Categories
Anxiety Energy Irritability Tension

Walk Your Own Path

It’s Your Life

Do it your way

Recently I’ve taken part in some lively discussions at work and home that have left me feeling exhausted and frustrated. Although each side of the argument had valid points, they were getting visibly annoyed that the other participants weren’t agreeing with them 100%.

Emotions started to run high and I found myself slowly but surely giving in to my feelings whilst expressing my views (in perhaps not the best manner). When I caught myself I pulled back but it wasn’t long before someone would push one of my hot buttons in an attempt to get me fall back to emotion.

Nevertheless, they were good exercises for me to find my boundaries and to realise how flexible I really am when having to deal with opposing views. After reviewing what was said, I found that my conduct was not only influenced by the topics and the general mood of the discussions, but also by how stressed and tired I had been prior to engaging in these debates.

At the time of this writing there are many people being polarised by their differing views with regard to the pandemic and what should or shouldn’t be done to solve the issue so that we can return “back to normal.” I believe many of these debates aren’t solely about the pandemic and I feel that it is now more important than ever to understand the role that tiredness plays in our ability to decode and respond to events outside of ourselves.

Walk Your Own Path
Photo by @mjuav via Twenty20

Long and Stressful

Many blame the pandemic for the increase in amount of stress that people are feeling, but from my observations it seemed to me that many people were extremely stressed from way before.

After and during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 I noticed myself and others working longer hours and taking on more work than we normally would. This lead to a lot of workplace conflicts and frustration between individuals and departments (some of which expressed themselves, lets just say, not in the best of manners). It was so bad that memos were being sent out almost daily to inform us that there were formal channels that we could use to voice any grievances.

Also, leading up to the pandemic there were countless reports being published about social media causing stress.

As if we didn’t have enough cause for stress in our busy, complicated lives, along comes social media. What started out, theoretically, as a novel way to “connect” people on a wide scale has now been implicated in social anxiety disorder, which is the third leading psychological disorder in the United States, as well as in other forms of stress.

FACS, F.M.. (2018). The Stress Factor of Social Media. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, AdvanceArticle(6), 1-691.

Regardless of the source of stress, it appears that prolonged exposure to stress can affect the way that we perceive and respond to the world and the events taking place in it.

Unaware of Tiredness

Television news and national newspapers during the pandemic have bombarded us with continuous pandemic related news items that highlight not just the threat to our health but also our financial and social well being. Students in particular (at least in the UK) have been under a lot stress as their exams have been rescheduled or cancelled and Universities have let it be known that typical student socialising will not be tolerated.

Chronic psychosocial adversity increases the risk of mental illness including schizophrenia and depression. These adverse factors include developmental psychological trauma and adult life events (situations or occurrences that bring about a negative change in personal circumstances and involve threat).

Bloomfield, M., McCutcheon, R., Kempton, M., Freeman, T., & Howes, O. (2019). The effects of psychosocial stress on dopaminergic function and the acute stress response.eLife,8.

The unintended results of constantly warning about the threat to our way of life has lead to people becoming more frustrated at the current pace of life, which may be why so many people feel the need to argue their point over the most trivial of issues.

Although I can’t prove it, I believe a large portion of society have been worn down by the constant threat of the virus and are now overly stressed and tired, leading them to lash out more than they otherwise would.

Despite this higher access to knowledge, the impact media exposure has on healthy individuals remains poorly studied. Given that most information conveyed in the media is negative and that upon perception of threat, the brain activates the stress system, which leads to cortisol secretion, we decided to determine how healthy individuals react to media information. Accordingly, we investigated whether reading real negative news (1) is physiologically stressful, (2) modulates one’s propensity to be stress reactive to a subsequent stressor and (3) modulates remembrance for these news…

Results showed that although reading negative news did not lead to change in cortisol levels, it led to a significant increase in cortisol to a subsequent stressor in women only. Also, women in the negative news condition experienced better memory for these news excerpts compared to men. These results suggest a potential mechanism by which media exposure could increase stress reactivity and memory for negative news in women.

Marin, M., Morin-Major, J., Schramek, T., Beaupré, A., Perna, A., Juster, R., & Lupien, S. (2012). There Is No News Like Bad News: Women Are More Remembering and Stress Reactive after Reading Real Negative News than Men.PLoS ONE,7(10)

Your Path

Even though it’s good to know what is going on in the world and your local environment, ruminating over situations that are bigger than any one person can solve is bad.

Instead, maybe limit the amount of time you spend watching or reading the news and when you do consume it, briefly asses how it relates to your personal current situation.

Getting upset about someone else’s point of view regarding a news item just adds more stress to your life than you need. There’s nothing wrong with being aware of other peoples’ views, and even discussing your differences in view with those people can help you better understand their position.

Just remember that each person has their own view, and it’s unlikely that you will change their views by aggressively stating your point. Before getting into a discussion remind yourself that just as you are entitled to your view, so are other people.

Review

Being comfortable in yourself and your views goes a long way to helping reduce anxiety and stress. Worrying about other peoples’ views actively increases your own stress levels. Why? Because you can’t control what someone else thinks. You can influence them, but even that can be tricky.

Be happy with your own choices and walk your own path. It’s one of the best things about being human.

Afterword

“Throughout my life, I have found that I have had to leave many people behind, and break many bonds that we formed together. I know, however, that this happens for a reason and the entrance and ultimate exit of someone in my life is because their influence has been made and they must continue influencing others as I must do as well.”

Ford, D., Cavanaugh, J., & White, H. (2006). Life Choices: The Search for Meaning. Journal of College and Character, 7(1),
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Energy Focus Insomnia Productivity Sleep

How To Out Smart Your Tiredness

Your Apple Watch, V-CAF & You

Stay awake and alert…

I had some urgent work to get done and time was against me. Caught between a rock and a hard place I decided to power on and resorted to coffee to help me beat the tiredness.

This was before my abstinence from caffeine and I’d always used some form of caffeine to get me through the tough times. Unfortunately on this occasion my coffee didn’t seem to help. “No problem, I’ll just drink more”, I thought. But by now more meant having my sixth espresso (with a teaspoon of sugar).

Sure enough it seemed to work for a little while but soon after I felt even more tired, so I decided to stop for the night and continue in the morning. Bad idea! I went to bed and couldn’t get to fall asleep even though I felt exhausted. At first I thought it was due to the work that I still had to finish, but at some point near sunrise I realised that it must of been all the coffee I had!

I knew it was not going to be a pleasant day ahead.

Out Smart Your Tiredness
Photo by @mkolchanov via Twenty20

The Old Path

Getting out of bed and feeling tired, I did what most people do and reached for the coffee to start off the day. And as I’ve said many times before, coffee (or more specifically, caffeine) works, just not the way that most people think.

Caffeine works by interlocking with your adenosine receptors which has the effect of blocking their ability to respond to the adenosine levels in your brain. Your body produces adenosine throughout the day and high levels of adenosine activate your adenosine receptors to indicate to your brain that your tiredness levels are increasing.

Caffeine manipulates your adenosine receptors to make you feel more alert than you actually are, which many people confuse with gaining more energy when in fact they have the same amount of energy and tiredness as they did before consuming caffeine. Caffeine is so good at blocking adenosine that its effects can last up to twelve hours.

Knowing what I know now I feel duped that I thought caffeine would help me get through the day! My plan was to drink a cup of coffee whenever I felt tired so that I could concentrate in short bursts and get things done. It had worked in the past, so I didn’t think that it wouldn’t work now, especially after a night of not being able to sleep well due to the amount of coffee that I’d drunk throughout the last couple of days.

Unfortunately I didn’t count on my caffeine tolerance levels increasing and just when I needed the caffeine fix the most, it didn’t make me feel alert or able to concentrate any better than before!

Dead End

What You Should Know about Caffeine states: “Caffeine does not accumulate in the bloodstream or body and is normally excreted within several hours following consumption.” In fact, only about 1 percent of caffeine is excreted. The remaining 99 percent must be detoxified by the liver, and the removal of the resulting metabolites is a slow and difficult process. In Chapter 3, you will learn that it can take up to twelve hours to detoxify a single cup of coffee. In fact, the matter of accumulation has never been resolved. Evidence suggests that it may take up to seven days to decaffeinate the blood of habitual coffee drinkers. Plus, it can take three weeks or more for the body’s levels of stress hormones to return to normal. If that’s not accumulation, what is?

Cherniske, Stephen Snehan . Caffeine Blues (pp. 20-21). Grand Central Publishing.

To compensate for my apparent lack of alertness I had a few more cups of coffee and a cola. After a short while, although I didn’t feel great and clear headed, I felt better than I had before, but not for long. After about forty minutes I felt tired again and wanted more caffeine.

What I didn’t know then was that my body’s caffeine tolerance had increased significantly so I would need to consume much more caffeine just to get to the point where I felt normal. To make matters worse, when you become dependent on caffeine to keep you awake and functioning, the act of not consuming caffeine for a brief period can induce withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of concentration
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Although annoying, caffeine withdrawal symptoms for some people can pass quite quickly (a couple of days), but for others it can take weeks.

In my case I started to feel extremely tired and found it difficult to concentrate. I knew that I wouldn’t get any work done so I decided to take the rest of the day off and recover at home. Luckily it was the weekend so I decided to keep away from caffeine, and during the day get outside and go for walks, and get to bed by 10pm during the evenings.

I felt lazy for most of the weekend and decided to do the very minimal that I could around the house and I didn’t go out too much (mostly to the shops to get food and supplies). I dozed off a lot and didn’t eat much, but by Sunday I found that my head felt clearer and I wasn’t feeling so irritable.

I decided that the following week I would keep away from caffeine and get to bed on time. Caffeine did help, but only briefly.

Work Smarter

These days I rarely drink coffee and although I do enjoy a caffeinated cold beverage once in a while, I don’t depend on caffeine to help me to focus or concentrate.

Instead I make it a daily priority to get to bed at roughly the same time every night (including during holidays), getting good quality sleep as well as getting enough sleep, exercising daily and eating more healthy.

Taking these steps alone has helped me more than overcome my caffeine dependance and I believe increased my level of productivity as well. Doing this has also helped me concentrate so that the quality of my work improved too.

In addition I manage my tiredness levels better than I did in the past and as I like gadgets, use my iPhone and Apple Watch to help me. In particular I regularly use our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert throughout the day to inform me of when my alertness is dropping so that I can do something to wake myself up.

In other articles I’ve mentioned how I useV-CAF to notify me when it’s time to take a break, and where I can (usually in the afternoon after lunch), I either have a 20 minute nap or go for a walk or stretch and do some light exercises (for example my martial arts forms) to help reengage my mind with my body. I’ve found that after taking a quality relaxing break, when I get back to my desk, things just flow and work gets done quicker.

Review

Since the industrial age caffeine has been the go to drug of choice to help us with our alertness and overcoming tiredness. Although caffeine appears to work, in the long run our minds and bodies pay the price in disrupted sleep, caffeine dependancy and risking intoxication due to harmful chemicals found in coffee.

To date, over 700 volatile substances in coffee have been identified, including more than 200 acids and an incredible array of alcohols, aromatic compounds, carbonyl compounds, esters, hydrocarbons, heterocyclic compounds, and terpenoids. Nonvolatile substances in coffee include caffeine and other purines, glycosides, lipids, melanoidins, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid. And that’s just the stuff that’s supposed to be there. Coffee often contains a raft of pesticide residues and other contaminants such as nitrosamines, solvents, and mycotoxins. These carry well-defined health risks, and some are carcinogenic.

Cherniske, Stephen Snehan . Caffeine Blues (p. 16). Grand Central Publishing.

Thankfully there are alternatives that are far less harmful and work with our bodies such as diet, exercise and sleep. There are also smart devices such as the Apple iPhone and Apple Watch that coupled with apps such as “V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert” can be used to help you manage your tiredness levels and get more out of the day.

Afterword

The deception has been well coordinated by an industry whose goal is quite simple: to get as much caffeine into your body as possible. If the caffeine industry can accomplish that, they have you as a customer for life. They know caffeine saps your natural sense of vitality, leaving you dependent on their products to get through the day. They know that you actually crave their products and, more importantly, that you suffer when you don’t consume them. It’s a marketing dream, and it’s legal. No wonder more and more companies are jumping on the caffeine bandwagon, churning out products from specialized coffees and teas to “herbal” caffeinated energy pills, caffeine-laced fruit beverages, “supercharged” soft drinks, caffeinated beer, and even caffeinated bottled water.

Cherniske, Stephen Snehan . Caffeine Blues (p. 4). Grand Central Publishing.

Categories
Anxiety Energy Productivity

Life After Deadlines – Cooling Down

Dying to Make Deadlines

Take some well deserved downtime…

My last three deadlines have been very stressful. After each deadline passed I felt exhausted and didn’t want to do anything work related for at least a month. But alas, as I’m employed by someone else there’s always something more to do; another urgent deadline, another milestone to surpass.

Luckily for me, sometimes the work is really interesting and I get consumed by figuring out how to solve the latest problem, but working like this can make you feel like your the hamster on the wheel, going nowhere fast no matter how much effort and energy you put in to your work or study.

I hoped by speaking with the office Veterans about this someone would have some words of wisdom to help me get through this rut, but unfortunately the best advice was that it will soon pass.

It’s true and it does pass, but at what cost? Am I, like so many others doomed to work in this never-ending deadline loop with no reprieve, or are there better more sane ways of coping with the daily grind?

Reflecting on the Costs
Photo by @raqwell via Twenty20

Creeping Debt

In previous articles I’ve explained about how we can inadvertently overload ourselves with stress without realising what we are doing. Unless we are aware of the potential to over burden ourselves, most people continue working in ways that eventually can lead to stress and illness.

With the case of my past three deadlines in mind I was eager to get on with the work and get things done. The first deadline had a three week completion date and the work that I had to do was planned out well and even gave me wiggle time to get things done.

Over the next three weeks things conspired, as they do, to make sure that I wouldn’t make the deadline without a fight! Creeping and changing requirements, things not working as expected and misunderstandings all took their toll. What this translated to was longer work days, less time to wind down when I got home, and more work to do fixing my mistakes that I made whilst working when fatigued. But good news, we made the deadline!

During the last week of the first deadline I was pulled into a meeting to discuss the second deadline, knowing that the next round of work began on the following Monday. The second deadline was just as well planned out as the first but with less wiggle room and more work. As you can guess the stress was starting to take its toll and the second round of work had even more difficulties than the first round.

By the time the third deadline was about to start I hardly had the mental energy to even think about things. I just hunkered down and did the best that I could given the circumstances. By the end of the last round I felt like I just wanted to curl up and sleep, but knew that there was more work coming.

 

The Breakdown

A similar situation is true for a lot of us whilst studying or working:

  • You start off full of enthusiasm and eagerness to get things done
  • You get things done and you feel that you are making progress
  • As a reward you get more things to do
  • After a few more cycles of getting things done and then getting more work to do you start to feel like it takes more effort to get the same things done
  • Either the quality or quantity of your work starts to slip and others start to notice
  • Things become a chore and you just work to put something in (usually not your best work).

Being unaware that you are under stress, you’re more likely to expose yourself to building up a stress debt that eventually can break you and leave you unable to work.

To complicate matters some of our lifestyle choices (which can be influenced by the amount of stress that we are exposed to) also impact on our health and further compound the stresses that we are already experiencing. For example alcohol abuse, smoking, not getting enough physical activity and being obese are all factors that can negatively contribute to your stress levels.

Stress itself is significant for survival. In small doses, it activates search activity, helps to solve many problems that a person faces that day, contributes to development, helps activate the body’s defences when fighting diseases. However, chronic stress is directly related to the onset and progression of many pathological conditions.

Shelestova, O., and . “COPING STRATEGIES AND MODELS OF OVERCOMING POST-STRESS CONDITIONS.” Herald of Kiev Institute of Business and Technology (2020).

Too much stress can lead to:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Tension
  • Emotional instability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of memory
  • Increased fatigue

Coping Strategies

Being able to identify when you are stressed is important as it allows you to take action to reduce your stress levels. In my case with the three deadlines, I continually ignored the signs that I was getting more stressed than I needed and as a result made it more difficult for me to complete my tasks.

I thought that I had it all under control as I took regular breaks whilst at work (even when working long hours), I still found time to exercise regularly and get in between 7 – 9 hours of sleep daily (although it was probably closer to 6 – 7 hours of sleep, which might not have been of the best quality due to stress).

And although I did meet my deadlines I felt shattered by the end of it! So looking back what could I have done better?

A Problem Aired

It turns out by having a group of people going through similar stresses that are willing to talk about them does help. For a start, the group can validate your feelings and help you not feel so isolated. Sharing your concerns with a councillor, support group or work colleagues can greatly reduce the effects of stress on your health. You also have access to other peoples insights and strategies that you may not of thought about which can be very beneficial. It also helps vent your frustrations, which thereby lessens your stress burden.

Move More

Even though I exercised regularly, I still found that I spent a lot of hours at my desk (because I only took 5 minute breaks by looking around the office or checking my email). As frustration and stress builds throughout the day taking a few minutes away from your desk and getting involved in some sort of physical activity does wonders. In the past I’ve practiced my martial arts forms or gone for a walk which have had the effect of lifting my mood and clearing my head. Do whatever works for you be it running, walking, swimming etc. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do something (especially when you feel your stress levels raising).

Chill Out Periods

And finally, take time off before starting your next assignment. One of the things that annoys me the most is being disturbed whilst working on a tight deadline to plan work to come. Why? It doesn’t make work more efficient and actively increases the stress load of those who have to do the work, as it makes it seem that you don’t get a chance to catch your breath. If you are in a position to organise the work, please give everyone at least one working day to recover from the last deadline (weekends and holidays don’t count). Spend a day between tasks to gather your self back together and spend time tying up any loose ends and if you are rested enough, looking through what work is to come (not in detail and not organising things), so that you can gently ease yourself into your next assignment.

Review

Ultimately your health and wellbeing are your responsibility so be nice to yourself and take some timeout to gather your thoughts and recuperate to prepare yourself for your next task.

The mistake I made with the three deadlines was to not take a breather between each assignment which lead to sub par results and frustration and loathing on my part.

Don’t scrimp on your down times, you may pay a bigger price in the long run.

Afterword

Multiply these [stressful] incidents over time and the ingredients for job-related stress overload that contribute to absenteeism, inefficiency, sabotage, and personal breakdowns will be present.

Hartman, .C. (1982). Stress Relief for Transportation Employees. Social Work, 27(5), 449-451.
Categories
Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Studying Tiredness

Protecting The Quality of Your Work

Protecting Your Quality of Life

Self first, then others

Working or studying for long hours goes hand in hand with working hard and being productive. I’ve worked at many firms that believe this to be true. If the business owners or senior management spend a lot of time at work the chances are that their employees and subordinates will do the same in order to be seen in a favourable light.

Unfortunately for many firms where this is the case, staff turnover is often high and morale isn’t as good as it could be. Eventually even the quality of work begins to suffer and productivity decreases. In an effort to reverse the trend, managers can demand more from their teams who already feel that they are giving all that they can.

Academics and students don’t do much better. As the pressure to compete with other departments and institutions for research bursaries increases, the need to produce favourable results can lead to people working extremely long days, seven days a week which eventually affects the quality of the research and study in a negative way.

Trying to suggest to such people to spend less time working is often met with derision or dismissed as not being realistic. “If I don’t put the hours in how will the work get done”, is a response I used to give back to anyone that dared mention cutting back on the hours spent at work, whilst having to do more tasks.

But what if our assumptions about putting more time in at work are wrong and may in fact be the reason why we have to put more hours in?

Protect Yourself
Photo by @AZ.BLT via Twenty20

Quantity and Effort

Let me start off by saying that I’m not opposed to working long hours per se, but my past experiences of working long hours and the results I achieved led me down the path of investigating if there was a better way of getting things done apart from spending all my waking hours trying to figure out how to finish my task on time.

In many professions long hours are a cultural norm (take junior doctors for example), and anyone challenging the status quo tend to be seen in an unfavourable manner that often can effect their career prospects. Those that complain can be made to seem weak and not up to the task of getting things done, which is all well and good, but can have a chilling effect on anyone who might have a better solution to just throwing more hours at a problem.

Another motivating tactic that is often used to get people to work longer and so increase productivity is to pay more money or overtime. This seems fair as your time and effort is being compensated for, but what about your health and family time? Again, there’s nothing wrong with working long hours but you have to take into account all aspects of your life (unless you live to work).

And full disclosure here, I regularly work long hours, but have found ways to manage that with my family and personal life. Working long hours from time to time I believe is acceptable, but what I don’t like is that it soon starts to be seen as the norm and exploited as such.

Grinding Ourselves Down

Perhaps a better question may be “What is the cost of working fatigued?” According to a fatigue cost estimator from the National Safety Council and Brigham and Women’s Sleep Matters Initiative, health-related cost of lost productivity is $136 billion a year. Further, a reported 70% of Americans regularly experience insufficient sleep. Sleep loss, especially in the presence of underlying sleep disorders, results in reduced workplace productivity and increased absenteeism, health care expenditures, workplace accidents and injuries, and motor vehicle accidents during commutes.

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8),

When working long hours becomes the norm, that’s when the negative effects on work start to take hold. Working long hours for short periods of time is okay and is needed from time to time to get things done due to an unforeseen oversight or event.

Prolonged overworking leads to work fatigue and stress which can have negative effects on your health and wellbeing. Work fatigue is negative for both employee and employer or company.

Employees presenting high levels of work fatigue displayed lower job satisfaction, psychological health, physical health, and organisational commitment, coupled with accrued turnover intentions and difficulties to relax after work. Work fatigue is damaging both psychologically and physically, leading to less efficient work recovery, negative work attitudes and health-related difficulties.

Blais, A., Gillet, N., Houle, S., Comeau, C., & Morin, A. (2020). Work Fatigue Profiles: Nature, Implications, and Associations With Psychological Empowerment.Frontiers in Psychology,11,

So how do you know if you are suffering from work fatigue? Here’s a list of signs to lookout for:

  • Constantly yawning
  • Falling asleep when sitting still
  • Feeling tired throughout the day
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired when waking up in the morning
  • Unmotivated to go to work and/or finish tasks
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches

Preventative Measures

I mentioned earlier that I also regularly work long hours and have found ways that help me reduce the effects of doing so on my health and personal life.

At first it may seem easier said than done, but by being consistent and working through these steps (and those that you find for yourself, that work for you) you’ll find that you’ll be able to maintain a high level of work whilst at the same time feeling like you have more energy.

Let’s get to it, in no particular order, here are some tips that you may find helpful in reducing the effects of working long hours over a prolonged period of time.

Give Purpose or Meaning to What You Do

  • Where does your current profession fit into the bigger plan for your life? Does it align with your life’s goals?
  • Figure out what are the implications of your current task for you, your team and/or company.
  • Figure out which is more important to you, your life or your work life and reorganise as needed (I’m not suggesting that you walk out of your job because the quality of your life is more important! For example if your home life is more important, then start to organise your work life around your personal life if that is possible. If not, then figure out how to make it so).

Look After Your Health

  • Although your employer (even if you are self employed) may try to make things at work as comfortable as they can for you, don’t neglect your own health.
  • Take regular breaks whilst at work (every 25 – 30 mins) where you get up and walk around.
  • If your job permits, after lunch have a 10 – 20 minute nap to help refocus your mind, relieve any tiredness and give you a quick boost in your energy levels without having to resort to caffeine.
  • Take regular exercise
  • Get outside more (maybe during one of your scheduled breaks throughout the day). Getting daylight to your skin and eyes helps regulate your circadian rhythm which in turn will help improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals and smoking before going to bed.
  • Go to bed at regular times and get between 7 – 10 hours of sleep per night (even on weekends and holidays).

Review

There is constant pressure to perform well at work and whilst studying. Some people assume that spending many hours working or studying is time well spent. Unfortunately due to no fault of their own, they are ignorant to the fact that it doesn’t work.

Schools, workplaces and cultural norms reinforce this misguided path as the logical common sense way to achieve great results. It is further reinforced by the “Captains of Industry” who often are cited as having little time for sleep.

Scientific studies are continually updating their findings regarding work fatigue and it currently seems to be clear that working long hours over a long period of time increases the chances of suffering from work fatigue and stress which can negatively affect health and quality of work.

Afterword

Sleep deprivation, in some populations, is still considered a point of pride and a reflection of toughness. However, this argument is based largely in ignorance and companies are beginning a movement to counteract it. Along with recommendations to sleep 7-9 hours at night, daytime naps are being integrated into workplace culture in the world’s largest grossing tech, consulting, media, and retail companies.

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8),
Categories
Energy Fatigue Productivity

Does Taking Regular Breaks Really Increase Productivity?

Have a Break

Have some me time…

Over the years I’ve worked for many bosses that had the notion that if you weren’t tapping away on your keyboard or seen to be busy, then you were skiving or stealing company time. From what I remember this forced people to find things to be busy with that didn’t actually add any benefit to the companies, and people just took longer doing their work. Win win for everyone.

Things have got better, but not that much. During challenging economic times people become more aware of job insecurity and don’t want to be seen as the slacker. As a result not only are we working longer hours, but an increasing amount of people will tell on those who don’t appear to be pulling their weight.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some of us work in environments that judge you on your productivity or results rather than how long you were seen to be busy. My own anecdotal experiences from working in places were you are judged by your results based performance seemed to suggest that many people appeared to be content with their work, only putting in the extra time when really needed, and took much more breaks throughout the day, and generally in total spent more time actually working.

And there are a lot more research papers that come to a similar conclusion, in that those that took regular breaks were not only more productive but also more likely to be happier, healthier people.

Work Loads

When stopping to think about an issue or just to stare out the window it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone quip “Idle hands…” or “If you ain’t got enough to do, you can help me with this”, as if a 30 second decrease in visible activity would somehow unbalance the workplace.

And there’s the problem. It is difficult to quantify how productive someone is just by watching what they do. Everybody has different work styles, but a few things are common amongst most. One being that stress reduces peoples’ productivity and the quality of their work.

Another is that if people don’t feel secure in their position, they may resort to busy work that doesn’t really add any benefit to the business, but makes them look as if they are being productive. Some bosses have realised this and give their workers a lot to do so that they don’t have time to think about what they’re doing and so keep busy with boss sanctioned busyness.

Bosses aren’t the only ones to blame either. Some of us employees (myself included), have trouble organising and scheduling their workloads to what they can manage and as a result put themselves under unnecessary pressure, and without realising it, miss opportunities to take breaks throughout the day.

 

A Drag on Productivity

However, in case work demands are too high, employees tend to detach less from their work during off-job time and engage less in physical recovery activities. Health care managers should be aware that allocating too many work demands on their employees may be negative for their recovery and health. This may also have a destructive effect on their work performance and the quality of care.

DE JONGE, J. (2019). What makes a good work break? Off-job and on-job recovery as predictors of employee health. Industrial Health,58(2),142-152.

It’s not surprising that so many people are unknowingly exposing themselves to health risks as work demands increase, making it difficult for people to take a break (and some to actively skip breaks) in order to keep up to speed and not feel like a burden to their colleagues.

As this mode of working is increasingly becoming the norm, people are finding it difficult to switch off and relax after a long day.

One of the recovery problems is highly intuitive for many workers: difficulties to mentally disconnect from work. For instance, you may play with your children on the playground in the afternoon, talk with your partner about plans for the next weekend, or you may try to fall asleep after going to bed – but there is something in your mind that distracts you from these activities or impairs your ability to listen carefully: /thoughts about your work/. This experience of mental connectedness to one’s work through work-related thoughts during recovery periods has been described in the literature on stress and recover as low psychological detachment, work-related rumination, problem-solving pondering, and work reflection.

Wendsche J, de Bloom J, Syrek C, Vahle-Hinz T. Always on, never done? How the mind recovers after a stressful workday? German Journal of Human Resource Management. 2021;35(2):117-151. doi:10.1177/23970022211004598

By being always on for prolonged periods we increase the risk of adversely affecting our health in the short, medium and long term. Stress has been linked to:

  • Fear
  • Tension
  • Anxiety
  • An increase in cortisol
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • A decrease in the effectiveness of our immune system
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Clinical depression

And of course, the quality of our work as well as our productivity levels will also decrease. Working longer, appearing to be busy and not detaching from work robs us of our ability to work productively and robs us of our health.

Break Away

The Booster Break program was designed to interrupt prolonged sitting at the workplace. In a group context, interrupting prolonged sitting can be fun and enjoyable. Our previous research on the physical activity Booster Break showed that during a 6-month period, participants lost an average of 14 pounds (8% weight loss) and significantly increased their plasma high-density lipoprotein level from 50 to 57 (≥60 is optimal) . Both of these changes substantially reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality and can counteract the effects of the sedentary nature of work life. The Booster Break experience can be a catalyst for adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Wendell C. Taylor, Kathryn E. King, Ross Shegog, Raheem J. Paxton, Gina L. Evans-Hudnall, David M. Rempel, Vincent Chen, Antronette K. Yancey, Booster Breaks in the workplace: participants’ perspectives on health-promoting work breaks, Health Education Research, Volume 28, Issue 3, June 2013, Pages 414–425, https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyt001

Although not the be all of work stress and productivity, taking regular breaks at work can help mitigate a lot of the stressors that we experience through the day and can work as a useful starting point for learning how to detach from work so that we can enjoy our free times better.

Micro Breaks

Whether you realise it or not, we all take micro breaks from time to time throughout the day. Whether it’s checking our smart phones, browsing to a non work related website, or simply just staring out the window, there are times throughout the day where we unconsciously step away from our work tasks and take a few seconds break to recover. This is normal as it would be almost impossible to focus completely on work alone throughout the day. When reading up on this topic for this article I found a term that sums up what a lot of people feel when they look at something other than work whilst at work, ’Screen Guilt’. It’s a good term but a bad thing to feel. Guilt tends to lead people to either over compensate for a perceived wrongdoing or just give up and not bother. Neither are good, so rather than feel guilt, learn to accept that you can only focus on one thing for a limited time, so when you find yourself doing something else without realising, know that you should have taken a break to help yourself recover.

Scheduling

A lot of time is wasted thinking about what you are going to do rather than getting on with it. Not that I’m saying just jump in and do something, but rather plan your day, week, month or year ahead of time and allocate time slots to get the work done. Although it doesn’t work for everyone in every situation, using processes like Kanban, Scrum or the Pomodoro Technique help to keep you on target to get things done without burning yourself out. I set 25-30 minute blocks to get work done. Once a time block is done, I take a 5-10 minute break away from my machine and either go for a walk, make a personal call, or crack jokes with colleagues (if they’re free of course) before getting back to my next block. Everyone is different and it can take a little while to get used to, but once you get used to it, it helps.

End of Play

After work’s done, go for a walk, or have something non work related to do before you head home. By doing this you give yourself a chance to unwind before you see you friends / family / partner. When I wasn’t working from home I’d walk to the train station rather than take a bus, or if I drove in I’d park further away than usual so that I’d have time to let my thoughts go wherever they wanted which helped me leave work at work. When working at home, I have a routine of closing the lid of my laptop (which would send it to sleep), get up from my desk and then either stare out the window or jig about a bit, and on the odd occasion go for a walk.

Review

Does taking regular breaks really increase productivity? I would have to say yes and as a bonus side effect, by taking regular breaks whilst at work you help decrease the risk of suffering from stress and stress related diseases making you feel more relaxed whilst working, which in turn helps with your productivity and self esteem.

“Improved focus at work. Improved relationships with co-workers. Helped me to fit some physical activity into a busy day. Motivated me to start thinking about my health more. I really enjoyed them – gave me a chance to get away from the desk, de-stress, and enjoy my co-workers. We even had a lot of laughs which was good for morale!”

Wendell C. Taylor, Kathryn E. King, Ross Shegog, Raheem J. Paxton, Gina L. Evans-Hudnall, David M. Rempel, Vincent Chen, Antronette K. Yancey, Booster Breaks in the workplace: participants’ perspectives on health-promoting work breaks, Health Education Research, Volume 28, Issue 3, June 2013, Pages 414–425, https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyt001

Afterword

The paradox of work stress in America is this: What we value most is inherently stressful. If we understand what we value and how it contributes to work stress, we can begin to create strategies and interventions that are culturally sound and effective, and we will be better able to interpret the findings of our scientific literature. Efforts that work against the cultural values will fail to reduce work stress, whereas efforts that work in concert with our cultural values will succeed.

Peterson, M., & Wilson, J. (2004). Work Stress in America. /International Journal of Stress Management,/ /11(2),/ 91-113.
Categories
Energy Exercise Productivity Safety

Time to Keep Moving

Keep on Moving, Don’t Stop

Keep Going…

If you work in an office environment, are studying, or driving for a living, the chances are that you spend a lot of time sitting down throughout the day. Although you don’t mean to it’s easily done.

How many times have you been so engrossed in what you are doing that you lose track of time and forget to eat or drink, and before you know it, it’s time to stop for the day?

There have been countless times where I’m just in the flow zone and I feel the need to get everything I need to do done before I lose momentum. During times like these it’s very difficult to take a break and I get annoyed when someone disturbs me.

I’ve found unfortunately, that this mode of working can take its toll on you, especially if you find yourself working like this for long periods of time. Eventually something has to give, and for me it’s either the quality of my work, or my energy levels crash to the point where it’s a struggle to get anything done.

Fortunately there are things that you can do to help you manage these periods and consistently keep the level of your productivity high without compromising its quality and your health.

Get up, stand up
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

In The Moment

A common complaint that I get about myself when I’m working is that I zone out and get tunnel vision, only focussing on the task that I’m doing at that moment at the cost of shutting everyone out until I’m ready.

I find it funny because apparently in school I was the opposite, always staring out the window or joking about. Perhaps in school my purpose for being there wasn’t so clear, but nowadays I have a clear defined purpose for my life and when I’m doing things that further that purpose my brain tunes in and focuses on the task at hand.

Anyway, the point I’m making is that when you’re in the flow it can be difficult to stop and give yourself a breather, especially when you lose track of time or have the pressure of a heavy workload and a tight deadline.

Work and study loads have progressively increased and many of us feel trapped. On the one hand we want to get the work over and done with, but at the same time wish we didn’t have to do it.

The stress of entertaining these opposing views can lead us to a point where we are doing busy work rather than getting the task at hand done. What’s busy work? Anything that makes us look busy but doesn’t help us in completing our work or study in any meaningful way.

This takes time and energy away from what needs to be done whilst keeping us sitting at our desks and making us feel tired and unmotivated.

Sitting Your Life Away

Sedentary behaviour, as distinct from a lack of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, is an emerging health risk behaviour for the development of chronic diseases. Examples of sedentary behaviour include sitting, watching television, using a computer, and driving a car.
Overall, we identified a compelling case for sitting reduction to be included in clinical preventive advice as a key component of ‘active living,’ where adults and children are encouraged to ‘move more and sit less’ across different settings and locations.

Bauman, A., Chau, J., Ding, D., & Bennie, J. (2013). Too Much Sitting and Cardio-Metabolic Risk: An Update of Epidemiological Evidence. /Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports,/ /7(4),/ 293-298.

Another factor that we also should take into account is that away from our work and study lives, we spend a lot of our recreational and travel time sitting too. People are spending more time than they realise sitting down without realising that they are putting their well being at risk.

I’m very guilty of this. My day job involves me having to be at my desk for most of the working day. On the commute to work I may work on my laptop or read a book, which necessitates that I sit down (most of the time). And then by the time I’ve got home and spent family time (talking, eating, helping with homework – all mostly done whilst sitting), I then finish off any work that I have left over for my personal interests or play a game (again, in front of a screen of some sort, and sitting down).

Although it can feel that we are being productive and making the most of our work/study/life balance, we may overlook the cumulative effects of spending so much time sitting in one place, especially when having to complete work or getting caught up in our down times.

People sit while performing occupational tasks, reading, eating, using technologies such as computers and entertainment devices, and commuting to and from their destinations. Research indicates that daily total sitting and prolonged uninterrupted sitting times are highest among older adolescents, male adults, all adults over age 60, and people who are overweight or obese.
And sedentary behaviour affects the health of people regardless of their race or ethnicity and across various socioeconomic backgrounds.

Eanes, L. (2018). CE: Too Much Sitting: A Newly Recognized Health Risk. /AJN: American Journal of Nursing,/ /118(9),/ 26-34.

What’s concerning is that sedentary behavioural research seems to indicate that by not taking regular breaks and sitting uninterrupted for long periods of time increases the risks of:

  • Type2 diabetes (22%)
  • Metabolic syndrome (39%)
  • Colon cancer (8%)
  • Endometrial cancer (10%)
  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease

And this is regardless of how much exercise you do during the day. The research suggest that if you sit for more than 30 minutes without taking a moving break, or doing some form of exercise for at least 5 minutes, then you still increase the risk of negatively affecting your health!

Standup and Take Action

Thankfully, the solution is pretty straight forward for those of us who sit at desks for most of the day, just stand up for 5 minutes every 20-30 minutes you sit down. If you’re a driver it’s a bit more difficult, but you can reverse some of the ill effects of sitting down if you stand and move around every 60 minutes.

Linda Eanes in the American Journal of Nursing (118.9) 2018, outlined a few suggestions to help us take action immediately:

  • Use a standing desk.
  • Take frequent standing or walking breaks (standing or walking for five minutes for every 30 minutes of sitting, for example).
  • Stand when talking on a cell phone.
  • Reduce total daily television viewing time by standing or walking during commercial breaks.
  • Engage in hobbies that involve some physical activity.
  • Use social networks for self-report and supportive feedback.
  • Use computer software or smartphone apps that offer prompts to take brief physical activity breaks.
  • Wear physical activity monitors.

source: Eanes, L. (2018). CE: Too Much Sitting: A Newly Recognised Health Risk. /AJN: American Journal of Nursing, 118(9), 26-34.

Personally I’ve found my Apple Watch very helpful in this regard. The watch has a built in Activity app that prompts you to stand and do a set amount of exercise (take that as moving about) daily. You can set your goals and away you go. The stand goal only allows you set goals in hours, but its a good place to begin. If you have an Apple Watch, Tim Brookes wrote a very good How-To Geek guide on how to set you Activity goals, which you can find here.

In conjunction with Activity, I also use V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert (our own Apple Watch app). Because V-CAF monitors your tiredness levels and alerts you when you are tired, I use it as my optimal break alerter. Whenever I get a notification that my alertness levels are dropping, I get up and go for a walk or a stretch. That way I know that I’m not just powering through to get things done, and I keep the quality of my work high and my health on point.

Review

Most of us know that we shouldn’t be so sedentary, but our modern lifestyles tend to promote and reward sitting down, (especially for long periods of time).

  • Most of us sit too much and need to move around more both at home and whilst working.
  • After sitting for 30 minutes take a 5 minute break where you stand up, walk around or do some other form of physical activity.
  • Have hobbies that involve physical activity.
  • Track you activity levels by using wearable gadgets or your smartphone.

So don’t forget, as Soul II Soul said “Keep On Moving’”

Soul II Soul – Keep On Movin’ (Official Video)

Afterword

When you have decided that a thing ought to be done, and are doing it, never avoid being seen doing it, though the many shall form an unfavourable opinion about it. For if it is not right to do it, avoid doing the thing; but if it is right, why are you afraid of those who shall find fault wrongly?

Epictetus, The Enchiridion v35
Categories
Alert Energy Focus Productivity

Know the Optimal Time to Take a Break

Make Time For Yourself

You Deserve It…

The other day I was talking to a colleague about how currently there seems to be so much more to do. We went back and forth with anecdotes that confirmed how we felt and just as I felt my motivation spiralling downwards, my colleague happily exclaimed how thankful that he was going to be on holiday for two weeks.

With glee in his voice he told me to “enjoy holding the fort”, and wished me luck! Unfortunately for me, I still had two months to wait before my holiday, and cursed myself for not booking it sooner. Sulking looking at my screen I thought about the time that I don’t spend prioritising breaks that suit me when I work, particularly during the work day and both planned and unplanned vacations.

I scolded myself for letting things get to this point and then realised that lately I hadn’t been following my own advice, and became more focused on the amount of work rather than organising the work around the time that I had to complete it!

I stopped sulking and started to dig through my journal and past articles that I’d posted to see what I could do to get myself back in balance.

Know the optimal time to take a break
Photo by @johnlmc via Twenty20

Unbalanced Work

Work life balance is a mantra that has been espoused by the corporate world for a while now. Many companies make a point of letting potential new recruits know that they actively encourage and support a more healthy balance between private and work life.

In my time working with various institutions, I’ve had more than my fair share of emails, bulletins and workshops to help guide me to that elusive goal of a perfectly balanced professional and family life. Managers and team leads have encouraged me to take time off, and to be fair, some have been really supportive and understanding.

So why is it that with all this encouragement and support, that people find themselves feeling overloaded and overworked?

Possible reasons include:

  • Not wanting to let your colleagues, team or company down
  • Increasing workloads
  • Overly demanding bosses/managers
  • Bullying
  • and stress

Whatever the cause, the end result is that you can skip daily breaks and vacations for the “greater good” of the project or deadline. And when you are under pressure to get things done, work breaks can be easily overlooked.

 

No Play, Low Pay

We live in a time when professionals take fewer vacations than ever before and businesses are generally leaner, tending toward high productivity at the expense of flexibility. It’s hard to find a “convenient” time to get away, and when you do the stress of re-entry and catching up can wear you back down in almost no time.

Americans seem to be among the worst of professional workers around the world for leaving hard-earned vacation time on the table. Depending on which one of the many surveys you can read on this subject, something like 50% of American workers use less than their allotted vacation time…
Most of those same surveys also cite higher stress levels for people who do not take time off, and worse, some indicate that long-term career prospects are worse for people who cannot pull themselves away from the office or lab.

Atwood, S. (2015). Take a Break ‐ You Deserve It. Information Display, 31(4), 2-35.

I once worked at a firm where it was expected that you worked long days (12 – 16 hours) and weekends continuously for months. Knowing what I know now, I realise that this way of working was bordering on the cruel and abusive, but to keep us working and motivated we were told that we were the elites in our industry, the go getters, and by enduring work like that, were destined to be industry leaders in our fields.

Life was a blur. I couldn’t think clearly and as a result made more mistakes than necessary. This had knock on effects for the rest of the team, so I felt guilty and would work longer to help fix the mistakes that were caused by the tiredness I felt because of the long hours that we were working. And so it went on.

That was an extreme case but many people figure that productive work equals long hours, but in fact the opposite is true. The longer the hours you work, the more likely you are to make errors and reduce the quality of your work.

Furthermore, you open yourself up to stress and burn-out, which in their early phases, rather than impress your colleagues and bosses, can make them see you as incapable, lazy or needy. Eventually this can lead you to being overlooked for promotion and could even cost you your job (as well as your health and well being).

Some of the signs that you may be heading towards burnout include:

  • Not going to work or not getting out of bed
  • Losing interest in work that used to be exciting and interesting
  • Not meeting your basic needs – eating, exercising and family time
  • Making more mistakes than usual at work
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Being short tempered, intolerant or overly sensitive with colleagues
  • Catching illnesses more often
  • Not sleeping well
  • Feelings of low confidence

    source: Powell, K. (2017). Work–life balance: Break or burn out. Nature, 545(7654), 375-377.

Regular Breaks

A break from work is a period in the course of a workday during which employees shift their attention away from current tasks. A micro-break is a short break from work that lasts a few minutes and that is informal and less structured than, for example, a lunch break.

Employees initiate a micro-break themselves or deliberately decide to join a micro-break initiated by others.

Micro-breaks can encompass various kinds of activities, including, for example looking out the window, checking in with a favourite colleague, or going for a short walk.

Bosch, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2019). Should I Take a Break? A Daily Reconstruction Study on Predicting Micro-Breaks at Work. International Journal of Stress Management, 26(4), 378-388.

When going over my old notes about taking breaks I found that the most important thing about them, was to actually take them. In the past I’ve set up routines and work processes like using the Pomodoro or Kanban techniques where I work in 25 minute blocks with a 3 to 5 minute break between blocks. Although it works, when I’m really busy I sometimes forget to set the timer or turn the break alarms off without going on a break!

This is a big no no, and I was guilty of doing that more often than not. To get around that issue I now use our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert. It’s an Apple Watch app that is simple to use. I just press the V-CAF icon on my Apple Watch, choose the icon which best captures how I’m feeling and it starts monitoring my tiredness levels ready to notify me when my alertness decreases. I use it as my reminder to go for a break, which nowadays is a mixture between going for a quick walk outside, stretching and moving around, or having a quick 10-20 minute nap away from my desk.

As a consultant, I found it very difficult to take holidays as it meant that I would not only have to catch up with all the work that wasn’t being done whilst I was away, I also didn’t get paid for my vacations. To get around this I soon learnt that I needed to charge enough to cover my vacation times and book my vacations well in advance, so that I could organise my work around them.

If you’re an employee, don’t leave it until you feel like you can’t work another day, plan realistically for the times that suits you (and your family, if that’s a concern) best. And whilst on vacation, cut all ties with your place of work. That means, no looking at emails, or social media and taking calls. Be unreachable. Recently a colleague of mine was on holiday and he was called back in for an emergency in the office. Luckily for the bosses he was still in the country, unlucky for my friend, he had to explain to his wife and family why he was going back into work during their holiday (not a nice situation, I can tell you). Let me just say, nobody can reach him when he’s on holiday or over the weekend since that incident!

As a side benefit of taking regular breaks you’ll get a better sense of the best times that you work. During your workdays, plan your most difficult tasks around the times when you are most alert and productive, and routine work that doesn’t take too much brain power for when you’re less alert.

Review

Ultimately, you have to listen to what your body is telling you and not force yourself to work longer than is optimal for you and your productivity.

It won’t be easy to just change everything all at once, so take small steps and progressively move towards achieving a work-life balance that suits your health and wellbeing best.

Afterword

A micro-brake offers individuals the possibility to reward themselves with an activity they like, such as texting with their friends or enjoying their favourite tea. Because activities individuals are fond of have a remunerating character, micro-breaks possess the potential to provide small but immediate rewards during the workday.
Such rewards may help recover affective-motivational resources that were depleted while working.

Bosch, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2019). Should I Take a Break? A Daily Reconstruction Study on Predicting Micro-Breaks at Work. International Journal of Stress Management, 26(4), 378-388.
Categories
Addiction Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Headaches Productivity Side Effects Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake

Is Now The Right Time To Give Up Coffee?

Too Costly To Your Health

It’s the price your willing to pay that counts…

We live in a connected world. The saying goes “when America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold”, (but actually the original saying was “when France sneezes, the whole of Europe catches a cold”). Replace “America” (or France) with any leading nation or person in a given field and you have the current situation of the world.

Whether it be semi conductors, lumber or facial mask shortages, we are all learning just how connected we truly are. Which brings us to Brazil and coffee. Brazil represents one third of the world’s coffee production, making the country the undisputed coffee production world leader.

Unfortunately, Brazil in 2021 has had some challenging issues to deal with, each of them having an effect on the production and distribution of coffee. Brazil has been suffering through a drought which has decreased crop production, whilst at the same time due to the pandemic, shipping ports have been congested (especially in the US), causing US coffee stockpiles to shrink to their lowest levels in at least six years!

The implications for coffee drinkers is that the price of their favourite beverage is about to increase significantly, whilst the quality and quantity of their favourite brands decrease. For those struggling to give up caffeine or wanting to break their coffee addiction, the recent and future price increases may just help motivate them to start.

The Price to Pay

Coffee seems to fuel the world. The wonder drink is seen by some as being responsible for a majority of the technological and scientific discoveries of the Western World, but in all truth it’s the caffeine that is in coffee that is responsible.

Caffeine and coffee go hand in hand. Researchers have found that the majority of adults in the USA admit to consuming a caffeinated drink at least daily. And why not? It’s been proven time and again that caffeine improves alertness and performance, and it appears to counter feelings of fatigue and tiredness. And lately there have been an increasing amount of studies that show the numerous health benefits of drinking coffee and caffeine such as helping to increase fat loss and helping to reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Also, with the rise in popularity and profitability of coffee shops and franchises, the global coffee shop market is set to be worth $237.6 billion by 2025 (Global Coffee Shops Market to be Worth $237.6 Billion by), coffee’s importance doesn’t look like it is going to diminish any time soon.

So with the recent drought in Brazil and supply chain disruptions, it’s fair to say that the average price of a cup of coffee will be increasing.

Coffee prices increased in March and global coffee consumption is projected to rise this year, according to the International Coffee Organization (ICO).

Americans were reported to be drinking “more coffee than ever,” according to a March 2020 report by the National Coffee Association. The pandemic led to “record coffee consumption at home, with 85 percent of coffee drinkers having at least one cup at home,” according to the NCA’s Spring 2021 National Coffee Data Trends (NCDT) survey.

Soo Kim, Newsweek, source: Prices of Coffee, Wine, Toilet Paper and More Set to Rise in Post COVID-19 Era

Although the rise in price may not deter most people from drinking coffee, now may be as good a time as any to review why we drink coffee (and hence caffeine), and break any dependencies that we may have with the duo.

 

Cost of Benefits

Caffeine exacerbates sleep disorders, according to a study reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Some coffee drinkers, however, claim that their sleep is as restful as ever, regardless of their caffeine consumption. And without statistical evidence, who can refute their testimony? While it is obvious that caffeine affects all of us in different ways, it is equally important to note that we often do not know how it affects our system and cannot evaluate its effects on us while we sleep.

Another researcher noted that coffee consumption not only substantially delays the onset of sleep, but also diminishes the quality of sleep. Significantly more body movement was noted in heavy coffee consumers, and the quality of their sleep was substantially diminished.

Kushner, Marina. The Truth About Coffee (p. 69). SCR, Inc.

Whilst there are many of us that like the taste and effect that coffee has on us, there is no getting away from the fact that it’s main ingredient, caffeine, can be an addictive substance. Many coffee consumers are unaware of their addiction and believe that they can go a few days without any, but find that they never get round to their coffee abstinence, or if they do unintentionally find themselves consuming caffeine in another form.

A little while ago I posted a link on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram about two couples that tried to give up coffee for a month who thought that it would be easy, but found that they had underestimated just how addicted to coffee and caffeine they were, (We Quit Caffeine for a Month, Here’s What Happened). They suffered from all the classic withdrawal symptoms that many people experience and gradually started to come to the realisation that they needed their daily fix.

To be fair, they did start to reduce their caffeine consumption leading up to the challenge and even then they found themselves feeling:

  • More tired than usual
  • Irritated
  • suffering from headaches

And in addition to the list above, during the challenge they found themselves:

  • Unable to think straight
  • Craving coffee and caffeine
  • Relapsing back to coffee
  • Being in denial about their caffeine addiction

By the end of the challenge WheezyWaiter, (the owners of the YouTube channel that initiated the challenge), were more than relieved to get back to drinking coffee and found that they had more energy than they did during their abstinence, and didn’t feel that there sleep improved during the challenge compared to how they sleep now.

The researchers studied sleep patterns of medical students and found that many of them claimed that coffee did not disturb their sleep even when objective observations confirmed that it did. The researchers said that this denial reinforces the impression that coffee drinkers simply do not attribute undesirable clinical symptoms to their coffee intake.

This situation illuminates one of the insidious aspects of coffee addiction: we are often unaware of how it affects us.

Kushner, Marina. The Truth About Coffee (p. 69). SCR, Inc.

Unfortunately it seems that WheezyWaiter weren’t aware that caffeine withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks for some people, and that although consuming caffeine relieves those symptoms and make it seem that coffee actually helps them feel better, it can eventually lead to an increase in tolerance to the effects of caffeine, making it more than likely that they will consume more (in fact, they said that at the end of the challenge, they found that their coffee works better now, which may indicate that they had a very high tolerance before starting the challenge, and have effectively reset their tolerance levels lower).

I would suggest that WheezyWaiter should be cautious from this point on with regards to their coffee consumption, because it’s at higher levels of consumption that we start to increase the risk that we expose ourselves to some of the more harmful effects of caffeine.

Although it has many health benefits and has long been used by people for its stimulating effects, it also comes with various health hazards. Caffeine consumption is linked to the risk of developing coronary artery disease, osteoporosis, gastritis, anaemia and still births. Other adverse effects of caffeine include sleep deprivation, increased heart rate and blood pressure, central nervous system disorders, vasodilation, trembling, seizures, urticaria, headaches, increased body temperature and behavioural changes. In people consuming caffeine on regular basis, it has been found that the cessation of caffeine results in many unfavourable changes such as increased occurrence of headaches, increased drowsiness and fatigue as well as lowered alertness. The various ill-effects of excessive caffeine consumption include addiction, hormone-related cancers, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, anxiety, insomnia, intoxication and nutrient malabsorption. It affects bones by decreasing calcium absorption in the human small intestine. It is also known to affect gastrointestinal, respiratory and reproductive health.

Kumar, V., Kaur, J., Panghal, A., Kaur, S., & Handa, V. (2018). Caffeine: a boon or bane. /Nutrition & Food Science,/ /48(1),/ 61-75.

Alternatives

The current and impending rise in price for a cup of coffee and knowing the harmful effects of over consuming caffeine, coupled with supply chain failures, it seems to me that now would be a good time to either cut down on the amount of coffee we consume or give it up all together.

With that in mind here are some things that we can do help ease the pain of giving up coffee (or just reducing the amount we consume).

For tiredness and energy:

  • Get your 7-9 hours of good quality sleep regularly
  • Eat nutrient rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, grass fed meats, whole milk etc
  • Avoid or reduce the amount of processed foods and snacks that you consume throughout the day
  • Take regular exercise (like a 20 minute walk a day, or regular breaks during the day where you move more than you are now).
  • Meditate regularly (and it doesn’t have to be too long, for example sitting in a chair closing your eyes and deep breathing for a couple of minutes can be very beneficial).

For concentration and productivity:

  • All of the above mentioned points
  • Plan your days and weeks in advance. Knowing what you need to do beforehand helps reduce the stress of trying to do things ad hoc
  • Take regular breaks whilst working, studying or concentrating. 25 – 45 minute blocks are usually enough for your brain to stay active and focused on your tasks
  • Limit your coffee intake to only once a day, and use it for your most difficult tasks, no later than 12 in the afternoon, but ideally, go without, or at least work towards going without (take small steps).

Review

I was in denial for a long time about my own coffee addiction, but when I suffered a bad case of the jitters, I had to face up to the fact that I had caffeine addiction problem.

It can be hard to motivate yourself to get through the withdrawal symptoms even if you have a support network in place (watch the WheezyWaiter YouTube video to see what I’m talking about); but I’ve found that just by knowing why you are doing something, you increase the chances of sticking through the hard times and overcoming any adversity.

If you found yourself getting upset about the recent coffee price increases and shortages that will be manifesting themselves shortly (if not already), maybe you should try quitting coffee for a short while.

What have you got to lose?

Afterword

There are many physiological effects of caffeine on respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive and central nervous systems. It has a positive effect in reducing the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and liver injury and, at the same time, in improving mood, psychomotor performance and immune response. On the other hand, the negative effects of caffeine include addiction, cancer, heart diseases, insomnia, gastrointestinal disturbances and intoxication. As caffeine, when taken in a large amount, is harmful… its concentration should not exceed set limits.

Kumar, V., Kaur, J., Panghal, A., Kaur, S., & Handa, V. (2018). Caffeine: a boon or bane. /Nutrition & Food Science,/ /48(1),/ 61-75.
Categories
Energy Fatigue Focus Irritability Lethargy Productivity Sleep Tension

Wanted: A Fully Rested You!

Work Hard, Rest Harder

Be The Real You..

Lately, I’ve not felt at my best. I’ve had plenty to do, and just got on my grind to get things done, but ultimately it didn’t feel like my best work. It’s my bread and butter stuff, not my groundbreaking exciting work.

In contrast, when I’m in “the zone” work just flows. New ideas seem to come effortlessly, new connections between different ideas are clearer to see, and generally I just feel energised.

The other day, I just decided to stop and think about the differences between the two conditions flow and grind. I looked at old journal entries during both conditions and found that the major issue that stood out between the two, is that in one state I was well rested and the other not so much. I’ll leave you to guess which state corresponded to each experience.

After reacquainting myself with what I already know, which is a good exercise to do by the way, I wanted to write a post that I would come back to, to help me remember that a fully rested me is the best me to produce my best work. It’s obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said. I hope that you find this post as useful as I intend it to be for me.

Productivity Sucks

Why are you working so hard? Is it because you are full of energy and ideas and just ready to unleash it, or is it because you have expectations to meet or goals to achieve?

Regardless of your reasons, you can get caught up in what you are doing and unwittingly neglect the rest that you need to continue producing high quality work. Working long hours, not taking enough breaks and cutting into your sleep can become habitual, just because your self talk says things like “I’ll go on a break in a minute” or “I’ll do it this time and catch up on my sleep after I finish what I’m doing”.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with working hard, it can be difficult for some of us to break away from what we are doing because of a compulsion to want to do better, do more, and achieve higher. Worryingly, this approach is increasingly becoming the accepted way to work or study, and the rise of hustle culture is not helping.

The pressure to succeed can be heightened for some people due to the proliferation of images and stories that seem to validate that working harder than your competition will ultimately lead to success, implying that if you’re not successful, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough.

It is not uncommon for people to feel guilty for taking a break whilst at work, even though they are entitled to it, or for working long hours so as to show that they are not just working, but over working because they are overachievers.

A 34-year-old tax attorney was admitted to the medical services with a complaint of chest pain. Four months earlier, he had noted the onset of leg pains, followed a month later by constant substernal and left-sided chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and tremor…

It was estimated that for at least three years he had worked 80 to 100 hours per week. He took no vacations and seldom took any weekends or days off…

The patient described himself as someone who had to “rely on hard work rather than brains”…

He feared being in a position where he would be dependent on anyone else and believed that he had to accept all work that was referred to him, or he might never get any more.

Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.

The Frustrating Grind

Continually working long hard hours eventually leads to diminishing returns and can be harmful to your health. I have found that it can be difficult to realise that by spending more time working rather than stopping to take a break and making sure that I get enough rest (sleep and recreation), that it is actually taking me longer to get work done and reducing the quality of the work that I do.

The really annoying thing for me is that it’s usually when I take a step back from what I’m doing that I realise I’m reducing my efficiency by working longer instead of smarter. Sometimes people can tell you that you need to take it easy and slow down, but it’s difficult to acknowledge when your main priority becomes your work.

But, as the saying goes, if you don’t hear you must feel, and your body will give you warning signs that will increase in seriousness if you don’t stop and listen to what your body is telling you. Look out for the following signs of being overworked:

  • Increase in fatigue
  • Depression
  • Inability to sleep
  • Irritability
  • Loss of libido
  • Inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities (anhedonia)
  • Anxiety
  • Diminished concentration
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Memory impairment
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Confusion
  • Crying
  • Excessive smoking
  • General aches and pains
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

source: Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.

A Rested You

If you are feeling overworked and stressed you may first want to seek professional help from your medical practitioner of choice. Don’t hesitate or say that it’s not that serious; delaying seeking professional advice can be costly, and after reading some of the case studies in a study by John M. Rhoads, MD that was published in 1977 (which was the major study I referenced when writing this post), I would strongly advise that you do. There may be other underlying issues that if addressed, at the very least will help in addressing some of your overworking issues.

There are some things that you can do by yourself to address the issue apart from the obvious of not working so long:

  • Set limits to how long you work per day, and don’t work on weekends. It is important that you stick to these rules, no exceptions. But start off small. Eventually work towards a 40 hour week if you work 50, or 50 hours if you work more than 60. Don’t jump all in, remember this is a change that you will keep up for the rest of your working life.
  • Rethink your attitude towards work and the time that you spend there. For example, does your family or social life suffer because you are constantly working? You may need help with this one, so don’t feel afraid to speak to a councillor or someone you can trust about this.
  • Make a point of going on vacation (even if your vacation is to stay local, but do no work or work related activities)!
  • Schedule for recreation time. Find out what you like to do (apart from work – no cheating), and make time to do it. Join a club or do a team sport that takes you away from the working environment, and demands just enough attention so that you have to go regularly to improve and practice at home (for me that is doing a martial art, which helps me to get rid of tension and helps with my breathing, focus and concentration skills in life and work in general).

Review

Resist the urge to work for longer than you need to. Redirect the energy you spend working long hours to organising your work life around actually living.

Stick to your work hours (9-5 Monday to Friday for example) and take regular breaks throughout your working day.

Schedule time for yourself and family/friends so that you avoid becoming one dimensional and have interests outside of work.

But ultimately, reconnect with yourself and be true to you.

Afterword

Many persons are able to work equally long hours without becoming ill. Those who become ill are those who ignore their body’s signals for rest, recuperation, and recreation.
One must keep in mind that people differ individually in their amounts of available energy, recuperative powers, and in enjoyment of work

Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Productivity Staying Awake

Need to Stay Awake?

Never Mind Only Another 8 Hours to Go!

Stay Alert, Stay Focussed

Unpleasant doesn’t go far enough to describe the feeling of being so tired that you want to sleep, but at the same time also needing to stay awake! It’s such a horrible experience that sleep deprivation is recognised as a form of inhumane treatment:

“/These methods, sometimes termed “disorientation” or “ sensory deprivation“ techniques, were not used in any cases other than the fourteen so indicated above. It emerges from the Commission’s establishment of the facts that the techniques consisted of …wall-standing; hooding; subjection to noise; deprivation of sleep; deprivation of food and drink./

/147. In its report, the Commission expressed the opinion….(iv) unanimously, that the combined use of the five techniques in the cases before it constituted a practice of inhuman treatment and of torture in breach of Article 3 (art. 3); (v) unanimously, that violations of Article 3 (art. 3) occurred by inhuman, and in two cases degrading, treatment”/

Stress and duress, Sensory deprivation techniques comprised torture , Stress and duress – Wikipedia

In an earlier post I questioned why you would want to do this to yourself. One popular reason is because of work or study commitments and in this post I’ll explain a few tips and techniques to help you get through a “must stay awake” session.

Please keep in mind, these are short term solutions and not meant to be used regularly. Many of the techniques suggested can put undue stress on your body and have long term health implications.

Tired? Never Mind Only Another 8 Hours To Go!
Photo by @Jennyrsmith via Twenty20

Caffeine – The Go To Stimulant of Choice

The most consumed stimulant on plant Earth, caffeine is the clear winner when it comes to consuming something to help us stay awake and alert. Sure there are other stimulants that work, but nothing is as popular and accepted as harmless as caffeine.

Research and personal experiences seem to be in line with this assumption. For example, when I was studying for exams, or had a very tight work schedule, I used caffeine to keep me alert and get me through the tiredness.

In an article for Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, Volume 20 by Andrew P. Smith titled, Caffeine at work, Andrew confirmed that:

“The results from the first study showed that those who consumed higher levels of caffeine reported significantly greater increases in alertness over the working day and a significantly smaller slowing of reaction time. The results from the second study demonstrated significant associations between caffeine consumption and fewer cognitive failures and accidents at work. After controlling for possible confounding factors it was found that higher caffeine consumption was associated with about half the risk of frequent/very frequent cognitive failures and a similar reduction in risk for accidents at work.”
“Overall, the results from the three analyses show that caffeine consumption may have benefits for performance and safety at work”

Smith, A. (2005). Caffeine at work. /Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental,/ /20(6),/ 441-445.

Stimulants

Overextended owner-operators regularly drove up to eighteen hours a day and often were “not out of their clothes for a week at a time.” The Safety Council elaborated on the variety of methods truckers used to stay alert. Beyond the conventional reliance on caffeine in all its forms, commercial haulers turned to seemingly anything smelling or tasting foul enough to jar their exhausted senses

Derickson, Alan. Dangerously Sleepy (p. 114). University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc..

The problem with stimulants is that there can be a tendency to overly rely on them to get us through the tiredness. This in turn leads to us needing bigger dosages to achieve the same wakeful results, to the point where we need the stimulant to just function normally.

And then there’s the fact that consuming caffeine doesn’t actually make you perform better, but does just enough to get through the difficult patches. Combining regular caffeine consumption with sleep deprivation can lead to some dangerous but not unexpected results.

The consequences of this behaviour were always bad. After several days of short sleep, drivers experienced hallucinations. They manifested plain evidence of shift work sleep disorder, nodding off during conversations or while carrying out routine tasks in terminals. One wasted man had the good fortune to have a helper accompanying him to advise him when he tried to park his rig in the middle of the road. Others had worse luck. Numerous collisions involving sleepy haulers came to light. In one case, the operator ignored a crossing signal and drove into the side of a moving train.

Derickson, Alan. Dangerously Sleepy (p. 115). University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Alternatives

What are the alternatives given that most of us at some point will have to work, study or look after someone whilst being extremely tired? If it’s just a short term (one to three days) stretch, then consuming no more than 400mg of caffeine within a 24 hour period can help. But if you want to avoid caffeine then the answer given by a Sailor that took part in a study to examine the factors that influence serving sailors may provide us with a good place to start.

“If I don’t have a good rest at night then I’m going to be groggy and angry… I was actually getting more work done after I actually took a nap or slept. I realised I was making a lot of mistakes (when sleep deprived), too. When we switched to that (napping), my mood got better. My work quality got better”.

Schmied, E.A., Harrison, E.M., Dell’Acqua, R.G., Perez, V.G., Glickman, .G., & Hurtado, S.L. (0020). A Qualitative Examination of Factors That Influence Sleep Among Shipboard Sailors. /Military Medicine,/ /AdvanceArticle,/ 1-1.
  • Nap
    Whether you are working late or through the night, or during the day, if you are feeling tired, take a nap. Not only will you feel better but a 20 minute nap can help you be more focussed and productive, boosting the quality of your work.

“Current evidence suggests that taking naps of ~ 20 min decreases the sleep pressure”

Murillo-Rodríguez, E., Yamamoto, T., Monteiro, D., Budde, H., Rocha, N., Cid, L., Teixeira, D., Telles-Correia, D., Veras, A., Machado, S., Imperatori, C., & Torterolo, P. (2020). Assessing the Management of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness by Napping Benefits. /Sleep and Vigilance,/ /4(2),/ 117-123.
  • Get up and Move
    Stretch and go for a walk. By getting your heart pumping and body moving you help yourself become more alert compared to just sitting down. To increase the benefit of both your exercise and napping, go for a quick brisk walk then have a 20 minute nap!

“Sleep leads to the enhancement of memory, and physical exercise also improves memory along with beneficial effects on sleep quality…”
“Our results demonstrate that short-term exercise and a nap improve recognition memory over a nap or exercise alone.”

Mograss, .M., Crosetta, .M., Abi-Jaoude, .J., Frolova, .E., Robertson, E.M., Pepin, .V., & Dang-Vu, T.T. (2020). Exercising before a nap benefits memory better than napping or exercising alone. /SLEEP,/ /43(9),/
  • Tiredness Indicators
    When tired it can be difficult to acknowledge just how tired you are. The stress of work or study related issues mixed with tiredness can be motivation enough to just plough on until you get what you need to do, done. Unfortunately this can lead to the detriment of the quality of the work that you put out, and may be dangerous. By the time you are reaching for caffeine, it’s already way past when you should have stopped and taken a break. Luckily there are tools like our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, that can alert you to when your alertness levels drop so that you can get up and walk before taking a nap. A simple to use Apple Watch app that works with your body to alert you when you’re tired, V-CAF is available on the app store now.

Review

Caffeine works but should not be used to keep you awake for prolonged periods (one to three days at a time only) and you should limit your consumption to between 200mg and 400mg of caffeine per 24 hour period.

When tired, take regular exercise breaks and naps to help relieve the build up of tiredness and to help get a quick boost to your focus and mental abilities.

Track how tired you are and be alerted to take regular breaks rather than just grinding your way through.

But the best tip of all, when you can get as much good quality sleep as possible!

Stay safe ?

Afterword

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago”

Friedrich Nietzsche, source: When We Are Tired, We Are Attacked by Ideas We Conquered Long Ago – Quote Investigator