The usual pressures of life (relationships, kids, work, health issues, etc.), combined with the (seemingly never ending) uncertainty and confusion surrounding COVID can leave anyone feeling stressed and exhausted (mentally and physically).
If you are feeling this way, you are NOT alone.
Stress can have a MASSIVE impact on your energy levels, as well as your mental health and general wellbeing.
This is largely because, when you are stressed, it can often be difficult to get to and/or stay asleep (the recommended time is at least six hours per night). When you don’t get enough sleep – quality sleep, you simply don’t have enough energy for the next day. (At least, not enough to feel and perform your best).
A good ‘sleep hygiene’ routine is important for a restful night’s sleep. (‘Restful’ sleep means not just lying in bed, but actually maintaining unbroken REM cycles.) Good sleep hygiene is about pre-bedtime habits or ‘rituals’ that prepare your body, mind and bedroom for sleep.
This can include not watching TV in the bedroom, using calming essential oils (e.g. lavender), drinking herbal teas (e.g. chamomile or valerian) or meditating (there are some wonderful meditation apps out there) – whatever works for you.
If you are still having trouble sleeping, you might wish to speak to your GP about natural supplements or medication (e.g. melatonin), or investigate the option of a sleep clinic to see if you have an underlying health condition (e.g. sleep apnoea).
Ensuring a restful night’s sleep doesn’t just begin at bedtime. There are things you can do throughout the day to set yourself up for quality downtime.
Stress and lack of sleep go hand in hand. Stress releases cortisol and adrenaline into the body, to help you ‘cope’. This creates a ‘rush’ of energy, which then makes it difficult to ‘rest’. Paradoxically, sustained stress (and cortisol production) can deplete your adrenal glands and lead to fatigue and burnout.
While removing the cause/s of stress in your life is not necessarily within your control, you CAN control how you think and feel about and respond to stressful situations, even if you need some help to do so.
Are you taking regular breaks from what is troubling you? This can include taking ALL your work breaks, even when you face time or managerial pressure; making time for yourself away from your partner and/or children; stepping back from friendships that are draining; seeking help and support; and finding daily moments of joy that simply make you smile.
If you are still struggling, it can be helpful to speak with a mental health professional such as a Psychologist. Other natural therapies/modalities such as Hypnotherapy can also be extremely helpful in stress reduction.
Making these adjustments and allowing time and space for yourself in your daily routine can create a massive shift and lead to a happier, healthier, more relaxed and more rested you.
Fuel Your Body
When stressed, many of us can either overeat, under eat, or ‘comfort’ eat foods that actually do more harm than good (even if our tastebuds disagree).
It is important to maintain regular meal and snack times, even when (especially when) you feel too tired, stressed or ‘sick to your stomach’ to eat.
Similarly, it is important not to overdo it and increase the portion size or frequency of your meals due to stress; or to reach for snacks high in sugar, carbs or trans fats.
Instead, choose low GI foods (e.g. proteins and good fats) that are absorbed slowly; over high GI foods (e.g. sugar and starches) that are absorbed quickly. Protein-based foods provide the best source of long-lasting energy to fuel your body throughout the day; compared with sugar, which can lead to a sudden ‘crash’ after short energy ‘bursts’ and thus, the desire for more sugar, in a not so sweet cycle.
Choose organic foods that are free from nasty chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics or heavy metals that can wipe your energy and deplete you of vitamins (e.g. magnesium); but are high in nutrients and antioxidants that ‘fuel’ your body.
It may be worth consulting your GP, Naturopath or Dietician to determine which foods are best for your individual circumstances and if you are depleted of any necessary vitamins or minerals that need supplementing.
Stress can lead to either over-exercise (becoming ‘hooked’ on the high you get from the release of endorphins) or lack of exercise (lethargy).
It’s best to maintain a regular, healthy exercise schedule for your individual circumstances (i.e. YOUR normal), perhaps in consultation with your GP, Exercise Physiologist or Personal Trainer.
For many people, 20 minutes per day, most days per week, of simple, enjoyable, low impact exercise is ‘good enough’. (Remember that good enough is good enough and perfectionism is unrealistic.)
This could mean walking the dog, playing with the grand/kids in the park, swimming at the beach or doing some yoga at home. A mix of activities is also ideal, if you can.
Regularly making this time for and commitment to yourself can boost your sense of achievement and self-worth; produce ‘happy hormones’ that boost your mood; actually increase your energy levels; and help you maintain a better sleep schedule.
Exercise triggers the brain to produce endorphins that improve and maintain your mood; keeping you happy and thus, motivated to keep moving, in a positive cycle.
Exercise also releases mitochondria (akin to natural battery ‘power’) in each cell of your body. The more you exercise, the more mitochondria your body thinks it needs, the more it produces, and so on.
Exercise also improves sleep. It causes the body to overheat and then naturally cool down slowly over several hours. This cooling process signals to the body that it’s ‘sleep time’ by bedtime, resulting in better quality sleep, which leads to more energy the next day.
Timing Your Habits
It’s not just what you eat and how much you exercise that’s important, it’s when you do it.
Although it can be fine to indulge in a coffee and Tim Tam for morning tea, stimulants (e.g. caffeine or sugar) past about 2pm can lead to a ‘crash’, which can disrupt your sleep pattern and/or keep your body awake past bedtime. Try switching to decaf/herbal tea and fruit/naturally sweetened desserts.
Exercise before bed is not great. Although it can be difficult to schedule time for yourself before work or during school runs and family dinners, it is important to finish your exercise routine at least a few hours before bed. This allows your body time to wind-down and prepare for sleep. You may have to do some juggling with your family, involve the kids in your routine or negotiate with your other half, but your health needs to come first.
Dehydration can create a strange paradox in the body. It can cause fatigue, but it can also ‘trick’ you into thinking you’re tired, when you’re simply thirsty.
If you are feeling thirsty, you are already dehydrated. It’s important to regularly sip on water (and perhaps even some electrolyte drinks), aiming for two litres as a daily goal.
Severe dehydration can cause your blood pressure to drop; leading to poor circulation and reduced blood and oxygen flow to the brain. This can also create a drop in blood fluid volume; which can cause your heart to work harder to pump nutrients, blood and fluid to your organs and cells. This can lead to muscle cramps/spasms, inability to exercise or sleep and ultimately fatigue – or worse.
Just a few reasons to please remember to put yourself and your health first.
If you are struggling with stress and lack of sleep, please seek support – whether it is from a GP to rule out underlying medical conditions or provide referrals; a good friend for support; or a mental health professional to help you develop tools and strategies to manage stress.
I also offer a range of modalities including Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Hypnosis, Time Line Therapy®, Access Bars® and Life Coaching and can work together with your support team to maintain continuity of support.