Every day I work with mums who have or are experiencing burnout or hormonal dysfunction. As a Functional Nutritionist working in women’s health, this is my area of expertise but it also a topic close to my heart. In my early thirties, I suffered with adrenal dysfunction. Slowly over time my resilience had worn thin. You see, like many of the mums I work with, I’m a driven, high-achieving kind of girl - I throw myself into everything but I’m also a nurturer and worrier. These traits, coupled with emotional events from my past, intense exercise, changing career, completing a MSc and nutritional deficiencies, caught up with me.
Now the trouble with burnout (also know as HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis disorder or adrenal dysfunction) is that it can creep up on you. It is a collection of seemingly unrelated symptoms that can truly turn your world upside down. For me, the early warning signs were just a few niggles - tiredness, low mood, overwhelm, light periods. Like the mums I work with, I just put it down to being busy… "I’m a mum, of course I’m going to be exhausted” sound familar?! But before you know it, you’re wading through mud. You wake up exhausted with a pounding heart. Your mood is at an all time low and you have a constant feeling of anxiety and overwhelm - simple tasks such as tidying up the lego, emptying the dishwasher or cleaning your inbox seem impossible. You feel cold even on the hottest days and struggle with loud noise - soft play and wining kids are enough to drive you back to bed (if you could)! You may have lost your period, and your libido just doesn’t exist. You may have thyroid issues, night sweats or disrupted sleep, food craving, digestive issues and food intolerances… That’s quite a list. Yet so many mum’s just plough on - we’re warriors right?!
Parental burnout is becoming increasingly more common. It is experienced by mothers, as well as fathers but due to the finely tuned female hormone system, the consequences in mums is often easier to spot, but can be more disruptive to your quality of life.
New mums or mum with children in your teens are just as vulnerable. The emotional and physical stressors of motherhood chip away at your resilience. Sleep deprivation, nutrient depletion, reliance on processed foods, sugar and the sheer co-ordination of running the household, raising and nurturing children whilst building a career. We live in a transient world where family and friends may be too far away to offer support. So many mums who are highly functioning, independent women find the adjustment to motherhood extremely difficult to navigate - with loss of identity and independence, societal pressures, and personal expectations and pressure that we place on ourself as a mother and women. The there's the emotional stressors such as mum guilt, social media, isolation and relationship pressures. This melting pot of historic, emotional, physical and mental stressors places us in a state of chronic stress - a constant activation of our nervous system, which over time manifests in physical symptoms and hormonal imbalances.
In my personal journey of recovery, I focused my time on; calming my nervous system - walking, yoga, meditation became daily practising (which as you can imagine was quite a shift in lifestyle - let’s just say it took a lot of adjustment); nourishing myself with supportive nutrition and supplements; healing my gut (I experienced a number of food intolerances); and learning how to tune into my body and use my intuition to rebalance my hormones. These are the four steps that I work through with the mums I support.
Now as a sleep deprived mum of two (3 years and 18 months) I know that having energy is essential if I want to soak up those precious moments with my little ones and have the freedom to thrive as an individual, which includes building my business, exploring my interests and maintaining loving relationships. I have to be very careful not to slip back into burnout. I remain focused, in tune and balanced with the flow of my body. It is something I work on everyday.
It is my mission to combine my personal health journey with my professional experience to support high-achieving mums reclaim their energy and sense of self so that they can step into their full potential.
Author credit: Elizabeth Sergeant