Discover how a burned out nurse got herself back on track and overcame her symptoms by taking charge of her sleep and nutrition.
Anna was 38 when she reached out to us here the Helpful Clinic for support. She was showing signs of burnout – repeat infections, chest palpitations, dizzy spells, buckling fatigue and dull headaches that frequently spiked. Indeed, her GP had diagnosed her with burnout and that’s why she turned to us for help.
As a result of her symptoms, Anna struggled with motivation and was constantly anxious about her ability to carry out her work – a feeling that was heightened by the fact her job as a nurse meant she had to be on the ball, caring for patients and administering medication.
Another huge factor impacting Anna’s condition was her lack of sleep. She was an insomniac, experiencing severely broken sleep patterns and making up for it by dropping off at inappropriate times. Anna’s poor sleep habits exacerbated her feelings of inadequacy and significantly affected her concentration. Feeling out of control with her own experience, Anna found it difficult to focus on her day-to-day tasks and hiding from her friends and family as she struggled to stay on track with her work commitments.
Two main areas: Sleep & Nutrition
As always with the Helpful Clinic’s Journey programme, we focussed on six key areas: Mood, Symptoms, Sleep, Nutrition, Relationships and Activities. So often with many of our patients, some areas are more significant than others and that was the case with Anna.
Our Journey programme is designed to help our patients figure out where they are; how they got there; and what’s keeping them there. We then help them prepare for their journey ahead by providing them with all the right tools they’ll need.
It soon became clear that addressing her broken sleep habits would be key to her recovery, Alongside that was the insight that nutrition (or lack of it) was also a key contributor to how she was feeling.
Because she lacked motivation to eat regularly and was experiencing frequent appetite loss, Anna found herself eating on the go. There was no consistency when it came to her meal times and she often had breakfast items (like porridge) for dinner because it was convenient.
But Anna’s burnout hadn’t come on all of a sudden. In fact, it had developed over 5 or 6 years and actually had its roots back in her university days when she was overlooking quality sleep to study and meet deadlines.
With a lack of decent sleep, poor nutrition, plus the other symptoms we mentioned at the start of this post, Anna developed a pattern of barrier behaviour. That is to say, she actively avoided situations and people that weren’t related to her work. She disconnected from her friends and simply focussed on getting through each working day. There was no fun in her life anymore.
Turning things around
The first thing we focussed on with Anna’s journey was getting her to discover why she was feeling the way she did and how she had gotten to where she was.
Being a nurse, Anna had an excellent understanding of the human body and how symptoms are there to alert us that there’s problem. We tapped into this knowledge and enabled her to see that her own body was trying to tell her something was up. As always, feelings (both emotions and physical sensations) are information.
While we worked with Anna in respect to all of the areas on every patient’s recovery journey with us, her support focussed on two main ones: sleep and nutrition.
Because her job involved shift work, Anna felt as though there was never any opportunity throughout the month to actually get some quality sleep. However, as we soon helped her discover, there was a lot more than she realised.
We helped Anna start managing her sleep better, particularly when it came to transitioning from night shifts to day shifts. We looked at whether her mattress and bedding were conducive to helping her get a good night’s sleep, as well as the positioning of her bed. It was then that we discovered she had a stack of unopened cardboard boxes at the end of her bed – boxes that she’d never unpacked since moving to her home.
Said boxes were the last thing Anna saw before she went to sleep and the first thing she saw when she woke up; a constant reminder that she had unfinished jobs. The psychological effect of these boxes being there increased her feelings of anxiousness and failure. They had to be moved.
Anna’s friends helped her move the cardboard boxes into a spare room and she then devised a plan to tackle them (unpack them) one by one. With the boxes removed, Anna no longer had the feeling of failure staring at her from her bed.
But even with much more organisation in place, Anna still wasn’t sleeping as well as she should have been. This was when we realised that her attitude to sleep had to fundamentally change too.
Furthermore, for a long time, Anna had viewed sleep in a less than favourable light. She saw it as something that almost got in the way and wasn’t a good use of her time – more an inconvenience than a necessity. Updating her beliefs about sleep and the role and purpose of sleep meant that she was able to prioritise this key component of health and wellbeing.
Other aspects of sleep such as Onset, Quality, Duration, Feeling on waking and Dreams were also addressed, giving her a deeper and richer understanding of the whole sleep experience.
When it came to addressing Anna’s nutrition issues, she soon understood that eating good quality food was important, just like a car needs good quality fuel. She cut down on the number of takeaways she was getting, making an effort instead to cook and eat at home. By focusing on eating food in all the colours of the rainbow, she had a simple method for shopping.
But it wasn’t just what she ate, it was also the way that she ate it. Eating in her car on her way to work, hunched up on the sofa or whilst she was walking is not conducive to digestion and therefore the absorption of the nutrients she was consuming. Changing the way she ate and how mindfully she ingested her food was a lightbulb moment for her. She was able to enjoy the taste of food again. Anna also upped her water intake by carrying a water bottle with her whenever convenient.
By building these new habits (both in terms of sleep and nutrition) and embedding them in her day, Anna’s symptoms started improving.
Here at the Helpful Clinic, we believe that if you look after the details (like Anna did with her sleep and nutrition), the recovery will look after itself. And that’s exactly what happened in Anna’s case!
As her nutrition and sleep stabilised, Anna saw a range of benefits. She no longer found it hard to concentrate at work and she was a lot more motivated than she had been for a long time.
Experiencing joy once more
After just nine months of working with us, Anna was in a position (no longer exhausted or feeling as though she was a failure) to start bringing the joy back into her life that had been missing for so long. She began reconnecting with family and friends and broke down the barrier behaviour she had been displaying.
Anna was now getting consistently good sleep and was benefitting from improved energy levels as a result. It was at this point that we collaborated with her GP to reduce her reliance on sleeping medication – something she successfully managed.
We had provided Anna with all the tools and strategies she needed to move through her burnout to feeling well and healthy. When we followed up with her after three months (as we do with all our patients), we saw that Anna had been going from strength to strength.
A year later, at her annual health MOT (check-up), Anna was fully robust, healthy and able to deal with life as it happened both ups and downs.
Feeling resilient and strong, Anna continues to have her annual check-ups with us to ensure she stays heading where she wants to be going.
Fast-forward to today and Anna is loving her work (she recently applied for a promotion) and is in a relationship. She’s not only a lot healthier, but also a lot happier.
Does Anna’s situation sound familiar to you? Maybe you’re experiencing some or all of the symptoms she was when we first met her. If so, why not get in touch with us and book your first Discovery Call to find out how we can also support you.