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Published on January 21, 2021

Here’s What To Do When You Are Getting Exhausted At Work

Here’s What To Do When You Are Getting Exhausted At Work
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Workplace fatigue and exhaustion have been significant issues for decades, way before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. According to Gallup, 85% of employees report being disengaged or actively disengaged at work, which results in nearly $7 trillion of lost productivity on an annual basis.[1] $7 trillion is lost every year because employees are distracted, disengaged, fatigued, exhausted at work, and essentially prioritizing other tasks to get done while on the company’s clock.

Many Employees Are Becoming Exhausted at Work

How did we get here? A study done by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace uncovered some alarming news. According to their study, 95% of HR leaders stated that employee burnout was sabotaging workforce retention.[2] From the sounds of it, this is a problem for the majority, not just the minority.

Business leaders worldwide are coming to grips with this because these problems aren’t going away anytime soon. These issues have been further projected into the spotlight because of the unprecedented events 2020 placed on our current workforce. Left to their own devices, people are creatures of habit.

At some point in your life, I’m sure you struggled with brushing your teeth and taking a shower in the morning. Hopefully, your parents helped you work through those stages to allow you the time to lay down foundational habits of personal hygiene, which have become automatic at this point in your life. Because of this, I suspect you have no issues brushing your teeth and showering in the morning before getting ready for a workday.

But when was the last time someone gave you instructions and exercises to facilitate your workplace habits of productivity and execution of tasks? Have you ever had anyone give you guidance on this? Most haven’t.

While this appears to be a significant issue in our current workforce, there are viable solutions out there to treat this work-related pandemic as long as you are willing to change your habits and implement simple changes into your daily work life. Even if you decide to implement one of these changes, you could see a significant shift in your productivity and output, potentially setting you up for that next promotion, increased pay, and a higher quality of life.

Unfulfilling Work Can Suck the Life Out of You

The first question you may need to ask yourself is, “Am I doing what I truly love?”

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Unfortunately, that question can only be answered by you, but it’s one of the most simplistic and foundational questions you need to figure out before taking the next step and investing in your future.

A majority of people are unhappy with their jobs, as Gallup found that nearly 70% of correspondents stated that they were unfulfilled and dissatisfied with their current place of work.[3] If you find yourself part of this trend, maybe it’s time for you to look for a new job?

HR Drive conducted a survey and found that half of their respondents stated that they would sacrifice up to 29% of their current pay to work at a job they enjoyed, which clarifies that people are willing to surrender financial gains for personal growth and gratification.[4] If we spend an average of 90,000 hours at work throughout our lifetimes, we need to make sure that we enjoy it and find fulfillment in what we do.[5]

Fatigue Can Signal Poor Health and Nutritional Deficiencies

If switching your career isn’t an option, there are many alternatives to choose from to optimize your energy levels even when you’re exhausted at work. While our workforce and office landscape has completely changed with the stay-at-home orders from COVID-19, we can still implement simple steps to enhance our productivity.

Exhaustion at work isn’t always because of the work itself. It could also be due to poor health and nutritional deficiencies, manifesting as altered cognitive function, poor sleep, and an inability to complete tasks on time.[6] Work merely brings out these inefficiencies and causes further strain on our brains and bodies, which may not have been able to keep up with these demands in the first place.

Nutrition and diet will forever be foundational to our health. Even Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, stated back in 440 BC, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Food is the keystone to our overall health and wellbeing—for a good reason. Your food choices influence your immune function via the bacteria living inside your gut, which contains roughly 70% of your body’s immune system.[7]

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Yes, you read that correctly. Your food choices directly affect your immune function!

More importantly, your food choices also affect serotonin production, the feel-good neurotransmitter that becomes skewed in conditions such as depression, anxiety, and different psychiatric disorders. Over 90% of your body’s serotonin production is housed within the gut and influenced by food choices affecting your bacterial profile.

Snacking on healthy foods throughout the day is always an option, but too much food can sway your blood sugar levels and cause daytime sleepiness.

For an even more efficient way to optimize your brain and body, intermittent fasting may be a better approach because it can help you dampen body inflammation, optimize cognitive processing, and even lose weight. Changing your food choices can directly correlate to changes in your mood and energy levels.

Take a Walk to Recharge Your Batteries

At some point, you may become exhausted at work and may need to step away from it to clear your mind. Taking a break from your work can be one of the most efficient means of improving your productivity because it allows the brain to switch gears and change your state of thought. One of the most efficient ways to do this is through physical exercise.

Movement is “the language of the brain,” as Anat Baniel states, and this statement is heavily supported by peer-reviewed literature and evidence-based articles. Exercise can directly influence brain activity through multiple mechanisms, such as increased oxygenation, enhanced gene expression, decreased stress responses, improved processing via the frontal lobe (The CEO of the brain), and optimized blood flow throughout the brain and body.[8]

We also have data showing that different exercise forms can yield different cognitive-based outcomes, specifically relating low-intensity exercise to improved cognitive processing and attention.[9] High-intensity exercise can also play a critical role in optimizing connectivity between networks responsible for affective and emotional processes. The choice is yours to make.

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Exercise isn’t just important for the body; it’s also important for the mind. It can improve your ability to learn and remember information, specifically, because physical movement increases the production of a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is responsible for facilitating long-term changes in neural networks and optimizing connections throughout the nervous system.[10]

A 10-minute walk could be the best way to supercharge your productivity and take a much-needed break from your work. Try it out for yourself and see how you feel!

Find Time to Take a Cat Nap

There’s a reason you sleep a third of your life away: It’s vital for high performance and optimal brain function. And while taking a quick nap when you’re exhausted at work may seem counterintuitive for productivity and hitting work goals, the science backs it up.

Sleep disruption can cause significant cognitive and emotional problems, leading to fatigue, brain fog, and altered mental processing.[11] It’s no longer viewed as an option as research shows how important it is for the formation and consolidation of memories, further enhancing our brain’s abilities to learn and create new ways of thinking.

The importance of getting enough sleep at night is rarely disputed, yet taking a quick nap in the afternoon or mid-day could also prove highly beneficial, especially before a big meeting or after studying material for some time. And since 53% of adults nap regularly, there’s a near 50/50 chance you’re in the camp of viewing afternoon naps as a waste of time.[12]

Short bouts of sleep (around 10 minutes) have been experimentally shown to improve alertness and cognitive performance, lasting for up to an hour following a nap.[13] Once again, taking 10 minutes away from your day to focus on optimizing your brain and body could yield significant dividends down the road towards productivity and success in the office.

Putting It All Together

Effective workers don’t work consistently for 8 hours and clock out at the end of the day. Being efficient doesn’t always mean being consistent, so we need to understand how work takes its toll on the brain and body. Most people possess the ability to put in an 8 hours workday in 5-6 hours, especially when you consider that the average worker only works for 2 hours and 23 minutes out of their 8-hour workday.

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Yes, once again, you read that correctly! The rest of their day is used to search the internet, read articles, look for other jobs, and do whatever else workers can get away with while their bosses aren’t looking.

So, if you’re interested in putting in an entire day of work, use your brain and body to your advantage by creating effective daily habits of success. Using science can vastly improve our outcomes and potentially get us an edge to increasing our future earning power while also avoiding getting unnecessarily exhausted at work.

As always, it will be up to you to make it happen.

“You can have results or excuses. Not both.” —Arnold Schwarzenegger

More on Regaining Energy

Featured photo credit: Joyce Romero via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Erik Reis

Peak-Performance Leadership Consultant

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Published on July 15, 2021

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better
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Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

Your Job

1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

Sleep Attitudes and Environment

5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

Personal Habits and Choices

7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

12. Don’t Smoke

Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

14. Get Regular Exercise

According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

Mental and Emotional

15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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