'Tis the Season...you should enjoy it
Get Off the Stress Treadmill ; Part 1
Enjoy this, and every, season!
This month of Christmas/Holiday preparation may increase and intensify the stress in your life, which in turn will suck the life out of the season – totally defeating the purpose of all your planning and work.
By now, you can recognize the signs of stress, exhaustion, and chronic fatigue in your life. Recognition, by itself, will not bring about results, but it will help open the door to acceptance, honesty, commitment, and change. There are simple steps to take which can help minimize the effects of energy depletion, ANY time of the year.
Commit to doing things differently
Most people struggling with exhaustion know they need to take of themselves but they have no idea where to start.
The three principles of energy renewal are:
Stop what you are doing, right now. Close your eyes, breathe, and relax. I’m willing to bet that your eyes barely closed before your to-do list started running through your head and you decided you “haven’t time for this”. Do it anyway! Keep pushing that brain chatter aside until you have at least a few seconds of quiet. It will get easier.
Brain health requires training very similar to that required for physical health: strength, flexibility, and endurance. Brain strength requires challenge in order to learn focus. Try meditation, attempt something new, and practise visualization – a technique I use with my clients. Brain flexibility is increased by quieter, thoughtful activities such as playing or listening to music, hobbies, or relaxation. Endurance is enhanced by spiritual exercises such as prayer, or journaling.
Chronic fatigue and stress causes our bodies to shift into survival mode. Desperate for energy, our brain sends out urgent signals in the form of cravings for sugar, processed carbohydrates and fats. (e.g. fast food, candy, bread, pizza, cake, ice-cream, etc.). You will never get your energy back until you figure out how to reset your body and mind. Start with these:
Bedtime rituals to help signal your brain that it is time to slow down, wind down, and shut down. (More about this in later blogs). Again, “functioning” is not the yardstick with which to measure whether you are getting adequate sleep. If you experience lethargy, dozing off during meetings, increased appetite, irritability, depression or anxiety – you are probably sleep deprived. It is only during sleep that your body repairs and rebuilds itself so lack of sleep results in inflammation, greatly increased cancer risk, and 45% increased risk of heart disease.
Morning practices to jumpstart your day and your mood. When you arise refreshed you can start your day without panic. Focus on the pleasant upcoming events of the day. Spend a few minutes in gratitude for the people and things that are part of your morning. Take time to go outside or fit in a few minutes of activity to set your blood pumping and wake up your brain as well as your body.
Nutrition. I do not believe in diets nor do I believe that my healthy menu will look the same as the one your body requires. Every body has unique sensitivities (and my program helps you pin down which foods work best for you.) But, sensitivities aside, you need to provide whole, real foods for all-day energy. High sugar, processed foods offer little nutritional value and spike the blood sugar levels, which cause a drastic sugar crash shortly after.
Movement. You have probably heard that sitting is the new smoking? We sit in our cars, at our desks, at meetings, at sporting events, in front of the TV, - all day long! Awaken your brain and body with hourly breaks and get up! - do some gentle stretching, use a cordless phone or headset to take walks while you talk; deliver messages to the next office in person instead of email or text. Park a little further from the store entrance. Take the stairs instead of the ramp, escalator or elevator. And we’re also talking about mental breaks – don’t spend the entire day doing the same chore. Switch it up several times over the course of your day. If you have been responding to emails for a while, it may be time to go study/research, or make a telephone call that is on your list for today. Take your coffee and lunch breaks away from your desk – go to the lunchroom, or better yet, eat outside and fit in a walk after you finish your lunch.
Once you have started to incorporate these practices into your daily routine, there are more habits to further enhance your energy and mental clarity:
STOP filling “pause” opportunities with “busy-ness”. Hardly ever do I witness people just pausing, reflecting, or taking intentional enjoyment of the moment, surroundings and people around them. If they find themselves with a moment of free time, they kill it with texts, phone calls, social media, and games on their phone…anything but living in the moment.
START using these moments to catch your breath, relax (and please, learn some breathing exercises that will force you to relax), turn to positive thoughts, and shift your energy focus from stressful inefficiency to intentional calm.
SET out reminders to yourself to pause. The reminder can be a quotation that carries meaning for you, a photo of a loved one, a symbol (heart), a colour, a scent (essential oil/ aromatherapy), ANYTHING that has meaning to you and/or will grab your attention. Before you answer the phone, respond to an email, agree to the next commitment, or put your car into gear…Pause. Look at, or think about, your reminder. Breathe, allow the tension to leave your body, push aside the negative ideas fighting for your attention, and within the space of a few seconds you will open your eyes to new energy and clarity.
PRACTICE and allow for imperfection. Even the most beneficial changes to your lifestyle will be interpreted as threats to the brain simply because they go against the norm of your daily routine. The brain will almost always resist change because it requires more energy than coasting along the time-worn impulse paths of habitual behaviour. You will have to remind yourself to follow these new steps every time, and you may suddenly realize that you have slipped back into the old ways without thinking. When that happens, stop, readjust, and carry on with the new. There should be no judgement, no anger, and definitely no self-condemnation. Having an accountability partner is very beneficial. (A good health coach will give you support, and supply that accountability without judgement.)
BE REALISTIC. Often we start out with great enthusiasm and lofty goals. Think of some of the many New Years’ resolutions you may have made, and abandoned. Please, don’t rush out and buy a gym membership, hit the health food store with a three-page list of healthy foods to stock your pantry, and eliminate all your “addictions” (sugar, caffeine, Big Mac) at midnight on Sunday night and think you will stick to your new lifestyle past Thursday. Start out slowly, take small steps. Otherwise you will simply replace one stress (lack of energy, insomnia, unorganized thoughts) with another (self-disappointment, loathing, overwhelm).