We’re currently facing an epidemic. It’s got a lot of different names: anxiety, uncertainty, overwhelm, burn out. The problem is that unnoticed, these things can turn into medical problems with real consequences: digestive problems, headaches, disturbed sleep, depression, and even autoimmune conditions.
The good news is that it is possible to have a healthy and happy life. The secret is learning how to live with a full, rather than constantly depleted, energy tank. It doesn’t mean that things won’t get crazy sometimes. That’s life. But you don’t have to pay with your health and sanity.
Keeping your health intact requires just one thing: a commitment to prioritizing your wellbeing as your personal—and professional—bottom line. With these tips, you can be well on your way to crushing it, but without getting crushed:
Decide how you really want to feel and get there as often as you can
Do you often feel like everything’s spinning out of control? Take 30 seconds to tune inward and connect with how you want to feel. Is it energized, rested, centered, and happy?
Next, jot down the top five obstacles in your life that are getting between you and the way you want to feel. Focus especially on the inner obstacles, not what someone else is doing to you. Are you taking on too much? Do you need more sleep so your resilience is higher? Do you have trouble asking for help?
Find at least one (ideally three) solutions that will allow you to bridge that gap, so you’re spending more time feeling how you want to feel. What do you need to shift, change, recreate, or get rid of? Do it. Starting now.
Get enough sleep
Productivity can be difficult to impossible if you're living with a sleep deficit, which half of American women are. We need at least seven hours of sleep for optimal health. Without it, a crucial hormone called cortisol can become out of whack. When this happens, it can affect almost everything in your body.
To improve sleeping habits, make it a priority to get to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each day. Turn off all electronics—ideally an hour before you try to go to sleep. The blue light disrupts melatonin production, the counterbalance to cortisol, which also helps us detox our brains and hormones while we sleep. Finally, skip the alcohol in the evening. Even a glass of red wine has been shown to cause sleep disruptions.
Keep your blood sugar balanced
When your blood sugar is low as a result of running on empty, your brain thinks you’re in survival mode. Aside from carbohydrate and sugar cravings, this also causes you to lose energy, focus, and mental clarity. Keeping your blood sugar steady throughout the day is the secret to a focused mind, steady mood, and all-day energy.
Eating within an hour of waking up is the best way to keep blood sugar balanced. If you have coffee, be sure to have it with your breakfast—not before or instead of breakfast. Eat a snack or meal every three hours, and stick to the right foods: a high-quality protein combined with a high-quality fat (i.e. nuts, a hard boiled egg, avocado). Super low-carb and no-carb diets, interestingly enough, can zap energy in the long run and result in weight gain. But keep your carb choices healthy—one serving of a whole grain or energy vegetable (such as sweet potato or winter squash) with your lunch and dinner will feed your brain, calm your cortisol, and also help you sleep better at night.
Hit the pause button after every 90-120 minutes of work
There’s an interesting natural rhythm called the ultradian rhythm that occurs every 90-120 minutes. It’s a built-in reset point during which our body needs to move, hydrate, refresh, and eliminate. When we try to push past our own intrinsic stopping points, we tend to lose focus, crave sugar or caffeine, feel restless, and become less productive. The antidote: Notice when you start to get restless and agitated, and recognize when you need a little break—and take one. A few stretches, or even a light walk for a few minutes, can do wonders. If you need to, schedule your breaks by setting your alarm. You’ll be amazed at what happens when you work with, not against, your body rhythms. Your productivity—and joy—will soar!
Learn to say no
Many people may have a difficult time saying no. Next time you’re about to say “yes” to something, pay attention to see if your inner self is saying “no.” Take the time to listen to that voice. When you’re older, she’s the voice that will tell your younger self it’s okay to say “no” to taking on too much and instead, to say “yes” to yourself.
Use stopping as a spiritual practice
Somewhere along the line of our recent human evolution, we got stuck in the “on” position. We’re on the go practically 24/7. This pace is killing us; let’s just look at the statistics: One in four women are on an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication.
We’ve got to learn to hit the “pause” button and take back our health. It’s radical and it’s lifesaving. Constantly being on the go is what’s making us feel exhausted, fat, frazzled, and frumpy. It’s wrecking our hormones, immune systems, minds, and even our skin. It’s making us feel too old, too fast.
Hit the brakes more often. For real. Think of stopping as a spiritual practice, and something to be done daily. Whether it’s in the form of five-minute breaks during work or extended time off on the weekends, it’s vital to create more “you” time.
Your work won’t suffer for it, I promise you. You’ll be more creative, more energized, more inspired, more effective, and you’ll have the longevity you need to be at it for the long run.
Dr. Aviva Romm is an integrative/functional medicine physician, mother of four, entrepreneur, and practicing M.D. She is the author of the newly released book, The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution: A Proven 4-Week Program to Rescue Your Metabolism, Hormones, Mind & Mood.