How to help yourself beat tiredness and have more energy
Are you struggling with fatigue and low energy levels? Do you feel exhausted all the time? Are you constantly worried? Do you find unhelpful chatter going on in your head? Have you sometimes felt like a zombie or as if you are in a thick fog? Do you have an irritable bowel, or gut spasms, bloating or loose stools? These are just some of the signs that your energy is hitting rock bottom and you may be at risk of burnout.
More of us are feeling stressed and anxious than ever before, we are dealing with more uncertainty about our health, our job security and even our way of life. We might be working in difficult home environments, coping with the added pressure of home schooling or non-stop Zoom calls with no cut off between work and home life.
We are worried about our loved ones, we have missed opportunities for socialising, holidays and meeting friends and work colleagues face to face, all of which are important for our mental health. Some of us have been eating more unhealthily, drinking more alcohol, having problems sleeping and not exercising as much as normal.
If you are reading this, I’m guessing you would like to do something positive to get your energy back again. The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to get yourself back on track and help yourself avoid or recover from burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is the body’s way of protecting us from the extremes of stress by sending us into a kind of survival mode where our body makes us exhibit sickness type behaviours to try and get us to rest and recover.
There is a perception that burnout is what happens when someone works too hard and gets the wrong balance between work and home life, and while that might be true for some people, the truth is that burnout can affect anyone. However some people are more at risk of burning out and that can be to do with their personality and the way they respond to stress.
When we place our bodies under constant stress, we are continually operating from our nervous system's ‘fight or flight’ mode, and we produce cortisol and other hormones that create physical biochemical changes in the body, such as increasing our blood pressure and blood sugar, sending blood away from our digestive system to our muscles and changing our vision.
These responses are helpful if we are in danger and it is only for a short while. As humans evolved, we would often experience short periods of stress, being chased by wild animals, or chasing off rival tribes. Unfortunately in today’s hectic world we are often living our lives in a way that causes our fight or flight mode to be constantly turned on and it is damaging for our health.
The other mode of our nervous system is our ‘rest and digest’ response which helps regulates our normal bodily functions including our digestion and it kicks in when we feel calm, happy, and safe. We want to be in this mode most of the time as it is good for us, but many of us struggle to even get into it let alone stay in it!
How burnout is triggered
If we keep putting ourselves in stressful situations, our body will eventually stop coping and we can end up in a downward spiral of burnout. This has the same effect as experiencing a profound shock, such as unexpected death in the family, or perhaps being in a car accident. In these situations you might collapse, faint, or feel completely numb.
Under extreme chronic stress our bodies can experience a similar freeze response and get stuck there and this is when you start to see the symptoms of burnout occurring such as fatigue, depression, brain fog and detachment.
Last time you had the flu or a virus, you probably felt exhausted and wanted to sleep longer, your head did not feel right, and you could not think straight. Well burnout is similar in that your body is trying to protect you and get you to stop what you are doing to get better.
Your body is mounting an inflammatory immune reaction to try and cope with what it sees as a life threatening situation. The problem is that often we can get stuck in this state and find it hard to get out of it again. If we are not careful it can lead to long term chronic fatigue.
Signs of burnout
The NHS define burnout as “a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when an individual feels overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands”. It is no wonder our body starts to show signs of being unable to cope.
Here are some of the common symptoms associated with burnout:
- brain fog
- feeling anxious or depressed
- physical problems such as headaches, palpitations, dizziness, or gut issues
- feeling cynical, isolated or detached
- not sleeping well or feeling unrefreshed on waking
- using stimulants such as alcohol or coffee to cope
What sort of stressors contribute to burnout?
When we talk of stress, we need to look beyond just the obvious mental and emotional stressors such as too much work, time pressures or relationship difficulties. Our body responds to all stressors in a similar way, including physical stress such as too much or too little exercise, problems with blood sugar control or eating unhealthy food, and environmental stress such as being too hot or too cold, exposure to chemicals or air pollution.
Burnout tends to happen when one extra stress comes along that is just too much for our body to cope with. It could be catching a virus, losing a loved one or getting into financial difficulty. Burnout can happen to anyone from celebrities to stay-at-home mums or dads. Your personality type can have an impact too.
Burnout is most often associated with professionals who are Type A personalities, high functioning, highly driven and ambitious. But it is also associated with professionals in caring roles who are sensitive, and empathetic, who sometimes give too much and don’t look after themselves enough.
Three habits to help you beat burnout and get more energy
Here are three new habits that can make a real difference to how you feel. Making new habits can be a challenge and the trick is to keep them small and manageable so that you can do them every day. To make a new habit we want to create the motivation to do something and to have a prompt to help you remember to do it. Here are my three suggestions:
1. Eat colourful plants
I want you to add more colour to your plate so that eventually you are eating the rainbow at every meal. Plants are very useful for our health, they provide fibre which is food for our helpful gut bacteria who make useful nutrients that help keep us energised and happy. They are also packed with essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which help dampen down inflammation and support us to make energy.
I want you to pick one colourful fruit or vegetable that you do not normally eat and add it to your lunch or evening meal. Make it easy, pick something you can either simply chop up like tomatoes, cucumber, radish, pepper or something you can grate like carrot, courgette, beetroot. Get a post-it note and stick it on the worktop to remind you. Each day or each week try to add another new fruit or vegetable until you have a colourful plate and are eating the rainbow.
2. Improve your sleep
Burnout is associated with sleep problems and sleep is important for our energy levels with poor sleep linked to low mood and mental health issues. We know that exposure to blue light in the evening from LEDs on computer screens, tablets, e-books and televisions can suppress our sleep hormone melatonin and make it harder to fall asleep.
If you are scrolling on social media or watching the news before bed this is also likely to trigger your stress response as you may feel frustrated, sad or even jealous or angry which stops your body staying in a relaxed state.
I want you to put your phone away at least half an hour before your bedtime and keep it out of the room at night. If you use your phone as an alarm, then you may need to purchase a small alarm clock. When you brush your teeth, I want you to put your phone on charge in the main living area and then do something relaxing like reading a book for 30 minutes before you turn out the light.
3. Get outside in nature
Nature has amazing healing powers and spending time in a natural environment can be very calming for our nervous system, it can help us feel less anxious and give us a general sense of well-being.
I want you to get out into nature every day. Go for a walk in your local park, sit under an oak tree, listen to birds or potter in the garden. Put it in your diary, find a time that works for you a prompt to help you do it, it could be dropping your children at school, or coming home from work or the start of your lunch break.
Starting small is the way to make new habits stick and these three changes are a good place to begin. If you want to learn more about burnout and some powerful strategies to help you recover then check out my website where I have a value packed e-book, Burnout to balance: Knowing the signs and how to beat it!, that you can download for free.
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