I was inspired this week by watching a webinar about living well. This was presented by Jana Nightingale, who raises self-awareness on personal development. It was quite insightful and I learnt a lot, and it really made me self reflect.
The webinar opened on a brief history of the lives our ancestors lived. Previously, humans lived off the land and led physically active lifestyles. Even in a high threat environment, there was once balance between our bodies and brains. We rose up with the sun, and then wound down at dusk.
Now in our modernised lives, we live more sedentary lifestyles, with screens and technology everywhere. There is less distinguishment between day and night – we are always switched on. This engagement with technology increases cortisol in the body, so the default state now is a life of stress and anxiety.
To cope with this discomfort, people have been falling into unhealthy habits. And habits can form quickly. I was definitely procrastinating and going on social media a lot at the start of the pandemic. And I’ve previously heard that procrastination is the modern day “flight” in the fight or flight or freeze concept.
Two brains – two systems
The primal older part of the brain is connected to the threat response area. This so-called chimp brain/ fast system is the subconscious part of the brain, quick and automated. It turns every day routines into habits, filters information quickly, freeing up space to focus on important things that require more mental energy.
The human brain/ slow system is the conscious part of the brain, slow and more controlled. This part of the brain is not well equipped for our complex modern lives full of distraction and information, so we tend to revert to the chimp brain/ fast system to get through the enormous amounts of data and information.
The survival part of the brain is working all the time. This is why we can get anxious sometimes, as the brain is still in the fight or flight or freeze mode. The human brain/ slow system is able to balance some of this, but as it uses up 5 times more energy than the chimp brain/ fast system, when that energy is depleted we then live on auto pilot.
When we have more energy we are more likely to use the human brain/ slow system. When we feel we don’t have energy, then we find things more difficult.
Our bodies can let us know when our energy is depleted:
- mood swings; and
- even sometimes skin conditions.
I used to get stress nose bleeds before exams, and now I get blotchy skin when stressed. I recall one time after working 12 hour days for 2 weeks on a client, I came down with flu and couldn’t even stay awake for longer than an hour. It took effort to chow down chicken noodle soup.
It was as if my body had fought the fight – a mental fight, on a big client. And then my body was telling me to rest in the most obvious way it could: letting me know I was ill. I had to physically slow down to enable my brain to mentally slow down to rest.
More recently, my energy levels have depleted due to other reasons, such as: bad news, horrible news stories, lack of progress, unnecessary drama from energy vampires. These didn’t result in any illness per se, but I definitely felt exhausted and anxious about the background noise in my life at that time and it made it really difficult to function or even think.
The webinar spoke about how we can improve and replenish our energy levels, things like:
- nutritious meals;
- regular breaks;
- sleep or power naps;
- meditation or mindfulness;
- going for a walk; and
- taking a relaxing bath.
Nightingale stated that after 90 minutes, ideally, humans need 10 minutes of rest or break. I definitely do not take enough breaks! She also stated that 40% of mental health is made up of things we do every day to take care of it. I was stunned – that’s a lot.
Recently I’ve been trying to focus and improve my mental health, and I feel I still have a long way to go. I suppose we have to walk before we can run. I’ve previously heard that sometimes when we are feeling down or depleted, it’s not because we are doing too much of what we don’t want to do, it’s that we aren’t doing enough of what we do want to do.
I feel I need to try and carve out more time in my day to replenish my energy. Perhaps I just need to do more and think less. I always say, and think, you can’t pour from an empty glass. So maybe I need to focus on re-filling mine for a little while.