Let’s go back to college, when I was studying Nutrition:
Stuck in Flight or Flight:
I would describe myself as intense, stressed out and a Type A perfectionist. I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect. I took more credits than recommended, added honors credits to my classes, volunteered weekly, ran a volunteer club, had a part-time job, and was a teacher’s assistant for biochemistry. On top of that, I woke up every morning to go to the gym at 6:30 am, partied at least 2 nights a week and tried to keep up with social events.
It was a lot, to say the least. I lived in a constant state of anxiety. I would wake up in a fright, the anxiety already starting before I got out of bed, and continued to stress myself out with the most overwhelming schedule until I fell into bed exhausted at night. And then I did it all the next day.
Physically and emotionally I was doing terribly:
- The smallest inconveniences or changes in plans sent me into a spiral
- Struggled to take care of myself because I was “too busy”
- Constant anxiety, panic attacks
- Severe constipation
- Extreme bloating (I couldn’t sleep because of how painful the bloating was)
- Hair loss
- Food aversions (from a nervous stomach and gut symptoms)
- Lost my menstrual cycle
- Lots of random/weird symptoms – canker sores, pimples on arms, etc
When I graduated college, I broke down, thinking to myself “I can’t believe I just survived that”.
Then the inevitable happened – I crashed
Not only did I crash, but I crashed HARD. This wasn’t a gentle de-stressing, this was an unstoppable, rock-bottom crash.
After running on anxiety and stress for so long, my body was done. It felt like overnight I was a different person.
After my health crash, I experienced:
- Whole body fatigue, I could never get enough sleep
- Chronic body pain
- Unable to get out of bed for hours
- Couldn’t find the motivation to do daily tasks (laundry, meal prep)
- Brain fog
- Daily migraine (yes, literally every day)
- Lack of motivation/drive
- Acne on face and body
- Over 25 lbs weight gain in 1 year
- Depression and I isolated myself
- Loss of identity
I cried looking in the mirror because I didn’t recognize myself on the outside or inside anymore. It felt so frustrating to go from feeling like I did it all to barely scraping by. What I didn’t realize was that my body was beat up and tired from the years of stress I put myself through. I didn’t appreciate that my body was asking me to slow down and heal. I tried dragging myself to the gym at 4 am for hours to make up for the rapid weight gain. All it did was stress my body out more.
Slowly, after a year of feeling like I was in a constant fight with my body, I graduated from my nutrition internship and finally had some time off. I booked myself a yoga retreat and started to nourish my body and re-discover (or discover for the first time!) balance. I stopped forcing myself to wake up at 4 am to work out and expanded my diet to eat more nourishing foods. Eventually, I started feeling better, but it was a slow process. It took well over a year for my body to fully recover.
Looking back now I realize how little self-care and stress management tools I had. When I was running on pure stress, meditation or going to a therapist was out of the question because “it took up too much time”. When I crashed, I didn’t have the energy or tools to know what to incorporate into my wellness routine. I attribute my recovery to making major lifestyle changes. I wish I had made those changes willingly, but at the time my body was forcing me to slow down.
Fast forward to now, when I see clients, I have so much empathy for those heading straight for burnout or struggling with the crash. I know how much it changes your life.
I feel some comfort in having gone it through myself and learning the hard way what I could have done to help support my body better.
Here’s what I would have done differently:
During times of high stress, I would have:
- Talked to someone about what I was feeling
- Ask for help from friends and family
- Focus on small stress techniques like deep breathing, journaling, or reading for fun
- Set boundaries and say no
- Sleep in on the weekend
- Take adaptogens for stress and sleep
- Eat really nutrient-dense foods
- Start to make lifestyle changes to avoid burning out
- Work on my gut health
During my crash, I would have:
- Limit exercise to walks and gentle yoga
- Eat a big, nutrient-dense breakfast
- Take adaptogens
- Replete nutrient deficiencies
- Let my body relax instead of trying to fight it as it tried to heal itself
- Develop a toolbox of stress-reducing techniques
If you are currently in a high-stress situation, headed for burnout, deep in the crash or just dealing with daily life stressors, I hope you found some of your story in mine. Your body is not broken and most of the time, healing is messy.
Are you headed for burnout? Check out these common symptoms to see how you’re doing!