Every year I’m aware of this run-up to Christmas and what are New Zealand’s main summer holidays. I find that some people during this time are virtually dragging themselves to the end. It’s a time when the busy year can start catching up with you, and where if you haven’t had enough time off through the year it starts to take its toll.
Of course, this year being… well, let’s just call it a historical year, shall we? … many of us are feeling the effects of so much change, challenge and uncertainty. There is talk of ‘COVID exhaustion.’ Certainly for many people running habitual stress patterns – which to be honest is a lot of the population – stress effects have been amplified this year. These affects can have a cumulative effect resulting in lower energy levels, fatigue, brain-fry, poor sleep and the list goes on. If you would like to check in with yourself around this phenomenon that I call ‘stress creep’ you can check out my article on this here.
So, on a very practical level, I want to offer you some of the most useful ways I can recommend for supporting your body and overall well-being in this run-up to Christmas, to minimise the cumulative stress effect, and to arrive into the holidays with enough fuel in your tank to enjoy that time. I’d love for you to not have work and busyness take any further toll on your well-being – physically, mentally or emotionally.
First up though I want to point out a few things that are really useful to NOT do over the coming weeks. These are subtle but unhelpful approaches people can take at this time of the year, which generally seem like they’re helping but in the long run, will just diminish your energy further.
Here we go…
What NOT to do
Don’t ‘push-through’. Watch for those moments in your day when you are feeling fatigued, tired or somewhat brain-fried and you push through and just keep going instead of pausing. Pushing through seems like it might be you being resilient, but it just keeps taxing your system and creating more fatigue or overwhelm.
Don’t kid yourself that everything must be done by the end of the year. I haven’t brought into this one for years because whilst it’s lovely to have a sense of completion and I’m all for that, I can find no rational reason why most things need to be completed by 25 December (or earlier!). Your business plans may run on a calendar cycle and require completion in that time frame so I realise you may be at the mercy of fixed plans. However, a golden rule when it comes to lowering stress is to control what you can control. So, what deadlines or finish-lines make sense to you to leave as they are, and which ones would you change if you had the choice?
Don’t underestimate the effects of cumulative stress on your nervous system and overall health. This is coming from somebody who has been through burn-out and out the other end. The first thing I say to anybody who is experiencing chronic stress is – stop it in its tracks as soon as you can and back up the truck. This is because cumulative stress and the burnout effect in the body can accumulate without us realising it At some point it accelerates and it takes a long time for the nervous system to recover. In a nutshell, it is easier and quicker to dial down stress now and minimise the cumulative effect than it is for the body to recover later.
Some of the levels of burnout I see in people are well beyond what a few weeks holiday will help solve. There are plenty of people out there right now for whom the holiday period will not be long enough for their systems to recover from the level of stress in their body. Do not be one of these people if you’re not there already.
My top hacks for getting to the end of the year intact
So let’s dive into some simple things you can do right now to preserve your energy, minimise stress and arrive at the end of the year with some fuel in the tank to enjoy your holidays – and so that your body and mental and emotional self can replenish more fully from your holiday time.
Hydrate and stay fuelled
Let’s start with a real quick one and one I know you will be aware of already – the question is are you doing it?
Are you hydrating your body and fueling your body with good food?
Hydration is huge in terms of supporting the body to operate well mentally because we need the moisture in our brain for when it’s firing off all its electrical impulses when you’re doing your best thinking, and we need it to detoxify the body. If you’re running adrenaline and cortisol in your system and also drink alcohol and caffeine or eat processed sugars, etc. then supporting the body to flush toxins is essential and will make you feel better through the day.
Put a large water bottle on your desk, drink 2 to 4 litres a day depending on your body size and add a pinch of sea salt to support absorption.
Let’s talk about fuel: food. Again, an obvious one and one I know you might know all about already. But, are you having a good breakfast? Are you having a good lunch? Are you having good protein through the day and some healthy fats to feed your brain? Are you avoiding processed sugars and grains like wheat that just converts to sugar? Are you having healthy glucose from fresh fruit?
The body is not a machine or a computer, it won’t just run on fumes and the moment we ask it to it will start taking resources from somewhere in the body to compensate. Keep snacks handy, such as almonds or fresh veggie sticks and hummus in the fridge. Bear in mind that being hungry in the day can activate cortisol because let’s face it, your body starts to worry if you’re not feeding it regularly. Find out more from health expert Ben Warren over at Ben Pure about how to eat for your best energy.
Pause instead of push through
This is about that foggy-headed moment that hits you at 11 am or perhaps 3 pm. It’s about that moment when a task comes from left field and disrupts your plan for your day and what you were going to get done. These are moments when so many people just push through and keep going – and ultimately diminish their overall productivity and mental energy.
So let me tell you what to do instead. At that moment when your body is talking to you – and that is exactly what is happening – stop, pause and listen for a moment. Ask this question: What do I need right now?
The answers could vary wildly. It could be that you need to get some water. Maybe you need to just get up and walk around the office or walk around the block and have a screen break. Maybe you need to eat. Perhaps you needed a loo stop an hour ago and you still haven’t got up to go and do that.
Here’s another scenario: You have your day and tasks planned out and then something comes out of left-field to disrupt that (a deadline brought forward, a customer needing a problem solved, etc). What a lot of people do (and I used to too) is just dive in and deal with the new task/ meeting/ situation and hope they’ll get back to their other tasks and jam it all in. The thing is, you can’t beat the clock. There are only so many minutes in the day and the best thing you can possibly do for your nervous at that moment is stop and RESET.
RESET means stepping back for a moment, re-jigging your plan for the day, moving or delegating some tasks to another time or person, and then taking action again on the best next step.
When we don’t do this our unconscious mind – our body – knows that there is not enough time for all of the things to be done and it will run low-level stress in the background whilst you plough on and try and get stuff done. This is something I talk to people about all the time.
Do not underestimate the power of a reset. When you reset the plan for the day so that it is genuinely doable, you take the stress away from your body so your mind can focus on the task at hand because it’s not distracted by the fact that you’re trying to beat the clock. You end up being more effective and productive, and you get more done. Plus you end up with more energy at the end of the day. Let’s call it a win-win-win-win!
Ask: What do I need right now?
Take a nap. Really.
I can tell you now that many people will find this hack really uncomfortable. Maybe even you. Here in New Zealand at least, the very idea of having an afternoon nap is crazy. The idea that this could be a natural and normal thing to do and – God forbid – could be a normal and natural part of our working day is analogous to Armageddon. It’s outrageous. We assume that only the weak and ill must need a nap, and it certainly doesn’t fit with our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with it” mentality. I have a lot to say about the bootstrap mentality, but now is not the moment.
What I do want to say is that using power naps to refresh yourself and to refuel your body is a phenomenally smart tool for resilience, health and performance. So many people right now are struggling to get through the workday and are feeling the slump in energy and focus around 1-3 pm. Some people have that happen late morning because their adrenals are depleted.
Probably my best advice in this whole article/offering today is that when you hit one of those dips (and assuming, of course, you’re at home or in a place where you can have a rest) have a rest. Take 20-30 minutes, be somewhere quiet if you can, sleep, drink plenty of water when you wake up and then get on with enjoying the rest of your day.
Power napping has long been heralded as a tool for the wise and effective. This is not new information and I’m not going to hit you over the head trying to convince you this is a good idea. I have been napping myself for years now and it is one of the most helpful strategies I have used to recover from stress, cope with busy periods and be healthier overall.
Now, if you’re not working from home at least part of the week at the moment, my advice at this time of the year and to my clients currently is to organise yourself at least one or two days of working from home – if you can of course – and use those days for naps.
We’ve got to drop our concern about whether people are going to judge us for having a nap and whether we should be away from our computer and email for that hour and so on and so on. People, we are not in school. The clock watching has got to stop. If you are doing your job and delivering what is asked of you it’s nobody’s business what you’re doing from 2.30-3 pm. In my humble opinion.
It is time extremely well spent. Trust that you will get great work done, more effectively and more swiftly when your body and mind are in good shape. It’s that simple.
How to nap? Nap when you’re tired (your body is telling you something!), ideally before 3pm, 20-30 mins is ideal according to research, or the full sleep cycle of 90 minutes. You will find your own rhythm. Yoga Nidra relaxation meditation is also a great alternative to a nap and is actually how my body learned to nap (you’ll find yoga nidra tracks over on the Insight Timer app). Further useful tips on napping here and well, all over the internet.
It’s about finding a balance between wellness and performance – that means not only doing well but also being well.
A lot of my work with clients in the realm of stress is about helping them find a balance between wellness and performance – that means not only doing well but also being well. This is sustainable working. Many people are not working sustainability right now, but these few small strategies can go a very long way to supporting your body and helping you be well while you do well.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you would like one on one support around your own journey from stress to wellness and success. You’re welcome to book a free discovery call with me to talk about what that could look like. And also see the resources below for the myriad of ways I can help.
Please take care of your dear self over these coming weeks and know that your wellness is not just good for you, it’s also a gift to the people around you.