Are you feeling drained? Does every day feel like a race and you are the one so far behind? Do you feel as if you are running on empty? You are not alone. According to the National Safety Council 76% % of us feel tired at work, 53% feel as though they are less productive and 44% have a problem focusing. When you have a job that requires sustained attention, is physically or mentally demanding; feeling drained can impair your ability to think clearly, react appropriately, make good decisions and can even jeopardize the safety of yourself or others.
What is it that drains your Energy Battery? Stress. When we think of ‘stress’ we often think that it is an emotional ‘feeling’. Stress can indeed be emotional, but it can also be physical, nutritional, environmental and social in nature; which is why is sometimes seem so difficult to ‘manage stress’. Stress is a real physiological process in your body that is programmed in you for survival. The Stress Response is a part of the Autonomic Nervous System called the Sympathetic Nervous System. When activated, it creates a cascade of hormonal and biochemical responses in your body. This response is supposed to be short term to help us cope with the demands of the moment. The problem is that when we push ourselves 24/7, we are draining our body’s Energy Battery and ‘running on empty’. Our Sympathetic Nervous Systems don’t get turned off. This results in chronic stress. This is a problem; not just because you feel ‘tired’ but because the physiological processes of chronic stress lead to disease conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and even some cancers. There is an opposing system to the Sympathetic Nervous System (Stress Response). This is called the Parasympathetic Nervous System and when activated results in us experiencing the Relaxation Response. This is when we feel calm, relaxed and peaceful. The beauty of the Autonomic Nervous system is that when the Parasympathetic Nervous System is activated, the Sympathetic Nervous System is suppressed- the 2 systems cannot be on at the same time; it is physiologically impossible. This means you can turn off the Stress Response when you purposely turn on the Relaxation Response. This is how, in fact, you recharge your body’s Energy Battery.
One of the ways that stress can be measured in the body is by monitoring Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Heart Rate Variability is different than your heartbeat. It is a measure of what is happening in between your heartbeats and it gives us information (like a big picture window) into what is happening in your Autonomic Nervous System. High HRV means you are relaxed, focused and charges your body’s Energy Battery. Low HRV means you are stressed- this will drain your body’s Energy Battery. Technology can be a blessing when it gives us serious feedback for our health and well-being and understanding and monitoring our HRV is one of those informative ways we see how stressed our bodies are. Many wearable devices such as the Garmin series of fitness trackers can track your HRV every day and even inform you of the status of your ‘Body Battery’ status.
How do we drain our Energy Batteries?
Stress can be physical, nutritional, mental and emotional, social, and environmental in nature, so our body’s Energy Batteries are continually being drained. We think of the fatigue we feel as being mostly physical (like not enough sleep, too much activity or long hours at work) but the real problem is that we don’t ‘recharge’ enough or we do so in ways that are not actually restorative. Just imagine if you left your cell phone unplugged for 24 hours. You know that even if you aren’t using it directly, that battery is going to die on you; all those ‘open windows’ and ‘background applications’ running in even when you aren’t actively using your phone are going to drain it. Your Energy Battery works in a similar way. Even if you aren’t doing anything directly active, your Energy Battery can get drained from different aspects of life- your thoughts, mental demands, worries, poor nutrition, lack of hydration, all of these create a Sympathetic Stress Response and it is turned on too often and for many of us, stays on for far too long.
Things that drain your Energy Battery:
1. Physical Stress:
- Sleeping less than 7 hours
- Too much exercise
- Eating too quickly (digestion starts with chewing thoroughly
- Feeling sick- a cold or other viral activity in the body
- Sitting too long
- Working too many hours
2. Nutritional Stress:
- Eating processed and refined foods
- Insufficient fruits and vegetables
- Poor quality processed meats
- Too much sugar, Too much sodium
- All poor nutritional choices lead to a decreased amount of vitamins, minerals, macro and micronutrients which create a stress on and in the body.
3. Emotional Stress:
- Strained relationships- familial, spousal or other
- Arguments, miscommunications
- Worried about past, present or future events
- Feeling rushed and hurried all day
- Feeling as if there is no time for anything but work
4. Social Stress:
- Isolation- living alone, working alone or working long hours in isolation
- Lack of connection to a community of some kind
- Lack of interests or hobbies or the inability to manage time to fit in a favorite hobby
5. Environmental Stress:
- Constant loud noise
- Air Pollution
- Toxins in environment, food, water and chemical exposures
Warning Signs your Energy Battery is LOW:
We don’t have a little light that goes from green to orange to red telling us to recharge. What are some of the warning signs that your Energy Battery is low? You may experience physical symptoms like headaches, tight and tense neck and shoulder muscles, back pain, racing heart rate, trouble sleeping, gastro-intestinal issues. Other times, we manifest too much stress in behavioral symptoms such as excess smoking and alcohol consumption, compulsive overeating or gum chewing, being overly critical of ourselves or others, procrastination. We may have overt emotional symptoms like feeling edgy all the time, feeling pressure all the time, angry outbursts, feeling unhappy for no apparent reason, we may isolate from others or become easily triggered and upset by little things that don’t usually bother us. A low Energy Battery impairs cognitive function as well. When your cognitive function is impaired you can’t think clearly or make decisions. You may experience forgetfulness, or racing, running thoughts. Excess worry, loss of your sense of humor and feeling a lack of creativity are also symptoms.
When you take a look at those warning signs do your feel as though many of them resonate with you? If so, it may be time to tune into your personal Energy Battery and start to think about ways that you can recharge it. Now, recharging doesn’t have to mean you need a vacation (although you might); recharging needs to be done on a DAILY basis and in the midst of the unavoidable circumstances and demands that we all face. This is the tricky part. How do you ‘fit it all in” and recharge that personal Energy Battery? Think of the battery draining events as ‘withdrawals’ and the ways to recharge your Energy Battery as ‘Deposits”. Just as you wouldn’t purposely over-withdraw from your bank account, don’t over-withdraw from your body’s Energy Battery- making a few ‘Deposits’ to your Energy Bank during the day can make a large difference in how you feel.
Ways to Recharge your Energy Battery:
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep: Sleep is restorative- get to bed at a regular time to ensure you get enough sleep. Not sleeping enough ramps up that sympathetic nervous system.
- Eat a MINIMUM of 5+ servings of fruits and vegetables (more is better): Choose different colors of fruits and vegetables to get a full range spectrum of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants every day. This will ensure proper micronutrients for your body
- Eat high quality whole food: (aka- not processed and refined): Eat proteins like organic chicken, turkey, wild fish and healthy fats like olive oil and avocados with complex carbohydrates like barley, oats and whole grains to fuel your body with appropriate macronutrients so that it has the ingredients to recharge and repair itself.
- Get some exercise before your start your day: Exercise burns off stress hormones, blood sugar and blood fats and releases endorphins. Endorphins are ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters that interact with the receptors in your brain and give you a feeling of euphoria that is similar to morphine. Exercise reduces pain perception as well. Exercising in the morning can bolster that battery first thing and make you feel super-charged to take on the tasks of the day.
- Drink Water: Studies show that just being a little bit low on adequate water consumption increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is the master stress hormone that directs your body to increase blood fats and blood sugars, shuts down digestion, raises blood pressure as well as directs the orchestration of banking energy reserves (fat) in your abdominal fat cells.
- Take a walk outside: Find some green space. Studies show that being in nature can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, so you feel recharged and relaxed with just a short interim of viewing nature
- Practice a 2- minute breathing exercise when you need a break. Breath in through your nose for a count of 4 and fill your belly with air (like a balloon); hold for a second and then breathe out through your mouth for a count of 4 and pull your stomach muscles in tight against your spine. This simple exercise activates the Vagus Nerve which in turn activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System and shuts down stress. Your blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar will all lower and your HRV will increase.
- Practice Mindfulness in small ways: Eat slowly, being grateful for the food and energy it provides you. Be attuned to the flavors, texture, smell and taste of the food in your mouth. Sit still for a few minutes and close you eyes, breath deeply and tune into the sounds, smells, temperature surrounding you.
- Connect with friends: Make a list of friends you want to connect with and write a short note, a text or make a call in between the busyness of the day.
All of these are ways to bolster your Energy Battery throughout your workday. Take a moment and tune in to how your energy feels. If you are feeling drained, take a small step to recharge your Energy Battery. You will feel better, think better, probably lose weight, and build your immune function as well as cut your risk of chronic disease.
By: Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach
“Building Resiliency through Cognitive Reappraisal and Lifestyle Modification” Course Materials ( Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital )