Health's Hierarchy: Where to Focus Your Time and Energy When You Have No Time or Energy.
by James Anderson
Posted: October 25, 2015
Our fitness and personal training expert James Anderson talks about his own journey towards optimal health - both inside and outside.
We’re living in an age that is moving so fast and furiously that it seems almost impossible for us to keep up.
We’re constantly being fed other people’s information and ideas, often having them forced down our throats as if gospel truth, and, what’s worse, if we don’t agree, we’re often berated for having our own opinion – I know, blasphemy!
We’re being overworked yet underpaid, overfed yet undernourished; often left with more day at the end of our energy, than energy left at the end of our day.
The words “exhausted”, “tired”, “scared”, “fearful”, “overwhelmed”, “stressed”, “anxious” and “depressed” have all become common household names for how we’re feeling on a consistent basis.
How do I know all this?
Well, everything I’ve said so far comes from first hand and very personal experience.
You see, a few years back, I was in a terrible place with my life; I was sick all the time, tired, sore, sluggish, demotivated and anxious. And, although I exercised, I never got the results I wanted – rather than feeling great after a workout, all I felt like doing was sleeping – so I did.
This way of living finally saw me hit rock bottom - I had depression.
However, I knew that it wasn’t a place for me, “I don’t belong here” and “there must be more to life than feeling like this” I said to myself.
I made a decision, and then I got really pissed off and angry - I was just so sick and tired of being sick and tired and that I knew I was finally ready to make some big changes in how I approached my health and wellbeing, especially considering the fact that the old “diet and exercise” road that I’d been travelling on for so long, was no longer working for me anymore.
So, I began educating myself about both how to improve both my psychological and physical health.
I was kind to my body.
I was kind to my mind.
I was kind to myself.
I regained purpose.
And as I continued to learn about my own body and what worked best for me I came to the powerful realisation that my time and energy were my most precious commodities, and I had been frivolously exhausting both of these resources on a daily basis without ever thinking about what it was costing me.
So I started thinking about how I could better manage my mind, body and spirit, and, what I came up with was “my health hierarchy” – a very simple way of focusing on the things that would give me the most bang-for-my-body without taking too much of my time or energy. The crazy thing was that when I began implementing this with consistency, I found that I actually experienced a net gain in my time and energy as a result.
So, if you’re interested, the health hierarchy goes a little something like this.
The above areas are listed, as you may have worked out, in hierarchical importance - meaning that if you have very little time or energy that you should “spend it wisely” on the things that have the most dramatic and positive effect on the other areas.
As I began to focus on improving these key milestone areas in my own life, things started to change – quickly. My energy came back, my sleep got better, my mood improved, I loved training and the results I was achieving.
What I found is that there was one small, but major thing that was causing all of my problems – stress.
However, what I didn’t realise at the time is that our body can’t differentiate between stressors, meaning that doesn’t matter what the stressor - the physiological result is the same. Our body switches to “fight or flight mode” and the stress hormone cortisol is elevated above normal to make sure that we can either “fight” the danger or take “flight” and run away to remove ourselves from the situation - it’s our bodies natural survival mechanism designed to keep us alive!
So this means that it doesn’t matter whether you’re putting yourself under immense stress at the gym [aka physical stress], whether you’re not eating well or drinking enough water [nutritional stress], whether you’re not getting adequate sleep [circadian stress] or whether you’re going through some relationship stress at home [emotional stress], your body doesn’t know the difference; it just pumps out cortisol.
But what’s even more important to realize is that our body can only handle stressful events when they’re few and far between – it’s when they turn into a one stress, two stress, three stress, four – five stress, six stress, seven stress, more – that’s when it starts to become unhealthy. This “chronic stress” eventually leads to physical conditions such as poor digestion, anxiety, poor sleep, low libido, muscle tension, inflammatory conditions and increase susceptibility to infection.
Sounds great, right?
This is also not to say that stress is a bad thing, either. In fact, stressful events offer us a challenge to change, to adapt, and to transform into something stronger. It’s an unavoidable part of life.
So what do we do about it…?
Determine this: how full is your “stress glass”?
A good analogy to explain how your body works is thinking about a glass; let’s call it your “stress glass”.
Now, at any point in your life your body is constantly pouring stress in from each area. So, if you’re highly stressed in all areas of your life then your glass will quickly fill up and then spill over.
This spillage is where sickness and disease begin, as your body can no longer bear the stressful load you’re putting it under.
Use wise words, wisely.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Now, when reading the above I am sure we can agree that there are certain things, people, events, and stressors in our life that we can and cannot change and the wisdom is in knowing the difference between them.
Well, it’s about time for you to sit down, wise up, and work out what major stressors in your life can be changed, either through changing your circumstance, or changing how you perceive the circumstance. Either way, if you can reduce the total amount of stress in the glass, you’re doing your health a big favour.
Make a manageable action plan
Now you have a better understanding of what areas are your biggest stressors, and whether those areas can be changed or not, you need to create a manageable action plan to reduce the load you’re under.
This means that if you’re highly stressed at work and that can’t be changed, then maybe running at 5am for 10km each morning isn’t necessarily the best thing for you and that you should focus on getting a better sleep to reduce circadian stress, talk a walk instead of running to reduce physical stress and take some time out to eat quality food to reduce the nutritional stress. See how it works? It’s just a game of give and take.
Give back to your body as best you can and reduce the total load and you’ll be feeling amazing again soon enough. But just be sure to make it a manageable action plan, we don’t need another stress in your life!
For more information on how to look after your body better, check out one of James' other articles here: Life's Balancing Act.