Hot In The City: On surviving, recovering from and preventing burnout from our stressed-out city lifestyles.

Living in a big city can be stressful and exhausting, and it's OK to acknowledge that.

Busakorn Pongparnit/ GETTY IMAGES
Busakorn Pongparnit/ GETTY IMAGES

How are you doing — really?

Beneath the smile sponsored by caffeine, the motivational quotes and the sharp suit… when was the last time you really thought about your response to that question?

“I’m fine, just busy” has become the daily mantra of the stressed out city worker. And it’s easy to understand how we got to this place, but not so easy to come back from.

I’m reminded of that old expression, to paint yourself into a corner. I think it’s how we ended up stuck on the burnout merry-go-round. Let me explain…

We are depleting ourselves to meet our basic needs

You live and work in the city. Your rent or mortgage is high; about as high as your pay packet. So they counter-balance each other, but there is not much left over at the end of the month. But you are following your ambition, so you both live to work and work to live at the same time.

You get up early and hit the gym before work, because otherwise you will just never get there. And you were right — there wasn’t time in your evening. There was that work event, or birthday drinks, or something else keeping you from your evening alone. Not to mention the journey home, which is always congested in the city.

Days are long and tiring, and they seem to roll into each other. But this is normal for a city lifestyle, right?

So how about your health? Does the amount of rest you get restore you enough to tackle your busy schedule? How about your diet; is your nutrition and hydration keeping you at your best?

In a big city our wellness is compromised from many angles. From air pollution and poor water quality, to the convenience food and the not-so-great choices we make on a daily basis.

You can walk past a big name coffee shop chain several times on your way to the office. But how many times did you pass fresh, healthy alternatives? I know, it’s tougher to find the healthy food. You really have to plan ahead.

As a vegan I know the struggle all to well. Of course, it’s not impossible when we have the time to prepare our meals. But that brings me back to my first point about busyness!

It’s a cycle

Can you see how the list of issues brings you all the way around to the beginning? It’s really a cycle.

When we keep going with the busyness, while not resting or giving our body what it needs to keep repairing our cells on a daily basis, our reserves start to become depleted. This is one of the many reasons we are seeing an increase of burnout in society.

Of course there are so many more triggers and contributing factors to burnout. From living our lives according to the wishes of others, to taking on a caring role for a sick family member, there are so many ways for it to begin.

But the biggest problem I see is the cyclic behavior that follows. When we burn out for the first time, often it is something of a shock. How did we get to this place? Maybe we thought it would never happen to us, or maybe we weren’t even sure that burnout was a real thing.

We find ourselves exhausted, under-functioning, and walking around in a fog. With some help and recovery time, we begin to recover. And when we are just better enough to function again, here comes the tidal wave of guilt!

We feel bad for taking time off, for not meeting all those responsibilities or expectations, or for letting ourselves down. So we pick up where we left off, doing all those things that burnt us out in the first place.

So is there a solution?

As much as everything from ancient wisdom to your soul’s whispering is telling you to unplug from the mainframe and take a 3-month nature bath — you can’t just drop everything, right?

What you can do is make small, sustainable and realistic changes to your lifestyle. From how you spend your time to what you put into your body, every little change helps. And of course, it’s the small changes that are the most sustainable.

1. Keep a food diary

You can get started in a really simple way by keeping a food diary (download my food diary template here). Take note of how many caffeinated drinks you really have, and then reduce it by one per day at first. Have an extra glass of water instead. It sounds too simple, I know, but that way of thinking is a sneaky trap!

Humans love to complicate things. We think that complex means clever and therefore better. Actually, often the simple solutions are the best.

2. Slowly reduce your sugar intake

We have far too much sugar in our diets, and that little energy rush that sugar gives us is a false economy. Apart from all the damage it does in the body, from corroding our teeth to raising our risk of long-term health conditions such as diabetes and dementia — it’s just not a sustainable energy source.

The rapid high followed by the energy crash means you can never get enough sugar to stay energized. You always need more and more, until one day; you’ve gone too far. So by cutting down gradually, in a way that doesn’t make you crash, you can start to regain control of your energy levels and your overall health.

Elevated blood sugar levels also cause a great deal of acidity in the body, which in turn causes inflammation, leading to a host of nasty conditions. Plus you may be familiar with the more immediate side effects of acidity; do bloating and brain fog sound familiar?

Cutting down your overall sugar intake helps you on so many levels. You can also get a good quality alkalizing supplement to get you on the right track by counter-acting some of that acid you already have.

3. Take mindful mini breaks

Healthy body, healthy mind, right? In a busy city full of people too rushed and rattled to smell the flowers, be the person who does! Taking even 5 minutes to be mindful on your walk to the office is an amazing way to stave off feelings of depression, anxiety, or even just the classic Monday blues!

Your mind and body are intrinsically linked. You can’t have one thriving with the other barely surviving.

Look after one, and naturally the other follows suit. Whether that starts with giving yourself the time and space to improve your mental health, leading to you making better decisions about fueling your body. Or whether that starts with you taking up some gentle exercise, leading to a boost in serotonin and dopamine, putting you on track for better mental wellbeing. It works in both directions.

Burning out, then burning out again is a cycle to be broken. Making even one good choice for your health is a step towards breaking that cycle. Yes, it sounds simple, and yes it is simple. We really don’t have to complicate it.

We all have responsibilities, and no we can’t just drop everything and disappear into a woodland retreat when we feel like it. But we can make a small, simple change, and then another, and so on. We can learn to set healthy boundaries; saying yes to some things and no to others. That doesn’t make us mean, that makes us responsible for our own wellbeing, not just responsible for the wants and needs of others.

Wouldn’t that feel good, to be in charge of how we feel? Guess what.. you already are. You were just too busy to notice. Take a breath, take a 5-minute pause, and consider what already is within your control.

If, as the old saying goes, you have painted yourself into a corner, then don’t panic. It’s not forever. The paint will dry — you aren’t stuck for long. You can choose to do something differently and step out of that corner.

If you do take 5 minutes, and if you do notice something that you could change today, I would love to know what that change is for you. Would you let me know in the comments?

Originally published at www.andreapennington.com on July 5, 2018.

Originally published at medium.com

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