What does "health" mean to you? Many people settle for simply being free of disease or ailment. The pursuit of this idea of health for the busy professional is often just about trying to eat a little better (or find time to eat at all) while sandwiching some exercise between the work day and family life.
Challenge the notion that the pursuit of health lies solely with food and exercise. It certainly shouldn’t lie in trying to cram in all the things you feel you should do, at the detriment of all the things you actually value.
True health is more than that. A healthy person should be able to go about their day feeling not only well, but happy and with the energy to vigorously pursue their goals. They have thriving relationships, physical and mental vitality and goals aligned with their true values.
If you're waking up foggy and have to drink three coffees in order to get yourself going, chances are you're not living a healthy lifestyle. Chances are you're headed for burnout.
Burnout is characterized by not having the energy or motivation for anything, including work, family and life in general. Burnout is a common name for what we call adrenal fatigue: a state where your body no longer has the resources to help you adapt to your environment. This means decreased energy, a deficient immune system, dysfunctional sex hormones and a host of other health issues.
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the body has been exposed to chronically elevated demand for the stress hormone cortisol. Known as the "fight-or-flight" hormone, cortisol is your survival hormone. There are many stressors that contribute to its demand, including external stressors like work, travel, relationships, family, money and over-exercising, as well as internal stressors like poor gut health, bacterial and hormonal imbalances, dysfunctional detoxification systems.
Too many of these stressors for too long causes the adrenals to lose the ability to keep up the demand for cortisol. This is burnout.
How do you avoid burnout?
1. Manage your blood sugar.
Spikes and dips in blood sugar create stress on the body. Maintaining a stable blood sugar keeps the body in balance, while keeping your focus and clear-headed. Try having protein and fat for breakfast — eggs and bacon, salmon and avocado, or even meat and nuts. These combinations will get your brain going in the morning, and will keep you feeling satisfied without spiking blood sugar.
2. Look after your gut — remove food irritants from the system.
Eliminate gluten. Our guts have difficulty breaking down gluten, and like a pebble in your shoe, it begins to irritate, wear down and damage the gut lining. This incites an autoimmune response, cueing a spike in cortisol. A damaged gut causes bacterial imbalance and malabsorption of other nutrients, which in turn creates more stress. Avoid wheat, rye and barley for at least six weeks and see if it makes a difference to energy levels and gut health.
3. Help out your liver.
Reduce alcohol consumption, because it's toxic to your body and must be filtered through the liver. The liver is also responsible for detoxifying the system of a host of other toxins. The heavier the load we place on the liver, the less it's able to detoxify the system. This means a more toxic body and higher stress levels.
4. Exercise intelligently.
Too much exercise (or the wrong kind of exercise) is a stressor to the system. Adding high intensity exercise or an excessive volume of training onto an already stressed body is a surefire recipe for adrenal fatigue. If you're feeling busy and hectic, cut back on your exercise. Simple weight training and walking will still get you results without adding to an already full load.
5. Sleep well (and enough).
Sleep enables your body (and mind) to recover and regenerate. Aim for around eight hours of unbroken sleep. If you're waking up in the middle of the nigh, it isn't to go to the toilet. Generally a spike in cortisol wakes you up and then stimulates the release of the bladder. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. If you're having trouble getting to sleep at night, limit exposure to light at least two hours before bed and try eating earlier to prevent having an active gut as you're trying to doze off.
Lastly, consider and know what you actually value. Additional stress is caused when we are continually pushing ourselves to do things that actually aren't that important to us. What are the things you spend your money on, read about, or talk about incessantly at dinners out with your friends? What are the things that you always have energy for, no matter what? These are the things you value. Doing more of a balance of your top priority values ensures greater fulfillment, and as long as we're fulfilled, we're energized.