Trying to stem the rising tide of burnout has become an all too familiar feeling for many as we surpass the recent two-year landmark of the UK’s first-ever Covid-19 lockdown. An exacerbated workforce hindered by recruitment challenges has led to high percentages of stress-related sick leave, while an intense global news agenda is causing long-term cases of anxiety and brain fog among the population. Registered nutritionist and consultant at Nutrigums, Shona Wilkinson, advises how to tell if you’re mentally burnt out and gives her top tips for preventing it.

With more than 41 per cent of employers looking to adopt hybrid working by 2023, reports imply that many of our professional and personal lives have merged, causing a rapid increase in rising work-related stress levels. Recent research from MetLife UK suggests mental burnout could in fact be costing UK businesses more than £700m a year, as more than two in five employees (44 per cent) admitted to calling in sick because of feeling exhausted, stressed, depressed, overwhelmed and unmotivated in the past year.

Brain fog and mental burnout is a growing state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It is likely to appear when you experience long-term stress in your job or home life. There are several common signs of burnout, these include: feeling helpless or defeated, short term memory loss, lack of mental clarity, disorganisation or procrastination and poor concentration. In turn, you can also become overly emotional – these symptoms are often referred to as mental fatigue.

With more of us working from home, we need to be conscious not to blur the boundaries between leisure and work time, and now that socialising with friends and family has made a comeback we must utilise this time to spark enjoyment and set strong boundaries to break away from work-based screen-time.

The right nutrition is also key when creating an overall happier health outlook, with vitamins and minerals an essential player in creating fewer mood fluctuations and improving our ability to focus.

So, how can we help prevent burnout?

1. Recognise the signs early-on

Whether you are an employer, a colleague, a friend or a family member there are things you can do to identify the signs of burnout early on. Those suffering from mental fatigue often show several signs:

  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite or a change in eating habits
  • Lack of productivity or negative mindset
  • Disorganisation or issues with time
  • Feelings of anxiety or worry
  • Heightened sensitivity or irritability

As an employer, you can create an open dialogue and have in-person conversations – let people know there is a safe space to talk. Offer flexibility in working schedules where possible, understand that not everyone works in the same way and give people time to address personal needs such as parenting commitments.

Consider giving access to relevant tools and resources that can assist with wellbeing, there is a multitude of paid programmes for example Care Coins, but there are also free tools you can access – try charity websites such as Mind and The Sleep Charity, which have helpful guides and helplines that you can use on a daily basis. 

2. Get a balanced diet

Nutritional deficiencies are often associated with brain fog so it is important to consider a balanced diet. What we eat is linked to our overall health and even our sleep can be affected if we aren’t eating correctly – potentially leading to long-lasting effects of burnout and fatigue.

Here are a number of essential vitamins you should look to include in your everyday diet:

  • Omega-3 – Fatty fish such as salmon and trout are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Our brains use omega-3s to build brain and nerve cells, with around 60 per cent of our brain made of fat. Omega-3 fats are essential for learning and memory. Omega-3 is proven to boost mood.
  • Magnesium – Magnesium is necessary for energy production, nerve function and blood pressure regulation. Found in foods such as beans, seeds and spinach. Low magnesium levels are also linked with neurological diseases such as migraines and depression.
  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C works as a neuromodulator, helping your cells to properly use important neurological chemicals like dopamine. It also assists with neuronal maturation, a process of maintaining and producing healthy brain cells. Like all antioxidants, vitamin C helps to protect the nervous system tissue and cells from damage caused by free radicals and helps reduce brain inflammation which can be the cause of headaches. Vitamin C also plays a vital role in the production of oxygenated blood cells which helps guard against mental fatigue.
  • B Vitamins & Iron – Those with an iron deficiency can suffer symptoms of brain fog, this is because we need iron to transport oxygen to the body and brain. An over the counter supplement is usually a good way to boost your iron and B vitamin levels particularly if you follow a plant-based diet. Pair this with foods that are rich in B vitamins including peanuts, soybeans, oats, bananas, chickpeas and leafy greens to help boost the production of neurotransmitters – chemicals that deliver messages between neurons in the brain and body.
  • Antioxidants – Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals. The brain uses a huge amount of oxygen due to its high metabolic activity, this means that the brain is more susceptible to free radical attack than other areas of the body. Free radical attack on brain cells can cause confusion and memory loss, therefore it is imperative to get antioxidants into your diet.

Turmeric is a spice hailed for its antioxidants properties and also acts as an anti-inflammatory linked to benefit the brain in a number of ways: its active ingredient curcumin boosts brain cell growth hormones, and encourages serotonin and dopamine (mood-enhancing hormones) and even benefits memory. You may not get enough turmeric in the meals you eat alone – so a supplement high in brain-boosting ingredients can be implemented.

​3. Take micro-breaks and set boundaries

Rather than thinking of all of the things on your ‘to do’ list, try to focus on three key tasks to complete one day at a time and leave room for micro-breaks away from your desk. A simple break such as this can help us to refocus and reset. Try engaging the senses, what can you see, smell, and hear? This helps you to become present in the moment.

Set boundaries, remove work WhatsApps and emails off your personal phone, and set your out of office while on annual leave. It is becoming all too common that people are not shutting off after working hours are up.

Positive mindsets are sometimes hard to find when you’ve been stuck in a negative cycle for a while, but you can turn stressor situations on their head. Our perspective is often skewed when we suffer from brain fog, so try writing down three positive things from each day and use this time as a period of reflection on a seemingly negative situation. Ask the question: How did you effectively overcome a situation? Did you learn something new? Did you meet a deadline? This thought process can expand and deepen our understanding of a situation which could sometimes be a trigger to stress, helping us to think more positively longer-term.

words by Shona Wilkinson