Categories
Alert Energy Exercise Productivity Tension Tiredness

Stretch And Reach For The Stars

Stretch Yourself

And reap the benefits

Have you noticed that when you wake up you stretch and yawn? Studies have found that it is more common to stretch and yawn than it is to yawn and stretch.

No one really knows why this is but many hypotheses relate the phenomena to our bodies trying to prepare themselves for activity and possibly to increase the alertness of our brains.

If there is any truth to the above assumption, would it then be possible to benefit from a good stretch throughout the day to help boost our alertness and productivity?

Stretch And Reach For The Sky
Photo by @johnlmc via Twenty20

Unnoticed Tension

Working towards a big goal, deadline or completing a difficult task can unintentionally increase the tension within our bodies. The difficulty that I have is that I get lost in my work or study and just power through regardless, which in the end leaves me feeling exhausted.

What I didn’t realise is that one of the reasons why I get so tired is due to the build up of tension. Unfortunately it’s very easy to miss, especially if you get tunnel vision and only see the making of your deadline to the exclusion of everything else.

As the tension builds, you can become more tired, which can cause you to snack or drink caffeine in a subconscious attempt to raise your energy levels, but ultimately they both just delay the onset of tiredness at the expense of feeling more drained later, which leads to more snacking (you get the picture).

Increased Tiredness

“The sugar snack condition was associated with significantly higher tension after one hour, and a pattern of initially increased energy and reduced tiredness, followed one hour later by increased tiredness and reduced energy. The results partially support a general conceptual hypothesis that sugar snacking is often motivated by a low-awareness attempt to raise energy. Additionally, the results clarify an apparent conflict between neurochemical research, which indicates that sugar ingestion increases the tendency to sleep, and popular nutrition theory, which indicates that it increases tension.”

Thayer, R. (1987). Energy, Tiredness, and Tension Effects of a Sugar Snack Versus Moderate Exercise. /Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,/ /52(1),/ 119-125.

I knew about the sugar crash thing but didn’t make the link between sugar causing tension which would most likely increase my tiredness and then without thinking make it more likely that I would eat or drink a sugary snack to help fight the tiredness.

It also explains why caffeine drinks and chocolate are so full of sugar. I used to think that sweet foods and drinks increased my energy levels but at the expense of increasing my calorie intake, with the inevitable crash once the initial sugar high wore off.

But just like caffeine, the effects are temporary and actually can help to make you dependent upon them just to make it through the day! Unlike caffeine though, the build up of tension within your body is very subtle and difficult to detect, which it is why it so difficult for us to make the link between sugar, tension and tiredness.

Stretching

“Powerful stretching movements have major, widespread physiological consequences, including increases in the pulse rate, blood pressure, and blood flow to the muscles and other body parts, and increase in the flexibility of the muscles and joints”

Provine, R., Hamernik, H., & Curchack, B. (1987). Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans. /Ethology,/ /76(2),/

The authors of Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans suggest that stretching usually happens just after waking up to help prepare our bodies for action and to increase our brains alertness. But I’ve found that when I’m working intensely and lose myself, there are points when I naturally yawn and stretch, as if my body is trying to boost my energy levels.

Sometimes I acted on these natural reminders to take a break and go outside for a walk, but if I was especially tired, then that walk would end up at a vending machine looking for something sweet to eat or drink to pick myself up.

The problem for most people in a similar situation is that they don’t realise that their alertness levels are dropping until it’s too late and they find themselves snacking on something sweet and caffeinated. The solution to this is to know when your energy and alertness is decreasing before it gets to the snacking stage. This is where V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alertcan help. Our Apple Watch app monitors your body’s rhythm and notifies you when alertness levels start to decrease.

Once I get a notification, I leave my work in it’s best possible state, have a stretch and go for a walk outside or get a cup of water to drink which helps to raise my alertness levels so that when I get back to work I can continue at a more energised level.

In fact in “Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans” the research paper found a surprising benefit to walking instead of consuming a sugary snack.

“The results from the 10-min rapid walk are perhaps the most striking of the whole experiment. This relatively small amount of moderate exercise was associated with significantly increased energy and decreased tension for as long as 2 hours after the activity. The sugar snack, on the other hand, first was associated with tense-energy and then tense-tiredness for a majority of the participants. And although the energy and tiredness effects were weak in this condition, the increased tension effects associated with the sugar snack were unmistakable.”

Provine, R., Hamernik, H., & Curchack, B. (1987). Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans. /Ethology,/ /76(2),/

Summary

Stretching and yawning is your body’s natural attempt to raise our energy and alertness. We instinctively know this but over the years have been conditioned to to work against ourselves by using sugar and/or caffeine to give us a quick, immediate boost.

The problem with this approach is that these fixes are short term and have the potential to help us become dependent on them just to make it through the day.

Use your body’s natural indicators and work with your body by going for a walk, stretching and drinking water to help naturally and effectively raise your body’s energy and alertness levels.

Afterword

“Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.”

Jeremy Bentham
Categories
Energy Focus Insomnia Productivity Studying Tension

Don’t Loose It, Just Use It?

Step Back & Breathe Slowly

Or Just Loose it…

The frustration was building, and my patience was running short. Up until this point I thought that I was doing well. It seemed to me that I was handling things the right way.

For weeks I’d been putting in the time and the grind and couldn’t bare to think that it might of all been for nothing. What was going on? What did I miss? Maybe I’m not as brilliant as I think!

Now I felt my breathing becoming more shallow and faster. It was difficult to focus on any one thing, but then, in what felt like the back of my mind, I heard a voice that told me to step back and breathe slowly.

Non Stop Progress

The events leading up to this point were pretty normal. Assignments had to be done, social life was buzzing, and I was learning new skills privately that I hoped would further my career .

What could go wrong? I was doing the things “that you’re supposed to do” to be successful in all areas of my life. Yet I had a strange unnerving feeling that all was not as good as it seemed.

I noticed little things at first that I just brushed off as nothing. Little things such as laying awake in bed at 03:00 in the morning, and then not being able to switch off after a long day.

Soon I started to feel a little apprehensive about assignments that I once looked forward to getting into, and I started to lack the motivation to go out and socialise.

 

Real Progress or Busy Stuff

I didn’t talk to anyone about it but just kept on going. Plodding along and hoping that no one would notice. If anyone asked if I was ok, I would just say that I’m busy with assignment stuff or learning stuff.

But this could only go on for so long before someone would notice. And then it happened. My martial arts instructor kept on saying that I looked distracted, and would ask if everything was ok. I responded with the usual busy rebuttal defence, but she saw through it.

Looking back it wasn’t hard to tell for anyone that was paying attention, but somehow I missed it myself. Instead of taking some well earned time out for myself, to recover or catch a breather, I just kept on going.

And like a lot of people, I hid behind something and blamed that instead of standing up and facing myself. I kept the deception going. Productivity slipping, well just do more. Feeling tired, ok where’s the coffee.

I was burning out! But the need to not fail or let anyone down stopped me from looking at what I was doing to myself. My trainer noticed and said, you’re not going to the tournament next week!

I became angry but said nothing. Then when it was time to spar I lost it. I kept going in too hard and my partner kept telling me to take it easy. I didn’t listen. I angrily snapped a front kick forward, which my partner took advantage of, then boom.

I was on the floor looking up at the ceiling. It hurt when I tried to breath, so I took shallow breaths, frustrated that I couldn’t get up. My partner hit me in my solar plexus with a well timed punch that took advantage of my forward momentum. That’s what made it worse. I did this to myself.

As I got up I heard my trainer tell me to step back and breath slowly. Later my trainer had a one on one with me and told me that sometimes we just have to stop and assess where we are. If we find ourselves loosing it, then redirect it towards something positive.

Positive Steps

The lesson I was being taught was to make sure that I don’t loose sight of the big picture and step back from constant pushing and yearning.

My trainer pointed out that nothing progresses constantly in a straight line, and that we should take note of that and incorporate that idea in our lives.

So since then over the years I’ve been finding ways to adapt this notion into my daily life and have found some of the following to be quite useful:

  • Setting Good Routines
    I like to be spontaneous and try to resist being tied down to one way of life, but that said, I also like routines. Why, because it takes the battle outside of my head and places it on a path I can follow without too much thinking. As a result, I have all types of routines for all areas of my life.
    My start the day routine – do at least an hours worth of exercise.
    My work routine – list my tasks for the day, drink water and jump in to it.
    My before bed routine – unwind watching silly videos then reading.
  • Micro Breaks Throughout The Day
    I suffer from tunnel vision when I get into something, so it’s important for me to be reminded to take a 5 to 10 minute break every so often. I used to use the Pomodoro technique and work in 20-25 minute blocks. But after we created V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, I’ve found that I take the breaks as my focus starts to drop off and the watchOS app alerts me, which is more in tune with my rhythm rather than a static clocks rhythm. And, it really works. I’m less likely to power through when I’m tired now and the difference is amazing.
  • Drinking More Fluids
    For a long time I became a purist, water only type of guy. It was part of my routine. A set amount every day. Now I’m a bit more relaxed and drink a range of liquids not just water. The point is to get enough fluids in you so you are not dehydrated. BTW if you are feeling really dehydrated then drink some milk, apparently it’s more hydrating than water!

In Hindsight

If I could go back in time and tell myself that I needed to chill a bit more then of course I would have. The problem is that I’m stubborn so probably wouldn’t have listened to myself anyway!

So rather than tell you what to do, I thought it best to point out the signs to look for if you find yourself struggling in anyway to meet your progressive aims.

  • Take a step back and assess what you are doing and how you are doing it.
  • Create a plan that incorporates routines that will help you to achieve your goals without sacrificing your well being.
  • Take short regular breaks
  • Keep yourself hydrated

Afterword

As far as we know it’s only one life that we get. We get to choose the attitude that we take through it. It’s not what happens to us, but how we react to what happens to us that counts.

Categories
Anxiety Exercise Headaches Side Effects Sleep Tension

Life Stresses and Sleep

Don’t Stress Yourself

Just Chill…

It would be an understatement to describe this year (2020) so far as a little challenging. Dealing with a global pandemic and it’s social and economic repercussions has affected us all in someway.

So when would have been a better time to decide to move home and restructure your business activities than in the middle of a crisis, but that is exactly what we decided to do.

Unsurprisingly, we have been (and still are) pretty stressed, but things are slowly getting better. In this post I’ll talk about the effects of stress on your sleep and what you can do to reduce it’s toll on your mind and body.

Life’s Stresses

Worries about this latest pandemic are causing a lot of people a huge amount of stress. Our health and well being are paramount to our survival instincts, so any perceived threats to them immediately put us into “Fight or Flight” mode.

Likewise with the economic outlook not looking too pretty, people are worrying about their jobs and/or businesses as well as their investments and financial commitments.

Moving home is also stressful at the best of times, but moving during a pandemic compounds the issue. Having to deal with authorities, schooling and adjusting to a new environment can take it’s toll on your nerves and can be very frustrating.

Sleep Quality and Quantity

It’s no surprise that it is usually our sleep that suffers first when stressed, and as it is a fundamental sphere of our health, this has major implications for our overall health and well being.

For example, stressing about your work performance can lead to a lack of confidence in your abilities which is then magnified when you are not getting enough good quality restful sleep.

In a 2019 Sleep and Vigilance Journal study which investigated the link between sleep, work stress and headaches amongst print workers, it was found that the intensity of headaches and lower levels of concentration were characterised by the quality of sleep that the participants had the night before as well as the amount of interruptions they had at work.

“Between one working day and the subsequent day. printers need to recover their mental resources, and complete recovery depends on getting a good night’s sleep. There is a consensus that work stress impairs sleep quality. Sleep is necessary for recovery in humans and is therefore considered to be the link between occupational stressors, cognitive functioning and health. Impaired sleep may have a detrimental effect on psychosomatic well-being (e.g. pain) that is independent of the effects of work demands. Reduced sleep quality is a predictor of impaired performance, especially cognitive performance. Sleep impairments extend reaction times, impair concentration and attention and reduce working memory capacity. Hence, we hypothesised that the previous night’s sleep quality and current day’s time pressure, as well as work interruptions
and concentration requirements, would predict current-day, cognition-related health complaints, including headaches and concentration problems.”

Kottwitz, Maria, Christin Gerhardt, Sabrina Schmied, and Achim Elfering. “Sleep, Work Stress and Headache in Printing Business: An Actigraphy Study.” /Sleep and Vigilance/ 3.1 (2019): 9-15.

Helpful Strategies

The Sleep, Work Stress and Headache study made some suggestions on how to reduce the effects of stress on sleep but these where mainly directed at employers and policy makers, which in my experience if they eventually do become institutionalised, it’s in a weak or non sustainable way, with unintended consequences such as job loses as smaller employers struggle to afford to implement such measures.

If you’re like me you may not be willing or able to wait for guidelines to be made into laws, so what steps can you personally take to lower your stress and improve your sleep?

  • Talk with your boss
    Depending on your relationship with your boss or your work environment, taking the proactive step of talking about your current stresses at work and making suggestions on how they may be addressed may give you better than expected results. The key here is not to go in making demands, but to make very clear achievable suggestions that if acted upon, will help improve your productivity. An example of this is to clarify what your role entails and the commitments that are expected of you as well as what level of quality work you will be able to complete within a given deadline.
  • Make the time to exercise
    This is a difficult one, but necessary if you want to reduce stress levels. Exercise helps your focus and stamina and has been found to help boost productivity as well as reduce the rates of absenteeism. Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality which may be the reason why you may find that your productivity increases as a side effect.
  • Organise your sleep
    Your body needs sleep to repair. A lack of sleep helps reduce your concentration and focus levels, and can have negative effects on your overall health. Getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep will help reduce stress and feelings of depression and anxiety.

Action Points Summary

Although there are only three points, over the past couple of months I’ve found myself struggling to implement them! But with the latest release of our app, V-CAF, I found myself instinctively just getting on with them.

Workloads were negotiated and reorganised, I exercised more intensively and naturally found myself getting in more hours of sleep. I guess sometimes you can’t force it, but have to go with the flow.

I know the points sound simple (maybe not the talking to the boss one), but give them a try anyway, you may be pleasantly surprised:

  • Organise/Negotiate your workload (with your boss if applicable)
  • Make time for exercise
  • Prioritise Sleep

Conclusion

It wasn’t easy for us to start afresh and reorganise, especially during these unprecedented times, but doing so has made us more resilient to stress and hopefully will help to keep us productive so that we keep producing posts like this for you.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all the current changes that are going on, step back and reflect on the things that really matter in your life and focus on making the most out those things that you’ve been blessed with.

Stay Safe 🙂

Categories
Alert Energy Fatigue Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Tension

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness

Stay Present

Stay Relevant…

A constant annoyance of mine has been the amount of times I get distracted whilst working. It’s not that I can’t focus, but never ending interruptions via messaging, emails or people just talking to me when I’m deeply engrossed in something makes it feel like I’m not making any progress.

Currently I’m working on a project with a lot of people from across the world. Coordination between everyone has to be very tight otherwise we can loose sight of our main goal and risk failing. Me being me, I allowed myself to become sidetracked and as a result missed an important milestone.

My initial response was to blame everyone that distracted me from my project objectives, but a little while later by chance I found an article on mindfulness which helped me change my perspective.

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness
Photo by Ray Kay,, Ray Kay, @by.raykay

Unintentional Overloading

Whilst reflecting on the situation, I noticed the small things that I had been doing that led me to being distracted. Eager to get ahead and finish as quickly as I could, I hastily jumped straight into the work without first planning a proper strategy to getting the things that needed to be done, done.

This led me to start to ask others about what they thought was needed for getting things done. Whilst it’s good to talk and share ideas, it also tends to lead to a constant “back and forth” style of working, that does work, but not for every single task.

Soon I found myself with a lot of extra tasks added to my workload, some of which had very little to do with achieving our team’s goals.

Not Being Here

The extra tasks started to look like a mountain of pain and I started to focus on what I didn’t want to do rather than what was needed to be done.

Although I was engaging in meetings, email conversations and phone calls, I wasn’t really there. The nagging mountain of pain was always just at the back of my mind, calling out to me, and subtly draining my energy away from the present.

I became more restless and stressed and found it difficult to focus. The deadline was looming and I felt like I had no way of escaping. Then the desperation set in. I started working long hours to try to salvage something but found myself having to explain my actions to everyone around. They sensed that something was wrong, and I knew it too.

It seemed the harder I tried to get things done, nothing was actually done! I was stressed and it was making the situation worse.

Paying Attention

Moments like these can be draining and rob you of your self confidence, but thankfully there are measures that we can take to turn things around and regain control of first ourselves, and then the situation.

One such tool is mindfulness. I think of it as a collection of techniques and ideas that have been proven to help lessen stress and build mental resilience, especially when you’re under pressure.

Mindfulness is the act of being present in the here and now, without the need to judge or label what you are experiencing, but rather being aware of what is going on, around you and inside of yourself.

Luckily for me I had been exposed to some mindfulness techniques via one of my martial arts masters and in this case I started to put it to work as soon as I realised that I was spiralling out of control.

I stopped what I was doing and found a quiet place where I could be alone. I then sat on a chair, set a 10 minute alarm on my watch, and made myself as comfortable as possible, before closing my eyes and concentrating on my breath.

When breathing in I would “breath deep” in the sense that I would push out my belly as I inhaled until I couldn’t any more, and then exhale whilst pulling my belly in to gently push all the air out from my lungs.

Whilst doing this my mind would wonder, and when I caught myself I would bring my attention back to my breathing, without getting angry or judging it in anyway.

Because I was already in crisis mode I was reluctant to take any breaks and tried to carry on. But on one such occasion I was feeling tired and used our app, V-CAF to alert me as I grew even more tired. When the alarm rang, it reminded me to step away and take a break. Bingo, the perfect time to have a quick breathing meditation session!

For the rest of the project I made a point of using V-CAF to notify me to take breaks, which I would use as my meditation breaks. I reaped the benefits of this one change and achieved the rest of my milestones with room to spare.

The Take Aways

The simple act of bringing your attention to your breathing is the perfect exercise for training your mind on being present and aware.

Doing this and other exercises like it will help to build your focus and willpower and make you more aware of what is going on with your body and mind.

Being aware of this helps build your general awareness and therefore make you more alert to your moods and environment.

Being Mindful

It is easy to be overwhelmed by your workloads or stressful situations, but by taking a deep breath and stepping back, you can gain a clearer picture of what is really happening whilst keeping your head.

Deep breathing and other mindfulness techniques can be used to help you regain control of what may seem to be an out of control situation.

Try the breathing meditation the next time you get into a difficult situation and don’t forget to let us know how you got on by leaving a comment below.

Categories
Addiction Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Headaches Irritability Lethargy Tension

Addicted To Caffeine?

Are You Addicted To Caffeine?

Let’s See…

I’ve been clearing a lot of junk out of my life recently. Old books, clothes and ideas; nothing was sacred.

It felt great but I needed a little pep to pick me up from all cleaning I’d done. Without thinking I went to make myself a coffee. Then it hit me. I also needed to get rid of habits that were taking away from my life instead of adding.

In the past when I went without caffeine for a while I had headaches, felt lethargic and was very irritable. I didn’t see myself as being addicted and searched for more info.

This article highlights what I found.

  • Caffeine Addiction
  • The Effects of Addiction
  • How To Deal With It
Crushed Red Bull Can
Photo by Mohamed Hayibor on Flickr Addicted. Prepare for crash Probably too much sugar and taurine in my system to get shit done

Caffeine Addiction

You have an article that you want to write to promote your product. 

Many people feel that they have some sort of coffee or caffeine addiction, but is that an accurate assumption?

According to the American Psychiatric Association if you can identify with the following points you may be an addict:

  • Impaired control: a craving or strong urge to use the substance; desire or failed attempts to cut down or control substance use
  • Social problems: substance use causes failure to complete major tasks at work, school or home; social, work or leisure activities are given up or cut back because of substance use
  • Risky use: substance is used in risky settings; continued use despite known problems
  • Drug effects: tolerance (need for larger amounts to get the same effect); withdrawal symptoms (different for each substance)

The Effects of Addiction

The need to consume ever-increasing amounts of caffeine exposes you to greater risks.

The more caffeine you drink the more likely you are to suffer from:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pains
  • Convulsions
  • Heart arrhythmia 
  • Tachycardia
  • And even death

These risk generally increase when consuming more than 400mg of caffeine a day consistently, that is approximately more than four cups of coffee per day.

How To Deal With It

The first step with dealing with a caffeine addiction is to admit it. Once done the next most important step is to want to stop being addicted. 

Once you stop you will have to deal with the withdrawal symptoms. These are different for everyone. The length and severity of the symptoms can be influenced by such factors as health, fitness, stress levels, gender and age.

To help you deal with some of the withdrawal symptoms, here are a few things that helped me:

  • Painful headaches
    for me, headaches were the worst. Lying down in a darkened room helped; as did drinking water and applying pressure to my temples.
  • Irritability
    if you can, spend some time alone and be nice to yourself. Deep breaths can also help. The idea here is to calm yourself down.
  • Lethargy
    if you are at home get some sleep. If you’re at work then move around a bit more, drink water or use a tiredness alarm like V-CAF which will alert you when you are most likely to nod off.
  • Tension
    Take some time out and deep breathe. If you can, meditate. Drink water and/or go for a walk to help relax yourself.

Review

It might be a good idea to have your first day of abstinence on a weekend so that if you do start to feel the withdrawal symptoms you can make yourself as comfortable as possible, away from the temptations at work.

When back at work use tools such as V-CAF to help you deal with the tiredness you may feel.

Also:

  • Drink water and take deep breathes to deal with headaches.
  • Take regular breaks to be by yourself if you find that you are getting irritable.
  • If you can, short meditation sessions can help tension

Commit To Yourself

If you know that you are addicted to caffeine make the commitment to yourself to quit.

The act of committing to take action will make it easier to deal with the difficulties you may face when suffering withdrawal symptoms, and make it more difficult to give up.

Good Luck.