have burnout. After all, they don’t look sick and could just be “playing the system” to get some long-term paid vacation.
Having been close to suffering from burnout myself, and having supported my partner through an initial diagnosed case plus a relapse, I understand all of these concerns. I disagree with the WHO that this is just an occupational ‘phenomenon’ (what a strange word to use!). In addition, it’s clear that burnout doesn’t just happen in the office. For example, at-home mothers are just as much at risk.
I’m here to let you know that there are two easy, at-home functional medicine laboratory tests that you can order today whose results will very clearly indicate if you have a physiological problem that needs to be addressed. They may also help you get the support you need to get better.
What are these tests?
The first test looks at the levels of cortisol in your saliva at various times during the day. There are many such tests available, but the one I will talk about here is the Equilibrium Life Complete Stress (Hormones), Mood & Metabolism Test.
Cortisol is one of the important hormones in your sympathetic nervous system, the part that wires up the “fight or flight” response to external stress (e.g. seeing a tiger in the bushes right next to you).
It is produced in the adrenal glands that sit on top of your kidneys, usually in the following pattern during the day:
As you can see in the figure above, the level of cortisol is very low during the night, and then quickly rises to a peak between around 6-8 am. This helps our body generate the energy required to wake up and launch ourselves into the new day. The level then drops off during the afternoon, falling to its low point at around 9 pm.
That is the normal situation.
After periods of chronic stress, where the adrenal glands end up having to produce very high amounts of cortisol over a prolonged period of time, they end up getting fatigued. They suddenly become unable to sustain their output of cortisol, and the level drops – a lot:
Someone in this state will likely:
- be unable to mount an anti-inflammatory response
- have weakened immunity, low libido/ambition/drive/energy, a poor response to exercise, or brain fog
- want to sleep but can’t
- experience flu-like symptoms
- be unable to regulate many of the systems of their body properly (blood sugar, etc).
The second test looks at the levels of key minerals in your hair, specifically calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. The test I have used in the past myself is the Equilibrium Life Complete Minerals & Metals Test.
Just one part of what this test will tell you is what the average levels of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium circulating in your body were over the previous 2-3 months (the time it took to grow the hair that you sent for testing).
What do these levels show?
In a healthy person, the ratios of these four minerals are balanced:
Calcium and sodium are important for the sympathetic nervous system, while magnesium and potassium are key elements of the parasympathetic nervous system (which is the “rest & regenerate” system that opposes “fight or flight”). Balanced mineral level ratios indicate a balanced nervous system and healthy adrenals.
After a period of prolonged stress, the nervous system will eventually get fatigued. This can be seen on the test as abnormally low levels of all four key minerals:
Someone with this kind of test result will typically
- feel poor tolerance to exercise, stress or exertion
- often feel light-headed and have low blood pressure, weakened immunity, poor sleep, low thyroid activity and low adrenal output
- have poor digestion and absorption
- experience feelings of apathy, grief and overwhelm.
The two abnormal patterns shown in the two tests described above indicate a serious physiological problem that should be addressed as soon as possible.
In a typical scenario where someone believes they have burnout, all they can do when they see their family doctor about potentially being put on sick leave is tell them how bad they feel. You might feel like you are just being “weak”, or even ashamed that you might somehow be “playing the system”. Likewise, your doctor and your employer may well have similar thoughts.
Armed with the results of these tests, you will have robust scientific data to support your need to go on sick leave, and to track how your recovery is progressing over time. This gives everyone involved in the burnout recovery process hard data on which to base rational decisions.
And even better, with the results of these and potentially other tests, there are definitely many things that you can do to get better. I have used integrative health practices and protocols to heal both myself and others of exactly these kinds of problems, and my Holistic Reboot Protocol is designed specifically for this situation.
If you would like to learn more about these tests, or how I might be able to help you (or one of your employees) get better from burnout or chronic fatigue, then please get in touch!