The thing I learned most from my many years of management in corporate fitness: How to avoid burn-out and stress from working without the proper work-life balance.
I’m so grateful to have lived and learned. These days, as stressful and task-loaded my days get, I’ve found great techniques that help keep my body fueled, my mind focused, and my spirit continuously centered.
1. Start your day with more than just coffee or tea.
You MUST have a substantial breakfast; doesn’t have to be anything elaborate like what you would have on a weekend brunch. It can be healthy, whole grain cereal and milk with some fruits; hard-boiled eggs pre-made with whole grain bread, or even oatmeal with some raisins or peanut/almond butter. Even fruit and cottage cheese would work — anything that’s a healthy mix of grains, protein, and healthy fats.
From here, keep track of what time you finished eating. Then, set alarms on your phone or your electronic calendar to go off and remind you to eat every 3 hours from thereon. I use my iphone to pre-set these times, such that when the alarm goes off, I grab something to eat, which leads us to #2.
2. Keep healthy snacks, even lunch options handy at work.
If you get so involved with your workload that every time you look at your watch, the whole day has passed you by without your having any snacks, lunch, or even water, try this method out. Stop by a grocery store and stock up for the day: sandwich or salad pre-made, pre-cut fruit, healthy trail mix or nuts, protein bars, big water bottles (i like the 1.5 litre ones), and bottled green tea. When my alarm goes off, I pick 1-2 of the snacks, or have half the sandwich, etc, and voila, instant re-fuel and re-charge of energy. Also, if I know I tend to get sluggish or slow around 3p or 4p, that big bottle of green tea is at my desk from 2pm on. I take swigs through the afternoon, and my energy keeps going.
Tips #1 and #2 are proven nutrient-timing strategies that do aid in maintaining focus levels and minimizing the effects of stress on your body.
3. Take a 5-minute break to step outside and get some fresh air or sunshine. You can set an alarm for this, too. My personal rule has been to use the lunch alarm as my cue, where I try and have my lunch or snack outdoors, gazing at the sky or nature. I actually DO NOT bring my phone or messaging device with me at this time — seriously, it can probably wait, while you take a 5-minute “me-time” breather.
4. Listen to meditation music on headphones, when working on reports or documents. This has been a lifesaver for me. I now search for CDs and tracks that even have technology that allows for specific brain waves to be stimulated, so I can stay focused, get creative, or even just get quiet with my mind.
5. After the workday is over, RESIST THE URGE to head straight for the bar, the fridge, or the sofa with phone in hand to dial for pizza delivery. This is difficult to do for a lot of people, but unwinding should not be about just laying on the couch like a vegetable, hoping the TV will clear your brain of the day’s stresses.
I do my best to allot at least 20 minutes to either:
a. Turn off my phone and be in nature/outdoors without thinking about work. The meditation tracks come in handy again here. Audiobooks work, too! If I’m lucky, I can get off work just in time to watch the colors of the sky change, while listening to my music — a slice of heaven!
b. Close my laptop, turn off my phone, then lie down on the floor listening to my music, while performing stretches, or laying on devices that help re-align my neck and spine. This has helped me start my evening off right, and avoid binge-eating or binge-drinking, as typical methods of “curing” a stressful day (which by the way, never works)
c. Walk outdoors to just re-center myself and refresh my Spirit. I avoid going straight to the gym — tends to just be an extension of the stressful workday. I’d take any of the above strategies first before working out — leads to a more mindful exercise session.
6. Eat a healthful and light dinner, ideally about 3 hours from your last snack at work. And by the way, 6 is easier to achieve if you follow #5. Without #5, my dinners would always be food binges, mostly because my body seems to think that doing that will help take the emotional drain away.
7. Sleep early, and back-time your schedule so you can get in a good 7 to 8 hours. Waking up well-rested sets the tone for how you will walk in to your office that day. And from here, you can follow steps 1-7 all over again.
Doesn’t this sound blissful? Here’s the best part, this allows you to break free of the structure on the weekends, especially if you don’t have physique goals to aim for. Some of you may only be able to pull off a cheat day one day a week, but even then, this structure helps keep you on track.
Enjoy the strategies, I hope they work for you!