JAMA study shows CBD can help burn-out recovery in healthcare workers.
Burn-out is an occupation hazard for far too many. Especially these days. Some workers at the highest risk include: social workers, teachers, brokers, sales reps, and healthcare workers (HCWs). Significantly, the latter have borne the brunt of the COVID pandemic and many of these healthcare professionals are at the breaking point. Unfortunately, the global resurgence of SARS-CoV-2, with the Omicron variant, seriously threatens the stability of healthcare services across many countries. This puts the endgame out of reach, yet again. There is a sign of hope for mental health, however, as a recent study indicates that CBD may help with burn-out recovery.
According to the COVID science table (Canada), “burnout is characterized by exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished professional achievement. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, severe burn was typically found in 20% to 40% of healthcare workers.” Moreover, the findings also indicate that, “in spring 2020, the prevalence of severe burnout was 30%-40%. By spring 2021, rates >60% were found in Canadian physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.”
Sadly, these cycles of hope and gloom are wearing down even the most optimistic among us.
Can CBD Help with Burn-Out Recovery?
Sometimes, there’s not much that can done to avoid burn-out. The demands of certain occupations are relentless and ever-present – and the only way to make it stop is to walk away. People in healthcare are reluctant to do so because the very nature of their personal vocation is in service of helping the suffering. Thus, they continue to sacrifice physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Perhaps there is hope in cannabis medicine. Recently, Brazilian researchers published a paper in JAMA Network outlining how emotional exhaustion is reduced by combining CBD with standard care. The study involved 120 frontline healthcare professionals, randomized into a CBD trial. Both groups received standard care for burn-out recovery, but one group was also treated with 150mg CBD two times daily, for twenty-eight days. (The term ‘standard care’ refers to psychological and community support.) According to the results, the addition of CBD was able to, “reduce symptoms of emotional exhaustion, anxiety, and depression” well over and above those who only received standard care.
What Effect does CBD Have on Stress?
Previous research shows that CBD binds to the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor and this results in an increase in serotonin levels in the body. This hormone is important for stabilizing mood and maintaining feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin also helps regulate sleep and digestion. Chronic stress, however, reduces the level of 5-HT1A receptors, which results in lower serotonin activity overall.
Many prescribed SSRIs (pharmaceuticals) also work by increasing serotonin levels. The result is a lowering of anxiety, depression, and symptoms of chronic stress. So, it makes sense that CBD may also have this effect via similar actions.
Interestingly, a survey published in the Journal of Cannabis Research (2021), found that a high number of people accessing CBD are doing so to manage stress and anxiety. Additionally, a study published in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry (2018) indicates CBD may play a role in improving stress response, as least in rodents. Unfortunately, human trials are still rare or incomplete at this time.
It’s important to note, however, that the results of animal trials indicate that CBD shows, “significant antidepressant-like effects in different rodent preclinical models. However, the mechanisms involved in CBD-induced antidepressant effects are still poorly understood.”
Is Emotional Exhaustion the Same as Burn-Out?
Yes! In fact, emotional exhaustion is one of the key symptoms of burn-out. A person experiencing emotional exhaustion will feel drained and empty due to accumulated stress in the home or workplace. There will be difficulty focusing on tasks and a tendency toward extreme emotional responses (anger or crying) and a general inability to properly self-regulate.
Burn-out is a mental health crisis. It can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, and PTSD. The pandemic has led many people down this path, with surveys indicating increases in emotional distress, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, and depression.
Interestingly, a recent Visier survey indicates that the remote working conditions of the pandemic created 89% burn-out rate among employees. In fact, experts suspect the lack of burn-out recovery is driving the “Great Resignation.”
Whatever the reasons for work burn-out, it can’t be argued that these are not unprecedented times with extra (and prolonged) demands on work and home life. It’s important, therefore, to recognize the early signs and symptoms of burn-out before you become mentally exhausted.
What are the Risk Factors for Burn-out?
The biggest risk factors for workplace burn out include: unclear expectations, lack of work-life balance, lack of control over the day-to-day, dysfunction in workplace relationships or dynamics, and work overload.
If a worker experiences these over the long term, such as during a pandemic, the risk to mental health is significant. Our jobs are where we spend the greatest portion of our day and for many, careers are a key component of personal identity. When there is continual and relentless dysfunction in the workplace, we become emotionally and mentally exhausted. This leads to burn-out. Therefore, it is critical to know the signs before stress becomes a mental health problem.
Know the Signs of Burn-Out
The key symptoms of impending burn-out are: relentless fatigue, mental fog, feeling easily overwhelmed, and having emotional lability.
Emotional Lability – That Ever-Changing Mood
Long term stress can lead to emotional exhaustion and this leads to an inability to self-regulate emotions. If you are hammered with relentless stress and uncertainty, day-after-day, the result is a trip over into survival mode. Humans don’t do well while living in perpetual survival mode. One of the first walls to fall is emotional regulation. What is the point of trying to regulate when you have need that precious brain power to keep you and your dependents alive, fed, and clothed?
So, if you find yourself unusually quick to anger or breaking down into tears, these are the warning drumbeats of approaching mental exhaustion and burn-out.
Feeling Overwhelmed or Unable to Cope
Do you feel unable to complete tasks that you used to complete with ease? Like keeping up with housework and bills? Maybe your work productivity has sharply declined as you spend endless minutes staring into space, doom scrolling, or forever seeking a little dopamine hit from cute cat videos. Workers that feel overwhelmed will spend in an inordinate amount of time trying to get started and get organized. It’s this classic ‘list of lists’ where nothing is ever produced.
Sadly, this compounds problems as feelings of worthlessness set in, followed by general insecurity about job capability. We all know when we are not performing to our best, and that weighs us down. It can even make some paranoid, which further hinders productivity. All of these factors amplify the risks for worker burn-out.
Do you ever feel like you are walking with quicksand around your ankles? Or pushing through air that feels too heavy? Every step feels harder than it needs to be. Your brain is fuzzy and unfocussed, constantly scanning the horizon for threats and updates. Living in a state of chronic stress has bad consequences for mental health. Feeling fuzzy around the edges or an inability to find words or plan simple tasks are all signs that you are headed for burn-out.
How to Manage Burn-Out Recovery
You can recover, but you’re going to have to give yourself the time to recover. This is often the hardest part, because you’re already in this state because there is no time for self care or burn-out recovery. First, it is important to realize that burn-out is not the same thing as stress. The latter can be managed with a vacation or a perspective change, some support from people who love you. Instead, people in burn-out are running on empty and there is a hopelessness that really requires real intervention. There are a few things you can do to help yourself recover from emotional exhaustion and burn-out.
The Beauty in Good Enough
It’s not what we’re made for, that’s for sure, but ‘good enough’ may be exactly what you need. We are constantly served memes and platitudes about ‘being your best’ and ‘no mediocre’. But, when you are facing burn-out, it is impossible to give 100%. The truth is, you have nothing left to give. You are the one in danger now and it’s time to dial down expectations. And to not feel guilty about that.
Militant Self Care
Set boundaries, know what fills your bucket and DO IT. Treat this like the emergency it is, because you know what the next stop after ‘burn-out’ is? It’s a breakdown.
Empathy at Work
Be kind and practice empathy with yourself and your colleagues. They are in the same boat with you, after all. And are very likely also in desperate need of burn-out recovery. Access this community of comrades to talk about your worries and emotional state.
Ask for Help
Get help when you need it. This ranges from seeking out a mental health professional to asking family to pick up the slack at home. Unfortunately, many employees won’t approach management for help accessing mental health resources because they fear a stigma. It’s very important to know that it’s not a weakness to be stuck in burn-out. And doing the things need to get better is not for the feeble. It takes great strength to say, “Enough.” Because in the end, there are no heroics in pushing yourself into a nervous breakdown.
Many Try CBD
Both anecdotal reports and studies indicate that CBD may help reduce stress which can then mitigate the downward cascade of emotional exhaustion and burn-out.
Importantly, CBD may help with falling asleep and staying asleep, which are both essential in navigating difficult times. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your brain and body will not be able to work optimally.
In the end, burn-out recovery is possible and studies show CBD may play an important role in this. Things are easier if you catch the signs early and take action. Take care of yourself. We need you.