Lately it’s really hit home for me how the majority of people living the modern-day, maxed-out lifestyle are also living with exhaustion as their new normal. Often, they don’t even really realize they are, or worse, for some it’s a badge of honor.
So today I want to shine a light on this and hopefully give you an opportunity to stop and think about whether or not it’s become your normal…
Because it needs to be said that; exhaustion is not an acceptable normal, and more importantly it has potentially serious implications affecting our short-term and long-term physical/mental health and overall enjoyment of life.
Believe it or not, your normal should feel vital, energetic, well-rested and calm.
Yes, there will be certain periods where you get exhausted, for example after a strenuous work-out session or at a time where you’ve had to work harder than usual or when you have a young child, but those times should be the peaks in your life with much longer periods of downtime in between whereby you feel vital, well-rested and energised.
When you spend the majority of your time living with exhaustion, your body and mind will tell you so, which is what’s happening for most people in the form of illness, physical issues, mental issues, sleep issues, gut issues etc.
So, what makes us feel exhausted?
It’s actually really quite simple: Lack of rest or recovery, lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of hydration, lack of oxygen, lack of daylight, lack of movement and stress.
The most important factors being stress, recovery and sleep.
It was Ariana Huffington who recently said that we take better care of our smartphones than we do of ourselves…
If you check in with yourself and really think about that for a moment would you say that’s true for you?
You can also think of your brain and your body just like a car …
- If you don’t fill it with the right fuel or enough fuel (food, hydration, oxygen, daylight) it won’t work properly.
- If you don’t use it properly and just let it sit on the drive, it will deteriorate more quickly (lack of movement).
- If you leave the lights on over-night or for too long, the battery will die (this is like pushing yourself through exhaustion and lack of sleep).
- If you don’t have the car serviced on a regular basis it will develop issues and deteriorate at a faster rate (this is the same as sleep, when you sleep your immune system gets to work and so does your body’s detoxification process).
Here’s another factor to consider when it comes exhaustion, stress and getting ill …
When you’re running on empty your body has to tap into your stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol, to keep you going because you’re lacking in accessible energy and need those hormones to push through the exhaustion – therefore further stress hormones flood your body.
Then, remember, that when you’re stressed you’re in fight or flight mode and so your body doesn’t actually know that it’s not fighting for or running for its life – so those bugs or that virus your immune system is quietly fighting off behind the scenes would be completely inconsequential in a moment where you need to save your life.
This means that when we’re stressed and exhausted, our immune system is not functioning at its best, and purposely won’t be!
So how can we avoid getting exhausted, getting ill or living with exhaustion as our normal?
The first step is in the awareness, connection and respect you have for your body and the importance you place on your wellbeing and overall quality of life.
Awareness, is always key: if you’re not aware then how can you do anything about it!
We become more aware by creating a highly attuned connection to our body, so that you notice the earliest signs or symptoms of exhaustion.
And when you notice them, you then listen and take them seriously. For this, you need to cultivate the upmost respect for your body and your wellbeing. This can be hard for many people. When a client is finding this hard, I ask them to consider how they would treat a child, friend, pet that is exhausted…
Then be that person for yourself.
So, what do the first signs of exhaustion look and feel like? You’d think this would be obvious, but so many people bypass these early warning signs…
It’s pretty basic – you feel a bit tired and weary, this may only be for a fleeting moment if you’re used to being exhausted because your body will quickly go into ‘tired and wired’ mode by tapping into your stress hormones for extra energy. So, you have to be very attuned to yourself and place importance on the smallest signs.
There can often also be some physical symptoms …
Your eyes might feel a bit achy or dry.
Your mouth might feel dry.
Your head might ache or feel heavy.
Your shoulders could feel tense and tight.
You might feel wired – thinking, moving and talking fast.
You might find you’re forgetful and can’t easily recall information.
Your digestion could be playing up – bloated, indigestion, acid reflux, constipation or more loose.
If this goes on for too long and you still keep going, you will usually start to feel those subtle initial signs that you might be getting ill.
And if you still carry on, of course you’ll then get ill.
I completely appreciate that it can be very difficult if not (almost) impossible to stop in your tracks and rest when you have pressing deadlines and important work-related obligations. But you must make a pact with yourself to stop and rest as soon as you can.
Otherwise life becomes a cycle of managing exhaustion in between frequent colds, sore throats, infections and illnesses – which then often leads to a course of antibiotics … a very serious issue, which I will be discussing in more detail soon.
Here’s what I suggest if you want to break this cycle:
The very first moment you feel any sense of exhaustion, your next thought should be: how can I get some rest as soon as possible?
Here’s what you can do:
- Get up, stretch, get some fresh air, take some deep breaths through the nose – mini energizing breaks throughout the day help you avoid exhaustion at the end of the day.
- Leave work early so that you can eat and get to bed early.
- Take a power nap to make up for lack of sleep.
- Get an early night (if you share the bed with your partner, sleep in the spare room to make sure you get deep, restorative sleep).
- If you have young children, create a schedule with your partner where you make sure you both get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis. When you both have busy schedules, it doesn’t make sense if you both get interrupted sleep every night or only one of you does.
- Go for a massage.
- Have a relaxing bath.
- Cancel your evening plans so that you can go home early.
- Cancel your morning plans so that you can have a lie in.
- Cancel your upcoming weekend plans so you can fully rest and take it easy.
- Cancel your exercise session to rest.
- Make sure you’ve eaten well and that you’re drinking enough water.
- Avoid any form of stimulant (coffee, alcohol, refined sugar) these will confuse your body further. In fact, if you feel you need for coffee or energy shot to keep going this is where you pay attention and plan in rest asap instead!
- Take some natural immune boosting supplements – not instead of resting but in addition to resting! Nothing should be taken in place of rest or sleep, only in addition to!
It’s actually World Sleep Day today which is rather poignant because sleep is the ultimate remedy to exhaustion. I know that might sound obvious, but for emphasis, I want to explain why…
During sleep your body produces a type of protein, called cytokines, that target infection and inflammation – effectively creating an immune response. Therefore, lack of sleep has a negative effect on your immune system.
Additionally, the body does most of its detoxification while you sleep – not just the body and organs, also your brain detoxifies.
Sleep is probably the most undervalued pillar of health. Yet somehow society often associates it with laziness.
I want to end with a short story, which is a classic example of how society has taught people to undervalue sleep and rest and to think that we can simply over-rule our own bodily needs…
I was once on a week-long business trip in Paris, this was when I lived in NYC. My boss at the time didn’t stop, didn’t factor in any jet lag we would experience and so we flew overnight Sunday, landed Monday morning and we were expected to go straight into walking round a trade show all day Monday. This filled me with panic before we’d even left but, in those days, I used to just go along with it because I didn’t feel confident saying it would be too much for me – the company culture just didn’t support that.
On top of attending the show every day, getting up early to commute on a packed train for over an hour to be there for 8.30am, every night we were expected to go out for dinners until late into the evening. By Wednesday I felt so exhausted I had to back out of a late night that was planned to go on to a trendy bar after dinner. This didn’t go down too well, but I knew I was going to be ill if I didn’t get an early night. Meanwhile my boss was taking those energy shots every morning and having numerous coffees throughout the day.
The morning after the night I chose to stay in, I bumped into him in the elevator going down for breakfast – he looked awful and there were beads of sweat on his face. During breakfast he then had to go back up to his room to bed, which was unheard of!
He then spent the rest of the trip in his room and his wife said he had such bad night sweats the sheets were soaking wet where he was lying!
Turns out that he had pneumonia and was barely able to make it into work for the following couple of months!
Now I’m not saying if you push yourself too far you’ll get pneumonia, but what I am saying is that he didn’t listen to his body and continued to push himself and with the use of stimulants.
The body has a certain limit and if you choose to listen it actually makes it very clear when you’re pushing its limits!
What’s super important here is your mindset around exhaustion and your body – my old boss clearly thought he could kind of over-rule and out-perform his own body!!
… And you simply can’t, in fact it’s just stupidity when you really think about it!
The leaders of the future and the definition of ‘success’ is changing. It’s no longer just material success and what you achieve at work or in business that makes you ‘successful’.
It means being successful in all areas of your life, including your wellbeing, which then also impacts your ability to thrive and succeed in all the other areas of your life – because wellbeing is at the root of everything.