Beat burnout with burnout coach Leanne Spencer

The brain under stress

Some people are blessed with the ability to fall asleep as soon as they hit the pillow, but the majority of clients I talk to have problems sleeping. Ideally, you should be getting seven to eight hours of good quality sleep, preferably uninterrupted, and in complete darkness. It’s very important that the room you sleep in doesn’t let light in, whether that’s a street light, an LED on an alarm clock or television, a hall light or a night light. Sleep is inherently linked to diet and exercise, and put at its simplest, you aren’t going to make good choices about food, or be energised or motivated to exercise (particularly at the early stages) if you’re tired. If you use caffeine to combat tiredness, you’ll also be relying on a stimulant to keep you going as well as raising your dehydration levels. The two go hand in hand: a good night’s sleep translates to a better performance in the office or the boardroom, as well as other areas of life. Exercise also is a healthy way of expending energy, which in turn tires you out and enables you to sleep better, more deeply, and potentially gets you to bed earlier.
Research quoted recently in the New Scientist magazine could be good news if you have to deal with jetlag. Miho Sato and her colleagues at the Yamaguchi University in Japan have discovered that, in mice, the insulin released after a meal can restore a disrupted body clock. Apparently insulin can affect circadian rhythms, which in turn affects sleep, attentiveness and other functions, so it is possible to use food to influence insulin levels, and therefore our body clocks. Our central body clocks are reset daily by light, triggered by a part of the brain called the superchiasmatic nucleus. As well as our central body clocks, there are peripheral clocks in our cells and Miho Sato and her team believe that it is possible to adjust the schedule of these body clocks by eating. Should this prove to be true in human studies, it could be a game changer if you suffer from jetlag.

Emotional eating
There is a definite link between anxiety, depression, feelings of low self-worth and eating, and this is not just symptomatic in over-eaters but in under-eaters also. If you don’t feel good about yourself it’s easy to make poor food choices, or to comfort eat, which is a fairly common response to bad news, stress, anxiety, low moods, or boredom. By putting more emphasis on diet and nutrition as part of an exercise plan, it can help to introduce a greater understanding of food and the impact it can have on our bodies and our ability to perform. This in turn can lead to better food choices, which can lead to improved sleep, which in turn leads to improved physical performance, and thus the cycle continues.
Unexplained aches and pains
Medically unexplained symptoms can be quite common in people who are burned out or suffering from depression or chronic stress. Symptoms can include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), shortness of breath, trembling, chest pain, muscle aches, hot flushes, psychomotor agitation (restlessness) and low back pain. Often these symptoms can be distressing, because aside from the discomfort or pain they cause, being unable to find a cause can be alarming. Usually there is something going on but at a deeper level that is causing these symptoms to appear. There is a direct link for instance between low back pain and depression; according to one study, major depression is thought to be four times greater in people with chronic back pain than in the general population (Sullivan, 1992).

Posture directly effects breathing. If you are in a slumped posture you compress your chest and therefore restrict how much your lungs can expand. Short and shallow breaths mean less oxygen is taken in to the body and poor removal of carbon dioxide. This in turn can lead to general aches and pains. Stress can manifest itself in your body in many ways, and often the first signs or signals will be physical. Interesting physical examples of extreme stress can include: jaw clenching pain, headaches, tremors, muscle spasm, insomnia, tiredness, weakness, fatigue, heartburn, stomach pain and difficulty breathing. Stress has been shown to result in individuals becoming more guarded and therefore physically tense. This can mean holding themselves in a protected posture with arms crossed, shoulders elevated, legs tucked under them and their trunk rolled into flexion. This sort of posture compresses internal organs. In turn this can reduce circulation which can cause muscle, joint and nerve pain.

Self-medicating (alcohol, caffeine and nicotine)
If you are a smoker, the damaging and potentially fatal effects of smoking cigarettes or cigars are very well-documented and probably don’t need repeating here. Should you happen to be in any doubt though, Google how smoking affects the respiratory system and that may put you off.

Consuming large quantities of alcohol damages just about every organ in the body, from the brain, to the stomach, to the liver. Some of the damage, for example to the brain, will be irreversible. Trying to function on a hangover not only puts strain on your heart, but the body will be working to get the toxins (the alcohol) out of the body rather than performing optimally. On an emotional level, cumulative and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to psychiatric problems, and contributes to depression and low self-esteem. Alcohol has a sedative-hypnotic effect, in other words it acts as a sedative that depresses activity of the central nervous system, and initially creates the impression of reducing anxiety and induces sleep, whereas the reality is the very opposite.

Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, author of the Amazon bestselling book Rise and Shine: Recover from burnout and get back to your best and Founder of the Rise Method® and Bodyshot Performance Limited. Connect with me @riseshinemethod or Facebook.

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