Doctor's Notes

This Silicon Valley MD’s Top Hacks For Beating Burnout

by Dr. Jordan Shlain

Technology, with the opportunities it’s created for new ways of working and living, has greatly optimized our lives. But (surprise!) living in a 24/7 world hasn’t actually made things any less busy or stressful. We may get a lot more accomplished during a day, but invariably each task we check off the list leads to even more things to do. This intense pace can take its toll on our health--both body and mind. So how do we keep afloat and avoid burning out?

Know the data on what nutrients need when you’re busy.

Stress creates a greater need for vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins and magnesium. B vitamins, like B12 and folate, are used for energy production, nervous system health, and metabolic reactions--all resources we drawn on (and wear out) when we’re stressed. As for magnesium, symptoms of deficiency include anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, muscle cramps, headaches, and digestive issues. Sounds a lot like the symptoms of stress, right? That’s how common and intertwined with stress magnesium deficiency is. If you know you’re going into an intense period in your work or life, bump up your consumption of products like poultry, fish, meat, and eggs for Bs (vegans need to be extra vigilant about supplementing). And make sure you’re consuming plenty of whole grains, nuts, and leafy greens to maintain your magnesium levels.

Technology has greatly optimized our lives. But (surprise!) living in a 24/7 world hasn’t actually made things any less busy or stressful. So, how do we keep afloat and avoid burning out?

Mind how you eat.

When we’re busy, it’s easy to go too long between meals, or even completely miss them. We may think we’re saving time, but if our bodies aren’t properly fueled, we won’t function optimally, making us less productive overall. When we do eat, it’s easy to choose quick, processed foods because they’re convenient. But those meals and snacks are usually devoid of important nutrients. If we instead nourish ourselves with unprocessed foods that are low in sugar (better still if they’re high-protein, high-fiber, and contain healthy fats), we control our insulin so that we don’t have spikes and dips during the day. And this, in turn, helps combat fatigue and mood fluctuations. A final note: Just like our brains need proper fuel, our bodies need to be relaxed so that we can digest and absorb nutrients. Even if you take ten or 15 minutes to eat without any other distractions, you’re giving your body the rest it needs to properly digest your food. This allows for better utilization by the body.

Use your best machine.

Moving your body and exercising regularly can reduce fatigue, improve alertness and concentration, and enhance overall brain function. When your brain feel stress, your entire body suffers. Physical activity helps the brain produce endorphins that decreases pain, improve the ability to sleep, and reduces stress. Virtually any form of movement can lower your stress, so choose something that you want to do. (Choosing something you don’t like can actually be counterproductive because motivating yourself to do it can cause more stress, not less.)

Tune into your mind.

Take a break and bring attention to the present moment. Being in the present can be as simple as taking a deep breath and focusing on nothing but that breath. Just the focus on slowing the breath down is enough to bring us in the moment. Another way to move your mind into the now is to stop and look at our surroundings. Really look, and observe. Notice colors and texture. Even just a few counts of this can ground you, and start to lower your stress hormones.

Charge yourself up.

Sleep is essential for health. It allows our bodies to rest and our brains to recharge. If we’re not sleeping enough or if the sleep we do get is poor, we can experience issues with memory, judgment, and mood. We can also feel more irritable, overwhelmed, and have less patience. Reading before bed used to be a great way of winding down and getting ready for sleep. But if it’s on a smartphone, the screen displays reduce the levels of melatonin, a hormone that should increase in the evening to help induce sleep. Instead choose a good old-fashioned paper book, or use a blue light filter on your devices.

For each of these categories, there are obviously bigger changes and more advanced deep-dives you can try. But our world is moving faster than ever, and I’ve found that in this environment, the best way to begin is with the basics. Consider it a tune-up--and if you feel better, use that as an incentive to continue and deepen your practice. You 2.0 and beyond will thank you.

Dr. Jordan Shlain

Ritual Medical Advisory Board member Dr. Jordan Shlain is a practicing primary care doctor, a digital health entrepreneur, a writer, and respected thought leader in national health policy. He is known in the health community as an advocate for physicians and patients. Dr. Shlain joined the Hope Street Board in 2011 and is a Mayoral appointed Commissioner on the Health Service Systems Board of San Francisco. He is an advisor to the Aspen Institute and serves on the the board of the American Academy of Private Physicians, WildAid, and the Institute for Responsible Nutrition. Dr. Shlain is the founder and chairman of Heathloop, a Silicon Valley company dedicated to proactively engaging doctors and patients between visits around meaningful outcomes.

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