Do You Have A Strong Foundation To Deal With The Stresses In Your Life?

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We live in stressful, hectic times. The demands and pressures on leaders is enormous and even though the term work/life balance has been part of our leadership language, many leaders feel tired, exhausted, and not able to give it their best.

It is very hard to be your best at work, with family and friends, when you’re constantly running on empty or near empty. Your physical health provides you with the foundation to perform. So how can you ensure that foundation is strong; that the tank is as full as possible, every day?

There are 3 elements to your physical health that can fill the tank and keep it topped up: nutrition; activity; and sleep.

Nutrition – how balanced is your diet?

We know that eating a balanced diet is important, and most of us do our very best to eat well. Interestingly enough, research by the Australian Heart Foundation in 2011 showed that 2/3 of Australians thought they ate a healthy diet. Yet only 8% ate enough vegetables. With so many healthy ‘diets’ out there, it can be confusing, frustrating and overwhelming. So, what should you do to provide your body with the nutrients it needs?

  • Cut out the sugar. Yes, really. If your go-to food when you’re feeling tired, sleepy, grumpy, or stressed is something containing sugar, you’re putting your energy on the top of a slide, where the only way is down. You may feel a lift initially when your blood sugar rises, but the inevitable dip will drop your energy lower than before. If you need a quick pick me up, an apple will provide you with the same energy, plus valuable vitamins and minerals, plus fibre.
  • Up your omega 3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, linseed, and chia seeds. In fact, eat more natural fats like full cream dairy products (unless you are lactose intolerant), avocados, and nuts.
  • Become an intuitive eater: pay attention to what you eat, when you eat and how food makes your feel. Start noticing when you start to get hungry and when you are feeling satisfied. Intuitive eating will help you identify which foods make your feel more energetic and which ones drain your energy.

Activity – are you exercising? 

Our bodies are designed to move, but most of us sit for most of the day: we sit to get to work; we sit at work, and we sit when we’ve come home from work. There is a new health scare, and it’s called Sitting Disease. Women who sit for more than 6 hours increase their risk of dying by 94% compared to those sitting for 3 hours a day. Men increase their risk by 49%. Even if you do a workout every day for 30 – 60 mins, it is not enough to counteract the damage done by sitting. If you want to find out your disease risk level, here is a great calculator: The solution? Stand more. Some simple ways to reduce your time sitting and increase your time standing and moving are:

  • Turn activities like making phone calls into a standing up activity.
  • Perhaps you are able to create a standing up desk setup?
  • If someone comes over to your desk to ask you a question, stand up to have the conversation (not only good for your health, it may also make the conversation shorter and more effective).
  • Hold stand up or walking meetings.
  • Walk over to someone to tell them something, instead of sending an email.

Sleep – do you get enough?

Magic happens when we sleep. A good night sleep allows your brain to consolidate and tidy up, your body to clean itself, and you to wake up ready to face the day. But not all of us are able to get a good night sleep. Maybe you struggle to fall asleep; perhaps you wake up and can’t go back to sleep; or you seem to get the right amount of sleep, without interruptions, but you still wake up tired.

The following tips will help you improve your sleep:

  • Create a bedtime routine and stick to it every day. Start winding down an hour before you want to be asleep. Perhaps you do some tidying up around the house; have a bath or a shower; read a little. Whatever the routine, follow it diligently to create an association between your bedtime routine and your brain’s expectation of sleep.
  • Ban electronic devices from your bedroom. Tablets, laptops and smartphones emit blue light, which interferes with
    Create a sleep-inducing bedroom. Make it dark, quiet, and dark.
  • Avoid foods that are stimulants, 4-6 hours before bedtime: coffee, black tea, chocolate are all stimulants and can keep you awake. Alcohol may help you fall asleep but it becomes a stimulant after a few hours as well and may make you wake up during the night.

Creating a strong foundation of physical health will allow you to be your best at work, at home, with friends and family. It will give you the energy to deal with challenges effectively without dipping into your energy stores unnecessarily.

Nutrition, activity and sleep are closely linked: improvements in one area will have a positive impact in both other areas. So just pick one area that you feel will be the easiest one to make changes in and pick one thing you can start to do differently today!

Anne-Marijke Gerretsen is a Behaviour Change Expert, who is passionate about helping leaders make small but powerful changes so they can be at their absolute best in both to their leadership and personal life. As a psychologist, and soon to be a qualified nutritionist, she takes a ‘whole of life’ approach when coaching her clients. By teaching how to create strong habits around physical health, emotional intelligence, and leadership behaviours, she provides her clients with the key ingredients to impact the lives of those around them in meaningful and supportive ways.

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