Burnout has a variety of causes and symptoms that erode the mental, emotional and spiritual quality of life. This month’s column will address some of the physical aspects of burnout.
It is amazing that we can know so much about what it takes to build and maintain a strong house, yet know so little about how to build and maintain a strong body. For example, did you know that your physical energy is derived from the interaction between oxygen and glucose? Our energy depends on our pattern of breathing (the oxygen), what foods we eat and when we eat them (the glucose), the quantity and quality of our sleep, and the quality and quantity of exercise we get (how well the oxygen and glucose work together).
The major physical contributors to burnout are not breathing properly, not eating right, and not enough sleep and exercise.
Let’s start with breathing. Breathing is something we rarely think about. Yet, stress causes faster and shallower breathing. Less oxygen means less energy and our mental and emotional equilibrium suffer. An antidote to stress is deep breathing. The needed oxygen gets into the body, creates energy and expels toxins. It relaxes muscles and helps bring balance to any situation. Stop and take a deep-to-the-belly breath and feel the stress drain away.
Exercise — Studies show that exercise reduces absenteeism, fatigue, on-the-job accidents, and employee grievances while increasing mental performance and patience. In short, it increases our level of awareness and productivity.
Exercise not only makes us physically strong but also mentally and emotionally more resilient. It reduces the stress and burnout in our life. And it doesn’t have to be onerous to do so. A fifteen-minute walk will increase the body’s TPA, a substance that helps prevent blood clots. A walk also gives you a break and some perspective on what is going on in your day, and it will pay you back the time by an increase in productivity.
Another easy exercise is stretching throughout the day. It takes energy to hold tension. A few well-placed stretches may release that bit of energy that makes the whole day more manageable and less stressful.
Eating — We need to pay attention to what we put into our bodies. For example, drinking coffee. Did you know that when we drink a cup of coffee the caffeine only gives us borrowed energy? It chemically stimulates our sympathetic nervous system so that our level of adrenaline and other stress hormones quickly rise, giving us a burst of energy. But, we don’t get something for nothing. Later, our energy level will fall lower than it was before we had the coffee.
For a less onerous boost of energy, consider replacing the coffee with the milder caffeine of green tea. Or better yet, drink more water. It helps wash away the toxins created by stress and counters the diuretic effect of coffee.
I really hate to tell you this, but the morning donuts and Danish have got to go! Refined sugars really do a number on us. Our pancreas starts churning out insulin, causing our blood sugar levels to drop rapidly. As the bloods sugar drops, the pancreas stops secreting insulin, which causes our energy to drop to levels lower than when we started. As we go back for more sugar, we have jumped on a destructive roller coaster of high and low energy.
It’s the complex nutrients that the body absorbs more slowly that give use the sustained energy we need. For a more sustainable quick energy source, many people rely on complex carbos, such as rice, oatmeal, beans, or nuts.
Finally we need to sleep. Studies show that Americans get about one hour less sleep per night than they did in the 1950s. Half of U.S. workers say sleeplessness interferes with the amount of work they accomplish, and twenty percent say it causes them to make mistakes. Shave off just an hour of sleep a night and in a couple of weeks you have accumulated a sleep debt guaranteed to sap creativity, stunt productivity, make you grumpy, and burn you out.
During sleep, the brain and body are very busy. The brain records long- term memories and dispatches hormones and chemicals that the body uses to repair damaged cells and replace dead ones. Lack of sleep truly affects us physically and can even cause us to age faster.
A good night’s sleep is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. Try this for two weeks: give sleep some respect. Make a commitment to it, and see if you don’t do better in all areas of your life.
Life is too short to be grumpy and burned out. I hope that these few suggestions dealing with the physical aspects of burnout will help you become a happier camper.