Running Yourself Ragged: What Happens to Your Body When You Go Too Hard For Too Long

January 9, 2023

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Running Yourself Ragged: What Happens to Your Body When You Go Too Hard For Too Long

Ever been so stressed out that you felt sick? Turns out, it’s not just your imagination! Prolonged stress and sleep deprivation can actually make you sick. But with so much going on in our day-to-day, how do you prevent running yourself ragged without ignoring your responsibilities? Tune in to find out!

We’ve all had a run-in with burnout. We’ve all been in a place where we had to keep going, running ourselves ragged — long past when our brains and bodies said STOP. 

Of course, we all know the impact that overworking ourselves can have on our mental health, but today I want to talk to you about what it does to your body physically.

If you’re going too hard for too long, working too much, and trying to push past moments of mental strain —  even when you know you should maybe step away and come back to it later — you’re going to feel it. 

In our fast-paced lives and with all the stress those lives bring with them, it’s easy to just let the chaos be the status quo. We might find ourselves saying, “Hopefully next month will be calmer,” or “I just need to get through this season.”

But the result of that? By the time it’s next month or the end of the season, you’re flagging. You feel sick, you’re exhausted, and you can’t even celebrate the fact that you’ve made it through a really tough period.

That’s when you know… you’ve run yourself ragged.

The difference between exhaustion and burnout

Okay, so, I know we’ve all experienced stress or even burnout at one time or another, no matter who you are or what profession you have. It’s a normal part of life. But what isn’t a normal part of life is running yourself so ragged to the point that it actually makes you sick. 

Have you been there before?

For decades, doctors and psychologists have been studying the link between stress and burnout and our immune system. And they’ve found there’s a major connection. 

And funny enough, they found that there’s a difference between feeling sleepy and feeling burnout. Based on studies done at the University of Michigan, sleep deprivation means you could plop down and fall asleep right here, right now (if you had the opportunity), or you’re having trouble staying alert.

But burnout, on the other hand, is a lot deeper than that. Basically, sleep or a break won’t “cure it.” And as it relates to sleep, burnout actually can lead us to feel “tired and wired,” making it hard to fall asleep because our brains are online

Of course, burnout keeping us awake also leads to sleep deprivation — it’s a vicious cycle! You’re exhausted but can’t sleep…so you feel worse because you actually didn’t get any sleep…and it keeps going on and on until the cause of burnout is addressed. 

Stress and your immune system

The really bad news? This stress (and lack of sleep) can actually wreak havoc on your immune system!

When you sleep, your immune system produces essential infection-fighting substances like antibodies and cytokines, which fight off those pesky invaders in your body that make you sick. But if you don’t sleep, you don’t give your body the chance to produce them, making you more prone to getting sick or staying sick longer.

Chronic stress can also present itself as something you can actually feel (y’know…other than being sick). This can include chest pain, headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, and tons more. 

On top of that, stress triggers the fight or flight response in our bodies, ramping up the production of adrenaline and cortisol. Having elevated levels of those chemicals in your body for long periods of time is bad news bears. Adrenaline increases your heart and breathing rates, giving your body more energy and oxygen in case it needs to react. 

But if you aren’t reacting, and there’s no tangible threat you’ve suddenly got to sprint away from, and you’re CONSTANTLY in this state, it can do a lot of damage to your body in the long run. IN cases like this, our chances for heart attacks, hypertension, and strokes actually increase significantly! 

So…what do you do if you’re running yourself ragged and feel like you’ve officially burnt yourself out? 

6 ways to fight burnout

Listen, I know this is all easier said than done, but you don’t need to go on a cruise for a week to “cure” burnout. I’d even argue that won’t help. But the good news is that there are several things you can do TODAY that will help you boost your health and start to relieve the symptoms of burnout.

These things include: 

  • Simplifying your schedule + prioritizing what’s important 
  • Resting when your body tells you to (if you can) OR set a bedtime for yourself
  • Making time for things you enjoy — the chores around the house can wait
  • Reflecting on the things you have accomplished
  • Exercising (it produces endorphins which act as natural painkillers and reduce stress — and can help you fall asleep at night)
  • Taking breaks during the day and actually step away from your desk

Remember, it’s not selfish to take care of yourself. We need you around, friend! You have my permission (not that you needed it anyways) to step away from the busy schedule and let yourself just be. 

Hopefully, this was a good little break for you. In case you want to listen to this episode, we cover:

  • The difference between being sleepy and being straight up exhausted
  • Why stress makes you feel wired — not tired
  • How stress and burnout impact your immune system
  • 6 ways to fight that burnout

Sources Used for This Episode: 

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