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 Fatigue Productivity Staying Awake

Let’s Break Up Your Day And Be More Productive

Do Your Day Your Way

I have to admit that I find it difficult to
stop what I’m doing when I become extremely focussed on something.

On a few occasions this has worked out well for me as it made it easier to get things done. I feel ultra productive and at the top of my game.

But too often after stints like that my energy levels crashed to depths that had me feeling like I needed a week of sleep just to get back to normal!

As I became older my patience for this boom – bust cycle was at its lowest and I made it my mission to figure out what I could do to reduce the likelihood of repeating this draining chain of events.

Lets Go
Photo by @sennnnnya via Twenty20

The Lead Up

The typical scenario goes like this. I take a long time to get into the work that I’m doing. I keep on going knowing that at some point I’ll figure out what I’m doing and get most of the task completed. I get to the previously mentioned point and work like crazy. Finally I finish the work but at the end I feel exhausted and glad that it’s over. Then I get the new stuff that needs to be done and the process repeats.

Although it’s great to get the work done, the process can seem overly stressful at first, until you get into the flow and then work seems effortless. The problem is the after the work is done part.

What’s the point of doing all that work just to feel too tired to appreciate the time and effort put in? If you know that you have this work pattern it can be very discouraging to start because of how much effort it takes to get to the flow part.

Boom Then Bust

In the past I’ve found that just by doing something does help to start the process but the effort of starting can prolong the time it takes to get to the really productive part of the work cycle.

Then once in the productive phase, because I want to get things done, I found it difficult to stop because I didn’t want to risk loosing the moment that I worked so hard to start. This is good for my productivity targets but bad for my energy and sense of well being.

The fact that it took me so long just to get started, as well as the fact that at the end of my work stint I felt so tired was proof that something needed to change as the way that I was working was not sustainable.

During my research I found that I was displaying classic fatigue symptoms that if left uncorrected would become worse and eventually could get to the point where I would not be able to function “normally”.

Some of the signs of fatigue are:

  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Slower response times
  • Productivity declines
  • Lethargy

Hacks

Thankfully once I identified that maybe I was fatigued, it was a not so simple matter of trying out things that could correct it without having to take prescription drugs or visit a doctor.

By the way, if you feel that you may be suffering from fatigue and you’ve exhibited the symptoms for a while, make an appointment to see your medical advisor or doctor just to make sure that you are not suffering from anything that could seriously affect your health and well being.

So with that said, here are three possible causes of my boom-bust work style and how I addressed them.

  • Sleep Deprivation
    Was I getting enough sleep? I decided to use a sleep tracker on my Apple Watch to see the quality and length of my sleep. Apparently we humans need between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep a day. During my tracking period I was getting between 5.5 and 7 hours a day. So it was fairly clear to me that I would have to increase the times that I’m actually sleeping and not lying in bed trying to get to sleep.
    A fix for that problem was to increase the amount of exercise I did, changing my routine from every other day to everyday. This worked fantastically and had the beneficial side effects of making me get more healthy and boosting the quality of my sleep.
  • Work Patterns
    Setting up a daily routine helps with structuring my day and getting my mind ready to focus on what it needs to. I realised a while back that I’m more of a morning person when it came to certain tasks, so it made more sense to me to structure my work around that. Further I found that working to my circadian rhythm helped with my focus and productivity. As an example of my typical day, I structure my more intense, hard thinking type work to be worked on during the mornings and my more routine work after lunch. If I start working at 09:00 then I make a point of finishing for the day no later than 18:00. I stick to this schedule Monday through Friday and I believe that it has made things so much better. When I’ve worked longer days or stray from the schedule, I notice the difference immediately.
  • Time on Tasks
    This was my major issue and correcting this noticeably increased my productivity whilst at the same time helping to correct my boom-bust work cycle.
    Our brains like any muscle or body part for that matter, when used to excess becomes tired and non responsive. Any physically or mentally demanding tasks will take its toll on us. Because we sometimes overlook the amount of time that we spend working on a task (which is what I do all the time), it is very easy to burn ourselves out without noticing.
    To correct this we must insure that we take regular breaks throughout the working day. When and how you structure this is deponent upon your own work circumstances, but luckily for me my workplace is fairly relaxed when it comes to taking breaks (as long as there isn’t an impending deadline, but that’s for another post). Up until recently I was just using the Pomodoro technique of working for 20 -25 minute blocks, taking a ten minute break, then back to another block. This worked well but didn’t account for the times when my alertness levels weren’t so great. Now days I rely heavily on our Apple Watch app,V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, to notify me when my alertness levels drop so that I can take a natural break at the times when I need it most.

Review

Ultimately for me to change my work cycle of boom then bust it meant that I had to change my attitude to taking breaks whilst working and making sure that I did the things that promoted habits that would encourage me to get enough sleep whilst helping me to focus better throughout the day.

So as the picture in this article suggests, take some time out and go for a walk instead of sitting at your desk all day trying to get everything done at once.

Afterword

“No matter the risks we take, we always consider the end to be too soon, even though in life, more than anything else, quality should be more important than quantity.”

Alex Honnold

Categories
Alert Caffeine Energy Focus Productivity

Make Time To Chill

Be Here, Now

Slowly but surely, you will get there

Years ago a friend bought me a fantastic book called, “The Tao of Pooh & The Te of Piglet” to help point out to me that I was loosing “the way” and that I shouldn’t stop trying to get back more in line with it!

The chapter of that book that I was most drawn to and that had the most impact on me (which is probably why I remembered it regarding this post), is titled “Busy Backson”. The general gist of the chapter is that these days we tend to fill our time with stuff that keeps us busy, but that doesn’t amount to much, at the expense of us missing out on experiencing our own lives.

The book has helped me over the years and I think now is as good a time as any to share my thoughts on my favourite chapter and relate, how it’s principles can help you be more energised and excited about each day.

Time To Chill
Photo by @theki.dcreative via Twenty20

Sorry, I’m Too Busy

To me it seems that busyness has become associated with productiveness. When at work, home or studying very few people that I’ve come into contact with would admit to not doing much. I know that there have been times when I didn’t feel like doing much, but rather than say so, have found something to do that makes me look busy.

Even in polite conversation at a social gathering of some sort, when talking with someone (whether that someone be new to you or not), the conversation soon gets to the point where someone usually asks “So what do you do?” or “Have you tried [enter whatever activity or place to travel here]?”.

It is as if we have to justify every waking (and in some cases, unawake) moments. Like we would be instantly punished for saying “Actually, I’m just enjoying being still and listening to the sounds around me”. It’s not that people don’t say such things, it’s just uncommon (especially whilst being at work or school or even social gatherings).

What Am I Missing?

And that’s the problem. It’s become so normal to be constantly busy doing something that it’s almost a bad thing to be bored, daydream, or just stop and do nothing.

It’s true that meditation has become more popular lately, but it also suffers from the “Busy Backson” affliction of showing that you are doing something rather than just doing it because you want to. It’s a bit like the virtue signalling that seems to be popular these days to show that you’re a good and upright type of character, only for the sake of being seen by others so that they can say “Look, there goes a very virtuous person”!

The problem with keeping up appearances is that you eventually slip-up and that it brings unnecessary stress to yourself. Constantly appearing to be busy takes away from your life because you don’t get a chance to appreciate the wonder that is your life.

You can also start to resent life in general, to the point where life becomes one big drag that eventually can be too much to bare.

Claim Your Life Back

“I say, Pooh, why aren’t you busy?” I said.
“Because it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.
“Yes, but—“
“Why ruin it?” he said.
“But you could be doing something Important,” I said.
“I am,” said Pooh.
“Oh? Doing what?”
“Listening,” he said.
“Listening to what?”
“To the birds. And that squirrel over there.”
“What are they saying?” I asked.
“That it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.
“But you knew that already,” I said.
“Yes, but it’s always good to hear that somebody else
thinks so, too,” he replied.
“Well, you could be spending your time getting Educated by
listening to the Radio, instead,” I said.
“That thing?”
“Certainly. How else will you know what’s going on in the
world?” I said.
“By going outside,” said Pooh.
“Er…well…” (Click) “Now just listen to this, Pooh.”
“…thirty thousand people were killed today when five
jumbo airliners collided over downtown Los Angeles…,” the
Radio announced.
“What does that tell you about the world?” asked Pooh.
“Hmmm. You’re right.” (Click)
“What are the birds saying now?” I asked.
“That it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.

Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

I often write about the importance of taking a break every day, especially when working or studying or any endeavour that requires a lot prolonged focussed concentration. I was influenced by the quote above and actively found ways to practically apply it in my daily processes.

Thinking about it, it probably indirectly led to me getting to the point to create our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert. Stepping away from what I’m working on has always been difficult for me, so any process that helps to remind me to take a break is welcome.

After being alerted to take a break, stepping outside works, but so does just stepping away and doing nothing. It’s much like when I go for a walk to clear my mind. Eventually I’m distracted by the sounds around, or how lovely the sky looks, or any number of things going on around me, that just happen to be happening without my interference and independent of me.

It’s at moments like these that I feel at one with the world whilst at the same time appreciating me for being me, regardless of what is going on in my life at that moment.

Review

Benjamin Hoff concludes the “Busy Backson” chapter by highlighting the benefit of appreciating the process above just striving for the goal.

For example, many people want to give up caffeine and get upset when they relapse. They can feel like a failure because they didn’t make their goal. Or if they give up for a certain amount of time, they may feel that they achieved their goal, and then go right back to consuming caffeine.

Instead of focussing on the goal, why not focus on the process. Experiment and find ways to make your process as enjoyable and achievable as possible. If you mess up, no big deal, it’s all part of the process. Learn from it and move on.

It’s a tool that I use in all areas in my life and has made such a big difference.

So, try being like Pooh and appreciate yourself and life and the world in which you find yourself.

Afterword

“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (and quoted in The Tao of Pooh)
Categories
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Productivity

Take a Break and Get Out More

Time to Walk

I like listening to video and audio podcasts when I’m at work. Luckily for me I currently work in an office where I am able to do that without too much hassle from other colleagues and bosses.

I don’t do it all the time, but definitely when I’m getting a little stressed or frustrated with a problem that is seemingly impossible to fix (at that precise moment). Turning my attention towards something else for a brief moment has helped me clear the brain fog and find a solution.

Unfortunately, lately I’ve been staying at my desk for almost the whole day and I’ve found that even though I take a few micro breaks, by the end of the day I’m exhausted.

Work, Work, Work

Having the feeling of being productive is very important to our self esteem and general mental health. But things that are positive, if done to excess, can harm.

I, like you probably do, work in a culture of very productive people in which you don’t want to be seen as a slacker or someone who doesn’t pull their weight; so, to not feel like you are letting the team down you minimise the breaks that you take.

For me that came in the form of not leaving my desk too often and taking micro breaks where I’d check my email, message my friends and family quickly, or just look at what’s trending in the world of entertainment (better known as gossip)!

This was especially true when I had tight deadlines or a heavy work load. In fact I spent more time having micro breaks than I did having “proper” breaks.

At first I thought that it helped me deal with the stress at work, but after a while I began to feel flat and demotivated.

Overloaded

It was becoming clear to me that I wasn’t able to keep the quality of my work consistently high, and that if I noticed, it wouldn’t be long before others did too.

At first I tried turning my phone to flight mode and leaving it in my bag, but I found myself checking news and other interesting websites just as much as I had done whilst being on my phone!

I then doubled down on using the Pomodoro technique to focus on the tasks at hand but that didn’t help when I had difficult or complex issues to solve as I spent more time at my desk working on said problems.

Get Up and Get Out

During one of my intense focused work sessions I caught myself staring out of the window watching people walking by.

It was then that I realised what I needed to do. I grabbed my coat put my EarPods in and went for a ten minute walk in the green a few metres away from my office.

There’s something about being out and about, particularly where there’s a lot of trees or open green space that’s really relaxing. Sometimes I listen to a podcast, music or audio book, and sometimes I just let my mind wander from one thing to the next.

I’ve lost track on the amount of times that I’ve had a good idea come to mind, or realised the solution to a problem, or even just felt more refreshed and awake whilst on these walks.

Where I live it gets dark earlier in winter and there’s less sunlight. Going for outdoor walks either just after lunch or instead of a coffee break have really helped to boost my mood and improve my concentration when getting back to work.

Recap

Nowadays I make a point of taking at least one walking break outside when I can and I’ve found that when I do, I naturally have less breaks where I stare at my phone or monitor.

The act of getting up and going for a walk helps because:

  • I get fresh air
  • I raise my heart rate
  • I get more vitamin D for free
  • I put my mind in a more receptive state allowing me to find alternative trails of thought
  • I can listen to something that helps me switch off for a while

Overall, what’s not to like? If you find yourself in a bit of a rut, maybe try going out for a walk.

Afterword

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.“

Friedrich Nietzsche

Categories
Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Productivity Tiredness

How To Boost Your Energy

Energy Boosters

Lift off…

Feeling tired, fatigued or burnt out? You’re not alone. According to the National Safety Council more than 43% of workers are sleep-deprived.
Fatigue – You’re More Than Just Tired, NSC

The fact that tiredness is on the rise may account for the global demand for energy-boosting products being at an all time high. Caffeine consumption is on the rise and producers are capitalizing on the trend by providing more products that contain caffeine.

With all these products being put out in the market, it may make it easier to exceed recommended caffeine limits. 

So what are the alternatives to consuming caffeine to boost our energy levels?

Boost
Photo by dan carlson @dan_carl5on on Unsplash Full focus at a coffee shop

Why Are We So Tired?

Our modern lifestyles tend to encourage behaviors that as a whole can lead us to feeling tired. Demanding jobs, long shifts, long weeks, sleep loss, no rest breaks and long commutes are just a few of the ways that we may be contributing to our tired state of affairs.

Compounding the issue is our willingness to use stimulants such as caffeine to give us a boost of energy to get us through the day.

Does Caffeine Really Boost Our Energy Levels

Caffeine tricks our minds into releasing dopamine, which makes us feel alert, motivated and good about ourselves. This makes us feel as though we have more energy than we actually have.

Eventually, you’ll need ever increasing amounts of caffeine to achieve the same energy boosting effects. This can happen as soon as a week to 12 days.

When trying to give up caffeine, withdrawal symptoms can begin as fast as between 12 to 24 hours, explaining why some people need a coffee in the morning to feel as though they are awake.

Withdrawal symptoms include but are not limited to the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting

Alternative Boosters

Companies such as Bayer AG, PepsiCo, Boehringe Ingelheim GmbH and Sanofi are investigating using herbal and/or traditional medicines as alternatives to using caffeine.

As an individual you can use the following techniques and tips right away to help boost your energy:

  • Number one is to get more sleep.
    Although everyone is different, studies show that most people are most alert when they regularly get between 7 to 8 hours sleep.
  • If you are working on a tedious task, take regular breaks.
    Performance tends to decrease after 90 mins of continuously working.
  • Be alerted to when you are tired by using a tiredness alarm like V-CAF.
    V-CAF is an Apple Watch app that works by subtly notifying you when you are most likely to be drowsy and not focused on your current activity.
  • Eat whole foods and avoid foods containing processed sugar.
    This will help keep your energy levels balanced throughout the day.

Review

The best way to boost your energy is to make better lifestyle choices and avoid stimulants that trick your body into thinking it has more energy than it does.

Here are the takeaways:

  • Get more sleep
  • Whilst working or doing something that you need to focus on, take lots of breaks
  • Use tiredness alarms such as V-CAF
  • Eat whole foods, avoid processed foods

Conclusion

Tiredness is our body’s way telling us to slow down and take care of ourselves.

By trying to short circuit our body’s defense systems, we put ourselves and others at risk.

A few simple lifestyle changes can really improve our quality of life.