Why am I so Tired? Exploring our Allostatic Load

Feeling ‘MEH’?

Wherever you are reading this, it’s probably safe to assume that things are still very ‘interesting’ no – let’s be straight – challenging!

How are you feeling?

For some, life may be just fine, you may have a business that is thriving because of the times, you may be revelling in newfound peace and solitude. For others, life is tough and it’s taking its toll.

I’d like to share a personal story if you’ll indulge me.

I cancelled a meeting with my marketing guru last week. My batteries were flat and felt ‘un-rechargeable’. I just didn’t have an ounce of energy left and felt, well, ‘MEH’. For those of you who know me, this is an unusual state.

I decided to have an early night but ended up tossing and turning, busy brain, the worrywart invading my crazy dreams (anyone else having crazy dreams at the moment? See ‘Pandemic Dreams’ at the end).

So, after a shocking night’s sleep I hit the carbs for breakfast, then felt sluggish and guilty. I was starting the day with little energy.

Are you familiar with this vicious cycle?

STOP! You know this stuff Clare, take a step back and reflect – what’s going on?

Allostatic Load

Ah, it’s my increased allostatic load. My WHAT? You may well ask. Let me explain.

Pandemic stress is real. It’s a state of chronic stress related to our alertness radar being ‘on’ 24/7 and our bodies and brains are not returning to balance. This critical state of balance is called homeostasis – it’s what animals do when the danger of being eaten has passed.

With our amygdala (fight, flight, freeze part of the brain) in an ‘always on alert’ state, we are producing large amounts of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) which are building up and impacting our physical and mental wellbeing, examples being irritability, weight gain, reduced memory function, poor sleep and ‘meh’ (technical term!).

We can all endure a certain amount of stress, in fact we need stress to get us up and about and be motivated, but when we are continually having to change plans and deal with so much uncertainty, as per the last 16 months, our brains and bodies don’t switch off and return to balance. We are increasing our allostatic load (Allostasis being a state of stability through change that we need to maintain balance), the cumulative wear and tear impact of continuous negative stress on our system. And that’s not good. It’s imperative that we take action to reduce our allostatic load and get back to balance.

So what was contributing to my allostatic load? Like many, business took a tumble in 2020 and just as I felt things were starting to pick up again, yet another lockdown. The gym is shut, my beloved tap-dancing classes postponed, our sanity getaway trip cancelled, my bestie coming to visit from interstate cancelled, and I’d just received confirmation that one of my closest relatives is going to go through the toughest challenge of her life as she deals with cancer.

Thank you for listening.

My story is far from unique, most of us are going through something similar and unless we take action to recognise our load increase and break the vicious cycle, we will fall ill, mentally and physically.

Strategies to reduce Allostatic Load and get back to Balance

So what did I do to change things up and stop feeling so change weary, so tired, so ‘MEH’? What did I do to reduce my allostatic load and get back to balance?

Here are 7 ideas I would like to offer up that are working for me:-

1. Hold a Pity Party! No need to invite anyone, just get it all out, the anger, frustration, sadness, unfairness, whatever is bothering you. I learned this tactic from the wonderful actor Christopher Reeve, who held a daily 20-minute pity party after he became a quadriplegic. This is not wallowing in self-pity – it’s a 20 minute reset strategy. When we label our emotions, we reduce the emotional response in the brain, allowing us to think clearly again, regain perspective and look for solutions.

2. Even if you don’t feel like it – get some Exercise. When we exercise, we produce endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers – they don’t just soothe physical pain but social pain too. (Ask me if you’d like the source for this)

When we exercise, we are being present and can momentarily forget our problems. It’s also a trigger for us to eat healthier and, the best way to get a good night’s sleep, is to exercise to the point of ‘good tired’ (avoid strenuous exercise in the evening though)

3. A Problem shared is a Problem halved – please avoid the temptation to withdraw. Seek out company, chances are, the person you’re reaching out to needs connection too

4. Change your Diet – media diet that is. Our brains are like Teflon to good news and Velcro to bad, because of our natural negativity bias. The media has a saying “If it bleeds, it leads”, so we have to consciously seek out good news on a scale of 3:1 to balance the bias

If you can, limit the amount of negative news to what you need to know to comply and to be safe, then find something inspiring or funny to read, watch or do. If you’re on social media, share the good news stories. Get some good news feeds in your inbox! (see Good News Websites in the comments)

5. Check your Thoughts – something I heard recently really resonated – “Just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true”. Try to catch yourself going down the slippery slope of doom and flick the switch by consciously thinking of something or someone that brings a smile to your face

6. Do a Digital Detox and take a Break – even if it’s just for 24 hours, ditch the screen and immerse yourself in anything that isn’t man-made and swap it for something natural like walking in nature (which is really a bonus point 6.9!)

7. Create and keep Boundaries – if you’re working from home, decide that morning what time you are going to ‘clock off’ and keep to your promise. If you’re asked to do extra and you can sense a stressful response, say NO, and honour your mental health.

One of my favourite strategies comes from Dr Adam Fraser and his concept of The 3rd Space. It’s a transition technique called Reflect, Rest and Reset.

1. Reflect – on one good thing that happened today

2. Rest – breathe deeply to bring you back to balance

3. Reset – decide how you are going to show up for your loved ones (or yourself) for the rest of the day/evening

All of these strategies form part of our ‘Dealing with Change and Building Resilience’ online programme.

A Message for Business Leaders about the need for Resilience

It’s great that organisations are taking employee wellbeing more seriously (see our blog – The Changing Face of Wellbeing at Work) but more is still needed to help move people from floundering to flourishing, from OK to thriving.

The University of Sydney conducted a global survey of over 1,700 professionals in 70 countries and identified a shift in the qualities employees are looking for in managers in the wake of the pandemic. Respondents considered resilience, empathy and the ability to communicate as being more important since the crisis. The number of people who thought resilience was an important attribute almost tripled since the pandemic started.

If you are a leader in business, invest in you and your people through our ‘Dealing with Change and Building Resilience’ Programme. When business took a tumble last year, Anne and I poured our creative energy into migrating the course to be fully online and bringing it to life with exercises, reflections, quizzes, videos and live, interactive webinars.

We guarantee that ‘Dealing with Change and Building Resilience’ can help move those who might be floundering to flourish with this comprehensive self-paced personal and professional development experience that measures progress before and after.

And even if you’re not floundering, these are critical life skills to develop and will help you to thrive in continual change and uncertainty.

We’ve put together an introduction video below and a downloadable infographic to remind you of the transformation journey.

In Summary

Change fatigue is real and when we’re feeling ‘meh’, it’s all too easy to withdraw, to turn to things that are not good for us, get caught in a vicious cycle or even worse, to give up.

You are not alone and even if you make one tiny decision to take just one step away from floundering, this means that you are one step closer to flourishing.

Ask for help, notice when you’re struggling, be kind and compassionate to yourself and know that, while we might not all be in the same boat, we’re in the same storm and STORMS PASS.

Pandemic Dreams

If you are having weird dreams, you are not alone! There are more than 5 institutes globally researching Pandemic Dreams and there is some good news. According to the Lyon Neuroscience Research Centre in France, our weird dreams may be one of the mechanisms used by the sleeping brain to induce emotion regulation.

If your dreams are more like nightmares, research is suggesting meditating before bedtime and making conscious intentions about what you would like to dream about.

Go well, stay safe.


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