Updated: Apr 26
“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” “The tank is empty,” “Burning the candle at both ends,” “I wish there were more hours in the day!”
There is a reason why these sayings exist. Our days are busy, we have so much to get done and the perfectionist in us wants to do the best job that we can. Different stages of life can make it difficult to take time for our selves. A busy family life, pressures at work, caring for aging family and friends can all contribute to the workload at different times. Sometimes life can feel out of control and unfortunately the first things to go are the habits that keep us healthy –sleep, exercise and eating well. The problem is – if you go down, who will do all of the things you do? You will be neither efficient, nor feel positive about your life if you are running on empty.
This article is timely, as I can feel myself getting sucked into the busy – no crazy -vortex of work, extra curricular activities with my teenagers, managing a house -all that it involves: cooking, cleaning and getting groceries, and taking on extra work projects. As my kids are going through adolescences, they are staying up later and later, which if I let it, can drastically cut into my down time and push my bedtime by a few hours. This is not good for so many reasons. As I have mentioned in my past articles sleep is vital, especially for hormonal balance.
When we are on the go-go-go all day, our demand for the nutrients that fuel all of this activity are increased. Nutrients specific to supporting stress hormones such as vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins can become depleted. To keep up with the busy pace we reach for caffeine, and sugar to give us quick energy. Then when it is time to go to sleep we have trouble unwinding and what is better than a glass of wine at the end of the day? These are ways of coping, but in the long run they are only depleting you.
One of the most important roles that a Naturopathic doctor has is to assess their patient’s stressors and lifestyle factors. How do we do this? We ask about sleep habits, daily dietary/alcohol habits, length of a typical workday, stressors in their lives, exercise habits, and on top of that ensure that there are no physical imbalances (ie low vitamin B12, thyroid dysfunction or hormonal imbalances). All of these things greatly influence and are foundational to our health.
Here are some of the most important tips to make sure that you “fill your cup”:
While our instinct is to say “yes” and participate in everything and to help everyone, when life is busy we need to prioritize. See below for the first things to prioritize, and then if there is time to do something extra go for it! Sometimes we agree to things without even thinking about how they will effect our time and inadvertently our health. Try to make yourself a priority. Novel idea I know! This also applies to work and all of my patients who are working 12 hour days….coming in a bit earlier, staying a bit later, finishing up work in the evenings from home. Set boundaries, commit to something like an exercise class that will make you leave the office at a reasonable time. It is amazing how leaving work a bit earlier, or committing to a few less things can leave time for exercise, a walk with your partner, cooking a healthy meal, or something relaxing like reading a book.
Two things can happen here – either you don’t get enough sleep because you are trying to get everything done in your day or the quality of your sleep is disrupted by hormonal imbalances such as rising cortisol levels, or neurotransmitter imbalances. Either way the result is a further increase in cortisol, a decrease in serotonin (your happy hormone), a decrease in growth hormone, imbalances in appetite controlling leptin and ghrelin, and glucose controlling insulin. This can have an effect on your mood, cause you to gain weight, and can impair your cognitive functioning.
Aim for lights out by 11:00 and be sure you sleep for 8 hours. This is the time that our body renews, repairs and rejuvenates. The iPhone has a sleep app that helps to remind you when to go to bed. You can find it under: clock -> bedtime. Try it! I challenge my patients to make an effort to get 8 hours a night for a week straight and see how much better they feel. If falling asleep or staying asleep is an issue consider discussing with your naturopath herbal options for balancing cortisol.
During times of stress you need to be sure that you avoid energy robbers such as sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine. Eat at regular intervals, and try not to skip meals, as this can cause blood sugar and hormonal imbalances. Skipping meals during the day can result in overeating at night. Make sure each meal is well balanced with adequate organic lean or vegetarian protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates such as beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables. When life gets busy I encourage my patients to carry healthy protein bars, or nuts with them, so that they are not tempted to grab fast food or unhealthy snacks. Protein bars can stabilize your blood sugar and get you through your day!
When life gets busy the first thing we tend to sacrifice is exercise. Yes, exercise takes some time and effort, but you can come up with quick efficient ways to keep moving. Exercising has the ability to simultaneously invigorate and calm you. It reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol and stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. It will also have a positive effect on your immune system and keep you healthy during stressful periods. Is there anything more helpful during times of stress? Aim for 30-40 minutes daily – walk, run, or do an online yoga video in the comfort of your own home. (yogastudioapp.com)
In times of inescapable stress you may want to support your body with adaptogenic (help the body adapt to various physical and emotional stressors) herbs such as Ashwagandha, Siberian and Panax ginseng, and Rhodiola which can improve energy, help your body deal with stress, reduce mental fatigue and enhance physical capacity. They can help you to cope and manage your hectic schedule.
You can also supplement or increase dietary sources of nutrients, which are depleted with increased stress such as magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C. Your medical doctor or Naturopath may do blood work to identify low levels of iron, vitamin B12 , signs of inflammation or thyroid dysfunction, which would make coping with a busy life even more difficult.
I realize that most of my advice is simple and obvious. The true message here is to make the conscious decision to take care of your self. Life is busy, but making your health a priority by getting adequate sleep, exercise and eating right will help you manage everything on your plate!
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