We all want to wake up happy and energized most days and feel connected to our loved ones and our life’s passions.
But modern life and work places incredible demands on our brains and bodies that can wreak havoc on energy levels, mental clarity, productivity, and happiness.
The ‘just eat healthy and exercise’ and or ‘just work on your stress levels’ approaches alone are not enough, especially if you are already feeling burned out or have symptoms of unchecked chronic stress even at a low level.
Brain Burnout Syndrome
Burnout syndrome or ‘Brain Burnout’ as we call it, is the end stage of unchecked chronic stress where your brain and body systems can no longer function effectively. From a brain point of view, your brain loses the ability to ‘shift states’ easily, utilize energy, calm down and then activate when you need it to and maintain positive mood balance.
Brain burnout radically changes the brain’s ability to handle stress and affects everything from our sleep and energy levels to our hormone balance, happiness and motivation.
Symptoms of Brain Burnout
- You can’t Relax Or ‘Switch Off’
- You get non-restorative sleep
- Energy Drain symptoms of mental & physical fatigue
- Need 3 day weekends to recover for next work week
- Trouble focusing & concentrating
- Low mood & motivation
- You feel sluggish & ‘Tired But Wired’
- Need coffee to feel normal in the morning
- Get afternoon energy crashes & brainfog
- Increased cynicism, decreased joy/passion
- Sense of pressure or anxiety for ‘no good reason’
- Increasingly more stress related health symptoms that ‘don’t seem to fit together’
Burnout Brainmap Signatures
The negative effects of chronic stress on the brain and body are real: We can now see them on MRI and functional brain scans and with qEEG brain scanning technology, such as loss of hippocampal (memory) brain cells that are poisoned by high brain cortisol or the main ‘’fight or flight’ stress hormone, and we can also see low brain ‘resilience’ markers.
Brain ‘burnout’ patterns that we see on EEG brainmaps can include issues like slowed alpha brainwaves, too much alpha on the left (which is related to negative mood
& depression), and too much beta on the right and in the back of head.
This last pattern is related to an inability to shut off thoughts, to worrying and physical symptoms of anxiety and trouble sleeping deeply.
Burnout Can Cause Multiple Body System Symptoms
Burnout results in problems with mood, memory, physical symptoms of anxiety, apathy, low energy and many health symptoms that seem to be ‘unconnected’ and often have ‘all tests come back normal’ when you see a doctor.
Naturopaths often use the terms ‘adrenal fatigue’ or ‘mitochondrial energy crisis’ which is when a few of the body systems become dysfunctional and shut down due to chronically elevated stress hormones.
But the problem is not just in the adrenal gland, which is why adrenal support supplements and diet alone rarely solve this issue. Very common with burnout is increased irritation and feeling ‘on edge’ but at the same time having trouble relaxing deeply and resolving mental and physical tension during the day and also when trying to sleep deeply.
Our Brains have not adapted Stressful Modern Life
Our human bodies and brains were designed, through tens of thousands of years of evolution, to respond well to ACUTE stresses, like running for your life away from a sabertoothed tiger.
The problem is, in modern life, you rarely deal with life and death acute ‘survival’ stress everyday.
Instead you are bombarded with this chronic low-level MENTAL threats and stress–the kind that kind of creeps up on you without you knowing it. And because this is recent in our biological history we haven’t adapted yet to handle it.
FACT: Daily low grade stress exposure changes our brain and neural pathways, changes our gene expression (called epigenetics) and also changes what proteins and hormones are floating around in our brains and bodies affecting how we feel and think and how well we can balance our mood and energy levels.
Constant activation of the body’s stress response system creates strain on all the body’s systems, leads to high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the body and in the brain causing problems like fatigue, brainfog, weight gain around the tummy that is hard to lose, poor memory and concentration and lower motivation and mood.
To completely reprogram stress in the brain we have to change your brain and nervous systems’s stress threshold and response to stress.
We have to decrease body and brain cortisol (stress hormone levels) and rewire neural stress pathways and brain signatures of low resilience and high stress that keeps us feeling on edge, wired but foggy and fatigued.
Chronic Stress and Cortisol
Cortisol one of the body’s main so-called ‘stress hormones.‘ It is made by an organ in the body called the adrenal glands, that sit on top of your kidneys.
The jobs of cortisol in the body are:
- Regulate the stress response
- Regulation of blood sugar levels
- Regulation of blood pressure and heart rate
- Helps regulate the Immune System
- Creates Inflammation and a pro-inflammatory state in the brain and body
Cortisol Stress Hormone Natural Cycles
The level of cortisol in the body changes depending the time of day: it is highest in the early morning, around 4am, and lowest in the evenings, when we should be going to sleep.
Increased levels of cortisol beyond it’s normal baseline happens when the body is in a state of chronic stress, even though you often cannot ‘feel’ this stress.
Symptoms of Disrupted Stress Hormone Levels
With chronic stress, our body’s cortisol level is increased above normal for long periods of time, and unlike in acute ‘danger’ situations like escaping a predator, cortisol increases over longer periods of time are actually harmful not helpful and the cortisol levels peak at the wrong time of the day–keeping you ‘wired but tired’ and causing:
- Impaired thinking (cognition) performance
- Fatigue and brainfog
- Decreased ability to learn new things easily
- Decrease memory
- Anxiety symptoms
- Suppressed thyroid function (ie. leading to thyroid disease)
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Decreased bone density (leading to bones breaking easily)
- Decrease in muscle mass & increase in fat in tummy area (i.e. harder to get fit!)
- Lowered immune system function (more colds and flus, slowed wound healing, increase in chronic diseases such as Cancers)
- Increased belly fat (abdominal fat). Belly fat is worse than fat on other areas of the body for your health and is a major risk factor for heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes, just to name a few
- High blood pressure ( risk factor for Heart Disease)
In fact there are many hormones involved in creating chronic stress overload or a high allosteric load within our bodies and brains, cortisol being just one of the key hormones involved, along with leptin, ghrelin, norepinephrine, male and female hormones and many others.
That is why we have to work on stopping this stress response in the brain where the ‘master hormone’ switch is in the pituitary gland as well as working on a body level to deal with toxins and stress.
Getting Burnout Without ‘Feeling Stressed’
Modern life small daily chronic stressors are way out of the range of what our bodies were designed to deal with. Our brain turns off stress messages over time that it gets from various body organs and hormones so you don’t’ constantly believe you are running away from a sabertoothed tiger and can get through the day.
You may still feel foggy and fatigued but even this becomes ‘normal’ for many people because it has been their state of being for so long. Your brain is trying to shut off the stress messages to protect you but it this is an example of the brain ‘doing the wrong thing.’
Signs & Symptoms of ‘Brain Burnout’
Chronic stress leading to burnout syndrome happens when the brain and body total stress burden exceeds what it can cope with given its current resources, resulting in lower brain and mental performance, mental and even physical fatigue if the problem gets past a certain point.
This total stress burden is actually a scientific equation called the Allosteric Load.
Brain burnout Effect on the Gut Microbiome
Chronic stress leading to burnout can cause changes in our gut lining to become inflamed, the gut to become ‘leaky’ due to tight junctions opening up and letting in things that it shouldn’t and gut microbes to shift from good to bad bacteria.
These gut changes not only affect digestion but they affect hormone levels and actual BRAIN neurotransmitter levels that control mood, energy levels, anxiety and ability to focus.
That is why healing the gut and the brain gut connection is part of the big picture for burnout syndrome in many people and why so many people can have disrupted digestion as part of burnout.
Neurofeedback for Brain Burnout Recovery
Neurofeedback EEG Brainwave training is a direct ‘real time’ way of learning how to control your brain’s electrical activity and optimize brainwave patterns to change the way the brain handles stress.
It is the only direct way of rebalancing the brain’s control over mental performance, focus and mood and is a much more direct way of changing the brain vs. pill approaches or traditional meditation alone where the brain has a very long and large learning curve leading to most people giving up after weeks or months.
It allows you to gain ‘conscious’ control over your body processes that are largely ‘unconscious’ without training, such as your cortisol stress response in the body, your sleep and your worry loops in the brain.
Neurofeedback brainwave training helps restore the balance to the Autonomic Nervous System that becomes disrupted due to high stress loads and toxic cortisol levels over months and years, leading to dysfunctional brainwave patterns and impacting mental performance.
We also use a specific anti-burnout form of neurofeedback called neuromeditation in all of our programs, which accesses the brain’s ‘twilight state’ the deep brain state in between sleep and waking that we can harness using eeg brain training ‘neuromeditation’ deep state sessions leading to deep nervous system feelings of restoration, enhanced insight, improved energy levels and decreased sympathetic nervous system activation ie reduced ‘fight of flight’ stress responses.
3 First Steps You can take now to reduce Brain Burnout
- Start doing a simple breathing-based meditation first thing in the morning and again before bed-start with 5 minutes each session and add a minute every 2-3 days until you reach 20 minutes to reduce brain stress and overwhelm
- Swap any caffeine after 11am for a herbal adaptogen supplement blend for energy without sleep fragmentation later: A combination of reishi, chaga, cordyceps mushrooms and liquorice root are good ingredients to look for.
- Shut off all electronic screens by 8pm including TVs, smart phones and laptop since these blue light devices disrupt melatonin sleep hormone cycles and fragment deep sleep later at night.
Want More Help? Book a free assessment call to see how you can solve your burnout for good.
Selected Studies on Neurofeedback for Stress Response Regulation & Resolving Symptoms Associated with Brain Burnout
- Holmes, D. S., Burish, T. G., & Frost, R. O. (1980). Effects of instructions and biofeedback in EEG-alpha production and the effects of EEG-alpha biofeedback training for controlled arousal in a subsequent stressful situation. Journal of Research in Personality, 14(2), 212-223.
- Brody, S., Rau, H., Kohler, F., Schupp, H., Lutzenberger, W., & Birbaumer, N. (1994). Slow cortical potential biofeedback and the startle reflex. Biofeedback & Self-Regulation, 19(1), 1-12.
- Burti, L., & Siciliani, O. (1983). Increase in alpha-rhythm in anxious subjects using biofeedback: A preliminary study. Psichiatria Generale e del Eta Evolutiva, 21(2-4), 79-97.
- Chisholm, R. C., DeGood, D. E., & Hartz, M. A. (1977). Effects of alpha feedback training on occipital EEG, heart rate, and experiential reactivity to a laboratory stressor. Psychophysiology, 14(2), 157-163.
- Egner, T., & Gruzelier, J. H. (2004). The temporal dynamics of electro encephalographic responses to alpha/theta neurofeedback training in healthy subjects. Journal of Neurotherapy, 8(1), 43-57.
- Egner, T., Strawson, E., & Gruzelier, J. H. (2002). EEG sFisher, S. (2007). Fpo2 and the regulation of fear. NeuroConnections Newsletter, January 2007, 13, 15-17.
- Garrett, B. L., & Silver, M. P. (1976). The use of EMG and alpha biofeedback to relieve test anxiety in college students. Chapter in I. Wickramasekera (Ed.), Biofeedback, Behavior Therapy, and Hypnosis. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
- Valdez, M. (1988). A program of stress management in a college setting. Psychotherapy in Private Practice, 6(2), 43-54.ignature and phenomenology of alpha/theta neurofeedback training versus mock feedback. Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback, 27(4), 261-270.
- Vanathy, S., Sharma, P. S. V. N., & Kumar, K. B. (1998). The efficacy of alpha and theta neurofeedback training in treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. Indian Journal of Clinical Psychology, 25(2), 136-143.
- Jacobs, R.L. (2009). Rhythms of healing: A case study. Journal of Neurotherapy 13(4), 228 – 238.
- Applied Research Using Alpha/Theta Training for Enhancing Creativity and Well-Being