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Five people sleeping during acupuncture treatment, covered in red blankets, lying in recliners arranged in a semi-circle.

Community Acupuncture and Burnout

Friday, March 18th, 2016

by Stef Cordes & Lisa Baird

What is burnout?

The term “burnout” was coined in the 1970s by the German-born American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the impacts of intense stress and overwork experienced by people working in “helping” professions. These days the term is used much more broadly. Anyone can experience burnout.

A specific definition of burnout doesn’t seem to exist, so we’ll clarify what we mean by it. Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion brought on by prolonged stress and/or overwork. Besides exhaustion, other symptoms include moderate-to-severe digestive problems, chronic pain, depression, poor immunity, low libido, difficulty concentrating, a deep cynicism, and (so unfair!) difficulty sleeping.

We see people with burnout all the time in the community acupuncture clinic. It is painfully common, and acupuncture can help.

What does adrenal fatigue have to do with this?

The adrenal glands are two glands that sit on top of our kidneys. They regulate and maintain many of our internal processes, from metabolism to the fight or flight response. When we’re under stress, our brains send a signal to the adrenal glands which react instantly by releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This slows down our digestion, makes us hyper-alert and divert blood flow to areas like our brain and muscles. If this happens repeatedly, our adrenal glands get tired. Adrenal fatigue results in exhaustion, overwhelm, lowered immunity and libido, poor digestion, sleep problems and difficulty thinking … sound familiar?

We treat adrenal fatigue every day in the clinic. Our bodies didn’t evolve to cope with the daily levels of stress that many of us live with. Fortunately, acupuncture is incredibly effective for easing the body from fight-or-flight into rest-and-digest mode, which is exactly what a burnt-out body needs.

Coping with ongoing burnout

It’s worth noting that sometimes it is not possible to completely heal burnout, because the external factors that have caused it aren’t going away. Which is to say, sometimes “changing your lifestyle to reduce stress” is just not an option (this is one of the many reasons why we give treatments and not advice). A single parent, for example, or someone working a stressful job that they’re not in a position to quit might not be able to reduce their external stressors anytime soon.

The good news is that acupuncture can help in these cases as well. We’ll be honest: many of our patients are still tired and tense. But they’re a lot less tired and tense than they were before they were regularly coming to GCA to collapse into a recliner, switch off their cellphones, and have a nap. People often tell us that the regular acupuncture helps them keep their heads above waterwhich might not sound like much, but is actually pretty wonderful when we’re burning out.

If you have questions about how acupuncture can help you with burnout, please get in touch.

Five people sleeping during acupuncture treatment, covered in red blankets, lying in recliners arranged in a semi-circle.

People sleeping in our treatment room

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GIA