Working long, stressful hours requires us to take meticulous care of ourselves.
Think about the last time you were stressed out at work. Perhaps you had a big project or a major deadline. Most folks attempt to find extra time by neglecting their own needs. Don’t take that road. During times of high stress, every ounce of available energy must be spent on meeting our own physical needs. Otherwise, we can’t bring the best version of ourselves.
I’m currently in the midst of a 40 day stretch of exceptionally long days and late nights. I have, on average, 2.5 additional hours commuting. I have to be up at 6:30 AM daily to take care of my young men and get them off to school. After subtracting sleep, I have roughly 3 hours to play with. Choosing how to spend this time is critical. My health and well-being depend on it. If I’m not well, I can’t perform well. That outcome is an unacceptable option for me.
So how do I spend my 180 minutes? I start by exercising. From adaa.org:
Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.
I spend 90 minutes training daily. We can all use the extra boost in concentration, and it helps mitigate the effects of these long days and nights.
I need more than just time with the weights to maximize my output, however. I dedicate another 30 minutes to preparing or obtaining food for the office. Being forced to rely on whatever is available around me because I didn’t take the time to provide nutritionally dense food is a tradeoff I am unwilling to make. My system needs be strong; there’s too much at stake. From NAMI:
Too much stress can drain our bodies of the nutrients we need to function properly. Stress causes us to produce adrenaline, which gives us energy to complete the task at hand. However, by producing adrenaline, our bodies use up the nutrients we need. Stress can also increase our appetite by causing an increase in hormone levels that drive appetite. Stress even affects the way we process and store fat, causing more fat accumulation in the abdominal region.
Ahhh, I roped you in with that last line, didn’t I?
After training and securing healthy food, I’m now down to 60 minutes a day of “me” time. I spend it writing this blog. You just noticed I have no social life, didn’t you? That’s okay for now. My available moments must be devoted to optimizing for health. From theskooloflife.com:
Writing strengthens your immune function. When you write, your breathing slows and you allow more oxygen to go to your brain. Being actively engaged in your work heals the body and encourages it to fight more purposefully against viruses.
I also make sure I take advantage of moments at work. I don’t have much free time, but a few free minutes pop up occasionally. When I find that time, I sneak away to a quiet room and simply breathe. From Harvard Health:
When you’ve got 3 minutes: While sitting down, take a break from whatever you’re doing and check your body for tension. Relax your facial muscles and allow your jaw to fall open slightly. Let your shoulders drop. Let your arms fall to your sides. Allow your hands to loosen so that there are spaces between your fingers. Uncross your legs or ankles. Feel your thighs sink into your chair, letting your legs fall comfortably apart. Feel your shins and calves become heavier and your feet grow roots into the floor. Now breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly. Each time you breathe out, try to relax even more
If strategically planning every waking moment sounds like a boring way to live, it is. However, it’s temporary. There are high leverage periods that require high leverage measures for all of us. Inevitably, there will be times when the world feels calmer. When those times come, I plan to be healthy enough to enjoy them.
“Now get some sleep,” said me to myself.