“I sleep enough, but I’m always tired”- sound familiar? You are not alone, one fifth of GP visits are down to tiredness and fatigue and doctors consult about it so often we even have an acronym for it, TATT (tired all the time). Of course, most people are worried about an underlying condition, concerned that they have an underactive thyroid, or they are anaemic, or even start worrying about a blood cancer. But the truth of it, is that yes, whilst there are many conditions that can cause fatigue, as a society we are mainly doing this to ourselves. Your doctor of course will take a full history and examine you as appropriate, and they are likely to suggest a blood test, but if these blood tests are all normal, which, in the majority of the cases, they are, it’s a matter of delving deeper into your lifestyle, and I often find stress is an underlying factor.
Stress tends to tick away, slowly wearing you out. Evolutionarily we all need a certain amount of stress to motivate us and get us up every day in search of a “better life”, but there is a point at which stress is detrimental. A term I have heard coined is “adrenal fatigue”. Whilst there is no evidence to show that people complaining of this form of fatigue have any problems with their adrenal glands, there is some explanation to this term, as it is our adrenal glands that help our bodies respond to emotional and physical stress. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, vital for many functions including blood pressure regulation, balancing our blood sugar level, regulating our immune system and the way our body responds to stress. Whilst cortisol is meant to help the body recover from stress, if it remains high, it may cause damage to the body, both physically, for example an increased risk of heart disease and strokes, but also psychologically, resulting in anxiety and depression.
As such it is important to make sure that you are managing your stress levels through lifestyle measures like sleep, diet and exercise. But in this modern-day society with advancements in technology, this reduction in stress can be very difficult. Whether it is work, family or friends, we are constantly connected, and no longer have that moment where we leave the office or leave the dinner party and switch off. We are always contactable, just a “send” button away from your boss emailing you arrange one more presentation, or your sibling texting you to sort out Mother’s Day, just one WhatsApp away from your friends arranging a quick after-work drink, and just one more YouTube video away from bedtime. You are always on-call, and standards have become such that if you don’t answer those calls/texts/emails, you are considered a bad friend, sister, colleague.
As a GP I’m always telling people they need to exercise, to cook from scratch, to embrace socialising, to keep the brain engaged, to find drive and purpose through work, to meditate etc. But in all seriousness, where is the time for all this? In a bid to “create” more time, I’ve taken to running in my lunch break, and then shovelling down my lunch whilst doing my paperwork (there goes my “mindful eating” preach!). So, if even the doctor can’t get it right, what hope is there for anyone else? Well, there are ways round this modern world and whilst I may have to succumb to the fact that my lunchtimes are going to be hectic, there are things you can do to make sure the rest of your life can slow down.
My top tips for ensuring you survive, but more importantly thrive in this modern, connected world:
1) Make YOU time
Make sure that at least once a week you have ‘you time’. It’s so easy to spend your spare time scrolling through Instagram and hours go by, and whilst you think you are relaxing, your mind isn’t. Your mind is flicking through the thousands of images wondering whether your ‘bum can look as good as hers’ or whether next year you should consider ‘buying that car’, or it’s a shame you ‘didn’t know about that restaurant when you were booking a table for your birthday’. This isn’t you time, this is you thinking about everyone and everything else in the world. Take the time to think about what makes you feel happy, calm and in the moment, and shut the door to the outside world.
2) Sleep really does help
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get a good sleep. It is recommended that you try and get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and we know that people that regularly sleep less than this are at increased risks of serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke. As well as these physical problems, a poor night’s sleep can also play havoc with you emotionally and everything feels harder to cope with – we have all been in that situation where we have snapped or cried inappropriately because we are just knackered. You also tend to eat more sugary foods when sleep deprived, looking for that energy hit, which of course has its consequences to your health. Don’t be one of those 24% of Londoners that stay up after midnight and start creating a bedtime routine that perhaps gets in you in bed for 10-11pm.
3) Switch off push notifications
You must set the precedent. Push notifications for email, texts, social media, the news, the weather, are detrimental to our productivity. But our mobile phones are probably the biggest distraction and interrupt us when trying to rest, or even when we’re trying to be productive. A recent study showed that the average Brit checks their phone 28 times a day. That’s at least once an hour… and more than 10,000 times a year. If your boss knows that at 6.30pm when you leave your office you will not be responding to emails, then he/she will just have to cope until the next morning. And by some miracle despite all the protestations, you will find that they managed to survive without you. But also save yourself from yourself, and when 9pm hits and you’ve made all the social calls and arrangements that you need, turn off your phone, in preparation for a healthy bed time regime.
4) Prepare your food for the week
I have found that food preparation is key to still managing to eat well despite your hectic lifestyle. Embrace what this modern world offers in terms of ordering your groceries to your door without having to spend hours walking chaotically through supermarket aisles. Even more tempting are the organic farm boxes full of beautiful seasonal goods, ensuring that you’re eating food that is still fresh and full of nutrients and flavour. Remember to make extra so that you have enough food for your packed lunch the next day, thus avoiding the crazed meal-deal sandwich buying at peak lunch times, but also ensuring that you aren’t going to be tempted by the sugary snacks at the checkout.
5) Slow down and do less
Ever heard of the saying, ‘doing less is more’? Honestly, doing less will make you happier because you’ll have less to be stressed about. Life is more enjoyable if you slow down and take a moment to appreciate the little things – try switching to slow mode in everyday activities such as driving, walking, and eating. Focus on one thing at a time and try to avoid multi-tasking – nothing can be done efficiently if you’re juggling 10 things at once! Another tip is to try cutting your to-do list in half. We often trick ourselves into thinking we have to fit in doing as much as possible in a limited amount of time, but most of the time, it’s not realistic. Just stick to accomplishing the things that matter most – that way you’ll give yourself less pressure and you will feel like you’ve achieved something.