This brings us nicely to the next topic of stress, which is another critical element of our wake/sleep cycle and our energy. Remember, stress is what triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. Stress is the response to a perceived threat and/or low blood sugar. It’s worth noting this right away because if you’re feeling hungry and you have a deadline, then you’re going to be all the more stressed out than you would be trying to tackle the same issue while you were asleep!
A little stress is a good thing. A little stress is what we call ‘eustress’ and this is what motivates us to focus and to be productive. Moreover, a little stress helps us stay awake and alert and to focus on whatever it is we’re doing.
The problem is when we have too much stress, or when this stress lasts too long. Remember, we’re supposed to go through cycles where we switch between ‘awake and alert’ and ‘relaxed and calm’.
So what do you think happens if you’re highly ‘awake and alert’ for 8 hours straight without a break? That’s right: you come home and absolutely collapse in a heap because you’re 100% spent. And there is a good physiological reason for this too. When you exert yourself you see, you are producing hormones that keep your energy levels high. These include adrenaline and norepinephrine, which keep your heart beating faster and help you concentrate and focus.
The problem is, that there’s only so much of these neurochemicals that we can produce. Eventually we run out, which causes something called ‘adrenal fatigue’. In this state, we will experience incredibly low energy, low mood and low motivation! Ask yourself: what is the single most tiring part of your day? It’s probably work. And this is because you have been producing these ‘go, go, go’ hormones for 8 hours straight which is entirely unnatural.
That much focus meanwhile increases the amount of adenosine and the amount of cytokines. Worse still, is that your body is actually not working at all, meaning that you’re going to be feeling that exhausted and spent despite not having had any useful exercise. What’s more, is that being constantly ‘on’ throughout the day is a good way to cause health problems.
These cycles are here for a reason. When you eat and then go straight back into work, the large amount of stress will actually suppress your digestion.
Remember: stress in the wild was often associated with danger and we don’t want to be digesting when we’re meant to be running! Meanwhile, your immune system is also suppressed which is why you’re much more likely to become ill. Well stress is actually the mortal enemy of creativity. In fact, stress actually causes the prefrontal cortex the smart and ‘creative’ part of our brain to shut down entirely.
This leads to mistakes and means you’re not going to be performing your best at all. If you allow this to go on long enough, the worst case scenario is that it leads to depression and/or serious illness. The best case scenario is that you’ll spend your evenings staring blankly into space with no will power, motivation or energy to do anything.
How to Prevent Stress From Destroying Your Energy Levels
So what can you do to prevent stress from robbing you of your energy? The first key is to make sure you are taking time out and that you make this a mental break as well as a physical one. In other words, actually take a break from thinking about work and instead try reading, or perhaps going for a nice, quiet stroll. Either way, you should focus on thinking about anything other than work.
An even better idea is to practice some stress management techniques. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is a great method to this end, as is meditation. Either way, if you can go through your working day and remain calm and relatively unfazed even when everything seems to be going wrong, you’ll find that the entire day seems much less tiring as a result and that you arrive home with far more energy to spend being productive or just having fun.
It also means you’ll have more energy at work the next day to be more productive. And finally? If work is repeatedly taking it all out of you and you aren’t able to find a way to get the balance right you should quit. Again, this sounds extreme. But if your work is that tiring or that stressful, then it will only continue to undermine your enjoyment of other activities and to take a toll on your health. Your health and happiness should always come first and there’s no reason that anyone ever has to stay stuck in a job that is placing so much strain on them.
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