The word “pastime” has become less prevalent in our lexicon as most people are so overscheduled that there isn’t the time to pass. As we fill more of our time with tasks and less of our time with amusement, we’re likely to experience a rise in energy burnout. Burnout is not currently a defined condition or illness, but we all know the experience quite well. You fall prey to stress, be it work or home, leading to self-sacrifice and decline in self-care. The result is physical and emotional fatigue with a side of decreased performance and dampened spirit.
Like Being in a Pressure Cooker
Energy burnout isn’t the stand-alone time where you feel tired from a busy day. Instead, it’s a prolonged feeling of exhaustion as your body tries to adapt to a sustained period of a specific type of stress. From an Ayurvedic perspective, it is a case of pitta-overload or an accumulation of a hot, sharp, fiery type of energy. Pitta is the responsible child. It’s the one who steps forward to care for a sick friend or relative, the one who takes on extra tasks to be sure they get completed on time, and the one with the most goals and the highest expectations. These can be qualities to be admired, but the increased workload and extreme commitment that comes along with it is like being in a pressure cooker. This approach to life increases fire in our body and mind and leaves little time for participation in activities that could pacify the heat, like days free of responsibility or doing things for fun instead of productivity.
The Hormone Connection
As we push through being tired to get the job done, pitta tissues become affected. Specifically, it is our hormones and endocrine system that struggle to maintain balance. To break it down in a simplistic way, here are the three steps of a normal healthy stress response.
1. Stress occurs and our body sees the need to adapt.
2. The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands start to communicate, allowing stress hormones to begin their dance.
3. Cortisol is released to regulate both energy storage and expenditure, ensuring our body’s return to a normal post-stress state.
This all works out well under low levels of stress, but our body becomes desensitized to this process when it becomes chronic. Our cortisol levels start to have trouble normalizing and run either too high or too low. It is at this stage that we see the first signs of imbalance as we experience more difficulty recovering from small episodes of stress and end up feeling worn out.
But without reprieve, it can get worse. As the responsibilities relent and the stress endures, we continue to add fuel to the fire. This creates further misuse of energy and, in a struggle to survive, sex hormones are impacted. Our elevated cortisol levels are like smoke signals telling our testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone they are on a time-out.
We want to preserve the functions needed to live, so why waste energy on reproduction? Instead of producing and regulating sex hormones, our body is more interested in keeping the vital functions intact. Digestion, immunity, and other metabolic processes are prioritized and sex hormones are left to deplete. The cycle continues until our body is out of crisis mode.
It’s important to recognize that the activities we choose to participate all have a certain type of energy behind them. Burning the midnight oil or burning the candle at both ends are both ultimate paths towards accumulated pitta. While pitta imbalances can be seen in many forms, like inflammation, skin conditions, or blood conditions, the changes it causes in our endocrine system can be most threatening to our well-being. Burnout can hit hard and be tough to recover from, so make sure you see it coming. Remember to play as much as you work, but to never play with fire.