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  • Writer's pictureAmy Donovan (BNatMed)

Burnout and the badge of busy

Updated: Mar 27

"Oh hey! How are you?"


We've all heard it, right?

'Busy' seems to be such a common response

that we all just seem to be on autopilot when we say it, and when we hear it.

It's like a lot of us wear a badge full time that says 'BUSY' like it's now our identity.

I am seeing it more and more in clinic - people on their way to total depletion because they have put their own needs last for such a long period of time.

(Can I get a show of hands from all the Mums out there?!)

They have ignored the whispers,

and now exhaustion has just become the inseparable friend they never invited over.

'Busy' takes the drivers seat and leaves us feeling like it is in control.

'Busy' is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Simply put - it is our belief of being so busy that drives our behaviour to act and respond accordingly.

We are in fact the ones who are in control of how much we take on.

It is a choice, not compulsory!

This was a huge lesson for me...

My experience with burnout

It was a few years ago when I first joined the dots of how it feels to be burned out with the signs and symptoms.

I went in to speak with my wonderful GP about how I had been feeling.

This was a vaguely tied together raft of anxiety, low mood/depression, inability to think straight, being tired all the time, and a general feeling of 'f*%k this sh*t!'.

We ran some general blood tests to ensure nothing was to blame nutritionally or pathologically.

We even discussed anti-anxiety medication options but she was reluctant to prescribe any –

just as I had been reluctant to ask.

She thought that perhaps some counselling would be a good place to begin and asked if I would like her to write a referral to organise this, which I greatly appreciated.

So, I was sitting with a counsellor who I had gone to see in the hope of being able to discuss some of the things I was feeling and the thoughts I was thinking.

After some discussion and thought she posed a question rather quickly into our appointment –

Do you think you could be burned out?

I sat and thought -

How could I be burned out when I was learning

about all the things I was passionate about?

How could the thing that lights me up the most – health –

be causing me to feel burned out?

Because I'd been pouring all my love into my work, clients, and family

and I had not taken any time to fill the cup back up.

The signs and symptoms of burnout

(sometimes called generalised fatigue or adrenal exhaustion)

overlap heavily with those of anxiety and depression and can include but are not limited to:

- Fatigue

- Poor or disturbed sleep

- Headaches

- Low mood or even 'no mood'

- Chronic stress

When she linked the signs of burnout with what I had discussed with her

it was clear that was exactly where I was at,

and it was chronic stress and fatigue that had lead me there.

I had spent years rushing, cramming, and spreading myself thinly.

I lived as though I was at least a day behind all the time rushing to catch up.

I was constantly thinking about the next job/client/assignment/shift at work/family commitment and never felt fully present in what I was doing.

I had a never-ending to-do list that was physically impossible to complete.

I had very late nights and slept poorly when I did finally get to sleep.

My nutrition slipped a bit during this time and I had almost no self-care regime.

Such a great example for someone on their way to becoming a qualified health professional!!

A note on stress

Stress in the 'Alarm' phase can help us to get things done - the work load, that assignment, getting ready in the morning for those who leave it a bit late...

but this alarm phase can also bring on symptoms of anxiety

when we are already on our way to depletion.

Chronic stress

(long periods of severe, persistent stress) can actually affect our brain's wiring.

Repeated experience of real or perceived stress can result in a person's brain

becoming hardwired to continue experiencing stress.

It almost becomes like an automated response to experience and display

the associated behaviour of being under stress.

Chronic stress can also affect the size of our brain, shrinking areas like the

hippocampus which is responsible for our emotions and memory.

No wonder chronic stress results in anxiety and many other mood disorders!

This chronic stress and a constant sense of being 'switched on' or 'at the ready'

(our sympathetic nervous systems screaming "Fight or Fly!")

can be responsible for a cascade of health issues such as:

- Decreased immunity

- Hormonal disruption

- Thyroid issues

- Blood sugar imbalance

- Inflammation

- Depression

All of which I had begun to experience in some degree.

It was time to take a really hard look at myself and how I was living because if I wanted to continue down my path of being a health professional I had to sort some shit out!


My counselor gave me some fantastic resources and tips to help

prioritise my workload and to honour my values.

I now share these with clients when they are feeling the need to reevaluate

their commitments and values - the things that they personally find most valuable

in living a ‘good’ life.

I have adapted one of these and added it here for you to download for free.

I began to recognize the weight and power behind using the word 'busy'

as my response to questions like "How are you?"

and over time have worked to change this.

One of the most valuable lessons was realising

that you don’t “make time”, you make a plan.

You can't wait until you have time, you always have time -

it is just about how you are willing to spend it.

Of course, we all have responsibilities -

work to show up to, businesses to run, bills to pay, and mouths to feed.

BUT, you must also include the people and activities that you want to incorporate.

Make these non-negotiable appointments for yourself.

Otherwise, life becomes a time-vacuum and the space that is made

gets taken up by other 'stuff'.

For me this has meant scheduling in some form of exercise daily; meal preparation to ensure that I eat well even when busy; regular bodywork (massages are my fave!); time in nature; swimming in the ocean; herbal medicine when needed; quality, practitioner only supplements; as well as everything I've put on this list below.

So if any of this has struck a chord with you

and you are feeling the need for some support to guide you in the right direction

I recommend seeking out help from someone who you know/knows you

or is a qualified health professional.

From family and friends

From your GP

From a Counsellor

From a qualified and registered Naturopath and/or a Medical Herbalist

If raising your energy, or your capacity to cope with stress is something

you would like to explore please contact

to arrange a FREE 15 minute discovery call

and assess whether a holistic approach to your health is right for you.

Amy Donovan is a qualified and registered Naturopath, Medical Herbalist and

Massage Therapist working from her private clinic in Te Awamutu, New Zealand.

References used:

American Psychological Association. (2013). Retrieved March 1, 2019, from

Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & Natural Supplements, Volume 1: An Evidence-based Guide. Marrickville, Australia: Elsevier Australia.

Craft, J., Gordon, C., Tiziani, A. P., Huether, S. E., McCance, K. L., Brashers, V. L., & Rote, N. S. (2014). Understanding Pathophysiology - ANZ adaptation. Chatswood, Australia: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Hechtman, L. (2018). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Chatswood, Australia: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Marieb, E. N., & Hoehn, K. (2014). Human Anatomy & Physiology (9th ed.). Essex, England: Pearson.

Mariotti A. (2015). The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future science OA, 1(3), FSO23. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21

Sarris, J., & Wardle, J. (2014). Clinical naturopathy - an evidence-based guide to practice(2nd ed.). Chatswood, NSW: Elsevier Australia.

Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T. P., & Sahebkar, A. (2017). The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI journal, 16, 1057-1072. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480

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