Do you ever ask yourself, “why am I so tired?” Is the answer elusive? You eat relatively healthy, you take weekends off and lounge around the house and during the week you come straight home after work so you get in at a decent hour. And you’ve worked hard to establish a good work life balance… So, what gives?
Let’s begin by dissecting the concept of “work-life balance.” When you attempt to balance things, you put them on a scale and work to ensure that they are equal. You then expend copious amounts of time adjusting, planning, shifting and assessing things to ensure you maintain that balance. That’s a lot of work. Furthermore, you set “work” and “life” at odds with one another.
Experts are suggesting a new paradigm shift in which work and life align and work in harmony with one another. The first step to resolving the question, “why am I so tired,” is to alter your perspective and end the exhaustive exercise of trying to establish balance.
Get some rest
“Get some rest.” This has become the most ambiguous piece of advice a person can receive. What is “rest?” Most people tend to define rest as:
- Lounging on the sofa or laying in bed
- Doing nothing (is that even possible?)
- “Netflix and chill”
- Not doing chores
And while your body is in a relaxed posture your mind isn’t. Rest is a mental activity, not just a physical one. When you engage in the activities like those in the list above, you encourage mental activity that is counterproductive to rest.
If you are like most people, you’ve probably developed the habit of browsing social media while you are relaxing. This type of mental engagement and stimulation can actually leave you more tired than you were initially. Your brain is not only quietly processing all that you are taking in, it is also preparing for and encouraging you to socialize. A recent study found that when the brain isn’t actively engaged in a conscious activity, it shifts into a state of prep for social interaction with others. Mindlessly watching television, browsing the internet or reading tweets isn’t mindless at all.
Another important fact to consider is that the brain needs something to focus on in order to achieve a state of symbiotic rest. It needs a purpose. Think about an activity requiring very little focus and attention–such as showering. Most times you are thinking about other things and your mind is busy working out problems and connecting dots. This type of mental activity is necessary and beneficial but it chases away rest. Letting your mind run free is the quickest path to exhaustion.
So then, sleep must be the only way to rest then right? Wrong–well, partially wrong. The problem with sleeping is that most people tend to oversleep. Oversleeping can actually be detrimental to your health as research has found that it contributes to issues such as heart disease, diabetes and depression. The amount of sleep you need is unique to you and varies with your lifestyle, activity and stress levels and your overall health.
Now that you can pinpoint some of the things you are doing that are contributing your continued quandary “why am I so tired,” let’s look at what you can do to achieve true rest.
What is rest, really?
Rest is an activity. It is not a state of “doing nothing.” Below are 2 important ways to trigger your brain into actively engaging in rest. They directly oppose what society typically considers rest and relaxation but I challenge you to give them a try.
1. Switch between tasks that are opposite in nature.
If you are working at the computer, after a few hours switch to a more physical task, or go for a walk or short run. If you are working on a very technical and detail oriented project, switch to working on something requiring a bit more creativity and whimsy. After being in meetings all day or giving a presentation, work on a quiet task, alone that does not involve other people such as balancing your checkbook or prepping food for dinner. As you participate in each activity, be sure you are practicing mindfulness–or being fully present–as you engage in each activity.
The key here is to remember the brain needs and likes focus. After engaging in some of the tasks above, you are most often tempted to just “veg out.” Giving into this feeling will sap you of the remaining energy you have left.
Exercise is the cure for what ails us. Moderate exercise reduces stress, increases productivity, overall health and wellness and prolongs life. Research shows that regular amounts of light exercise is one of the best treatments for those suffering from exhaustion and fatigue.
This fact holds true for those with sedentary or physically demanding jobs. Whether you are in a tiny cubicle sitting all day or working at a dock loading and unloading heavy freight, studies show that light amounts of exercise beyond your daily routine helps your mind and body achieve rest.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia found that moderate and low-intensity workouts increase feelings of energy.
“A lot of people are overworked and not sleeping enough,” said Patrick O’Connor, co-director of the university’s exercise psychology laboratory. “Exercise is a way for people to feel more energetic. There’s a scientific basis for it, and there are advantages to it compared to things like caffeine and energy drinks.”
In the study, research subjects were divided into three groups. One group was prescribed 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for six weeks. The second group engaged in low-intensity aerobic exercise for the same time frame and the third group–which was the control group– did not exercise at all. Both groups of exercisers experienced a 20 percent boost in energy levels compared to the group of nonexercisers. Researchers also discovered that intense exercise is less effective at mitigating fatigue than low-intensity workouts. The low-intensity group reported a 65 percent drop in fatigue levels, while the high-intensity group reported a 49 percent decrease. It’s important to note here that any exercise is better than no exercise.
In order to truly feel rested and refreshed, you must be willing to shift your thinking when it comes to rest. How you feel you should rest is not working for you, so it’s time to develop a new norm and give your mind and body what it actually needs to rest.