These days, you can’t walk into a grocery store without eyeing shelves upon shelves of supplements and products promising to help you manage stress, or help you avoid the symptoms that come with feeling overwhelmed like headaches, the shakes, and exhaustion.
But what about when you’ve already hit rock bottom and suffered through burnout? Whether from work pressures (or let’s face it, LIFE in general), burnout is a serious condition that can affect anyone. In fact, in 2018 alone, 74% of adults in the UK have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or ‘unable to cope’. (1) Dangerous terms if you ask us.
So when it comes to recuperating, can supplements actually help? If so, which ones are safe and actually help improve burnout symptoms and support emotional and physical recovery? And, are we putting ourselves in danger if an uneducated hand reaches for a product labeled a ‘stress-buster’ instead of relying on professional recommendations and guidance?
Supplements and burnout fatigue
Many drugstore brands sell products containing the wrong ingredient combinations for optimal effect. They have poor quality extracts of ingredients, suboptimal dosing to be clinically effective, and more often than not don’t even contain the ingredients they claim on the label, as found in many consumer lab reports.
Therefore by themselves, everyday drugstore supplements are usually not effective in burnout recovery. When dealing with a serious stress-related mental health and emotional issue, it’s best to seek professional advice. An expert in natural medicine can help tailor the dosages and ingredients that are right for you and your condition.
List of top vitamin brands
The brand you get your supplements from is absolutely vital when it comes to dealing with stress and burnout as the quality of your supplements is the most important factor in seeing positive results. If you decide to take supplements it is worthwhile to use ‘clinical grade’ ones like the ones listed below (which can be more expensive than drugstore versions claiming to be ‘equivalents’) and get advice from an expert.
Some high-quality supplement brands include:
• Integrative Therapeutics
• Nutri Advanced (UK)
• Energix (for their greens powders)
• Host Defense (medicinal mushroom adaptogenic blends)
Best supplements and vitamins to fight and recover from stress and fatigue
Each of the herbal/supplement ingredients below is important for burnout recovery as they help to re-balance a key process in the brain and body that has become unregulated due to stress. They act to help relieve symptoms quicker while the deeper nervous system reset is worked on to solve the root cause of burnout.
Generally, supplements should be taken for an initial phase of 3 months under the guidance of an expert. It may be beneficial for you to continue for a longer period of time, like between 3-6 months, if your symptoms return.
1. Slow-release melatonin and herbal blends to promote good quality sleep
When going through burnout, stress and fatigue are at the forefront of the brain and therefore one of the first things to become affected is sleep. The nervous system becomes so ‘irritated’ that despite all of your good efforts to create self-care, pre-sleep rituals like listening to relaxing music, you still struggle to fall/stay asleep. Naturally, the next morning you need a boost of caffeine to get you going, which only causes the body to increase cortisol (the stress hormone), making your burnout worse.
A common problem is sleep supplements that have single ingredients. For example, if you take a product that is plain melatonin, that isn’t in extended-release form, it will only sometimes help you fall asleep, but it won't help you stay asleep – an issue common in burnout syndrome.
Another example is using valerian root-only herbal sleeping pills – these usually don’t work because valerian needs ‘helper’ herbs and takes up to 6 weeks to work if you use it on its own. This is because it takes that long to change the GABA receptors to help with calming down the nervous system.
Specific combinations of herbs that bring together ‘relaxant’ and ‘sedative’ natural ingredients work best, like hops and lemon balm ('relaxant’ herbs), passionflower and Chinese skullcap (‘sedative’ herbs), plus valerian root which can help tone down the nervous system to a calm state can all have a positive effect if taken over a period of weeks.
If you need a stronger potion, add a bit of magnesium (citrate, glycinate forms are best) and melatonin and away you go to dreamland! These herbal remedies to help you fall asleep are not addictive like most pharmaceutical drugs which can have scary side effects like long-term cognitive impairment.
2. Amino acids to calm a ‘wired’ nervous system
In stage 1 of burnout syndrome, the nervous system gets hyper-aroused, meaning the brain cannot control it. This can result in physical sensations and feelings of anxiety and stress.
Calming amino acids such as L-tryptophan and L-theanine work well to balance the nervous system, especially when used in conjunction with a calming herb such as skullcap. These can help decrease symptoms safely without causing addiction or dependence, like some prescription anxiety drugs can.
3. GABA enhancers to support brain health
GABA is the calming brain neurochemical or peptide that gets depleted in burnout syndrome, making it hard for the nervous system to calm down and relax, even when you feel exhausted.
GABA supplements don't actually cross the blood brain barrier so you need to use ‘precursors’ to help the brain make more GABA. This is a natural preparation that is focused on restoring the balance between the brain’s calming peptides (like GABA) and the excitement peptides (like glutamate). GABA precursors NAC and taurine can help to create a calming effect on the brain and body.
4. Ashwaghanda and Holy Basil adaptogens for stress regulation and energy
Adaptogen herbs come from plant compounds that help protect the plant from physical stress. These compounds are used in supplement form to aid adrenal gland function in humans under stress, and reduce adrenal burnout.
Ashwaghanda and Holy Basil are two Indian herbal adaptogens that are great for burnout because they give you energy without making you anxious or negatively impacting sleep, like Ginseng can.
5. Cordyceps for combating severe fatigue and adrenal burnout
During the ‘end-stage’ of burnout syndrome, there is neurotransmitter depletion in the brain that affects mood balance, and there can also be severe adrenal fatigue and adrenal ‘burnout’ in the body from chronically high stress hormones being pumped out over a sustained period of time – usually months and years.
Cordyceps is derived from a Chinese fungi and has been used for hundreds of years to improve immunity, support energy levels and adrenal function, and may even have anti-cancer properties according to some studies. It is a powerful adaptogen, especially when combined with the adaptogens above if you’re suffering from more sever symptoms of fatigue. For best results, take in the morning.
6. Magnesium for muscle repair
Magnesium becomes rapidly depleted under chronic stress and with caffeine use. So if you drink coffee and have stress and burnout, chances are you don’t have enough of it in your body naturally. Magnesium deficiency is one of the most under-recognised causes for fatigue, muscle aches, pain and discomfort – especially at night.
The issue is that the magnesium is stored inside the body’s cells so if you measure serum blood magnesium, the levels can appear normal. The only test is to measure intracellular magnesium with a specialised functional medicine panel.
For most people though, supplementing can be helpful if you have no kidney issues. In general, 400-600mg/day of a non-oxalate form of Magnesium, such as Citrate of Biglycinate, is useful for people with burnout as a general guide.
The best program for burnout recovery involves changing your brain physiology, your body’s response to stress, resetting your nervous system arousal level, and good quality sleep. These changes don't happen overnight so if anyone tells you they have a ‘silver bullet’ for burnout – whether it’s a new supplement, superfood, app, or even technology based treatments – avoid a quick fix at all costs!
Because your brain and body have likely taken years to get to this point, it takes time to return everything to balance. The good news is it is doable. Always ask your doctor or health practitioner before starting any new supplement as this is only general information.