5 Thoughts on burnout & how not to

I’m currently finishing up preparations for a presentation this week to a local company about preventing burnout. I’ve done many presentations...stress reduction, eating well, lifestyle...and although the content I’m putting together overlaps a lot of that, somehow this topic resonates with me the most. Perhaps because I’ve been there. I know this stuff because I’ve lived it...and still do from time to time. But as any lesson in life, I don’t know that the point is never to fall again, but to gather tools along the way so we fall less often, fall less hard and get up quicker.

One of the daily rituals I enjoy (and yet still inconsistent with), is reading something uplifting as I drink my morning tea, as the start of my day. My favourite right now is to read one or two short essays from Timothy Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors. The questions asked of 100 experts in their field are clever and applicable to anyone wanting to uplevel. I have come to believe over the years that there are no coincidences (thank-you Deepak Chopra), and those “that’s so crazy” moments of serendipity are in fact reinforcing that you are on the right path. So today, before I revisit my presentation, I grabbed Tim’s book and opened up to the next story. The bold quote at the top of the page reads “Burnout is not the price you have to pay for success” from none other than Arianna Huffington. I won’t rewrite the contents here because I truly believe this is a book that anyone would find valuable, but there were some key thoughts she shared about life and burnout in particular that I felt to be worth sharing here...and you can bet will be included in this week’s presentation also. Keep in mind I’m paraphrasing here, but this is how her words fell into my ears...

1. Express gratitude. Remember those who supported you when they had nothing to gain. She STILL sends a Christmas card to the banker who gave her a loan years ago when she (seemed to be) out of options. 

2. Put on your own oxygen mask first. This analogy is used a ton with coaching people to put self care as a priority. Arianna (may I use her first name?) describes her oxygen mask to be sleeping, meditating, walking, working out, etc. It took her collapsing in 2007 from exhaustion for her to see how important her wellbeing was to her productivity. She views taking care of herself as an investment (as we all should) that has pay-offs for years to come.

3. Reframe perception of time. This one is huge for me. I honestly always have felt this panic around “running out of time”. Even when I graduated at 25 from Chiropractic College, I felt I was late to the game (of work) and still feel that way at times. I think a lot of this is culturally constructed. In this context, she was discussing the parameters she had placed around work vs non-work time. She began to reframe what “work” time meant, and started to include walks and meditating and unplugging as part of her “work” because those habits were what enabled her to be productive, creative, effective and...happier. And isn’t that the grand poobah goal for all of us?

4. Changing your mind about something is one thing, but sometimes it is easier to start with a small action step to move us in the right direction. She gave two tech tips I love...one won’t be brand new but when I’ve done this, I had the best sleep of my life and got out of bed with ease. It’s as simple as plugging in your technology OUTSIDE your bedroom at night. NO scrolling through social media, or last minute emails. If you must remember midnight ideas, then leave a journal and pen beside your bed. But disconnect. The second, which was a new idea for me, is to periodically scramble the apps on your phone. She describes the benefit of giving you an extra amount of time to decide if you do indeed need to use their phone or if its more a boredom or habit. I’ve also gone so far as leaving my phone in my car if I’m waiting for an appointment. I’ve noticed things around me when my eyes aren’t glued to the screen and the biggest thing is that in a room full of people, no one is even aware of the person next to them. If I want to improve my connections in this world it wont happen by looking at my screen. From a neurology standpoint though, scrambling the apps on your phone or tablet is similar to taking a different route home. It causes the brain to pay attention and gets you out of the hardwired path you take each day. Any action that has novelty is brain food.

5. OK so, sometimes we can’t always be ahead of the game and lets face it. We all hit a wall from time to time. So what then? Typically that’s when we feel we have the least amount of time and often by then are in a headspace where solutions elude us and the downward spiral continues. SO what then? Arianna mirrors my thoughts on taking five minutes to breathe. If taking five minutes away from the task will make the next twenty more productive, you must pause and centre yourself.

There is so much more I could write on this, and I likely will, but these gems stood out. Start where you are, look to where you want to go and ask yourself if your current lifestyle and habits will get you there. If so, breathe and enjoy. If not, its in your hands to take one step (or one thought) in the right direction.


Choosing the Right Mattress

I attended a brunch not too long ago and ended up sitting next to a women who was intriguing,  poised and had a relaxed yet professional vibe that makes you want to know more about her. Turns out she (Deanna) is the "girl" of Mattress Girls & Guys, a wholesale mattress store that offers a variety of options for significantly less cost. 

As a Chiropractor I get asked about mattresses and pillows quite often, but you never know what you don't know so I was eager to reach out to her to improve my mattress knowledge.

What should people consider when buying a mattress?

Comfort. The first question I ask anyone in the market for a mattress is why they are looking for a mattress “right now”. Is it that they aren’t sleeping? Are the tossing and turning? In the absence of an injury that could be a factor, a new mattress is likely what they need. Whether someone is a stomach, bike or side sleeper, if they aren’t comfortable, it doesn’t matter how “good” the mattress is, they won’t sleep well. I recommend everyone lay on a mattress on their side before purchase as this is the position with the most significant pressure points. They should be able to feel comfortable in this position. 

How long should a mattress last?

A typically warranty is 10 years so technically the mattress should last for that long. Ideally, we should replace our mattresses every 5 or so years. There are many variable as to why we may want to replace it sooner than later, including the changes our own body has experienced (are we heavier, do we have new injuries, etc). One important recommendation is to use a mattress cover. Most warranties are void without one. The reason for this is that over time, sloughed off skin can get into the fibres of the mattress and break down the foam inside. It can actually half the lifetime of your mattress!

How do we know when itsa time to replace a mattress?

When you are no longer getting a good sleep. Many factors can contribute to the need for a new mattress beyond the age of the mattress though... your body weight, an injury that may need more support or more softness or simply changes to your body over time.

Should people seek soft, medium or firm mattresses?

This is a tough question because the feel of a mattress is often subjective. What is firm to one person may feel quite soft to another. I tell people that the comfort of the mattress is what will allow you to fall asleep and what’s IN the mattress is what will keep you asleep. 

If someone typically moves around a  lot in their sleep, they will want a mattress that allows them to do so without effort. A soft foam mattress where they may sink in more may not be the best choice for them. If someone is very heavy, they may want to consider what feels comfortable but can stand-up over time.

Regardless, is important that people give 2 weeks to 1 month to get used to their new mattress. Just like breaking in new shoes, it can take time for the mattress to settle and for your own body to adapt.

If you are in the market for a new mattress I can’t recommend The Mattress Girl enough! Straight to the point, no fluff information to help you make an informed decision! A no-pressure showroom to find the best mattress for you at wholesale prices! 

Of course, ensuring your body is moving and adapting optimally will also help improve your comfort level and sleep which is fundamental for healing and daily rejuvenation!

Choice Paralysis

A year from now you will wish you had started today.
— Karen Lamb

I don't recall if it was a podcast or an article I was reading, but I remember the message. The topic being discussed was stress and overwhelm. The idea being presented was that more choice equates to more stress - that too much choice becomes an opportunity for procrastination. Within more choice lies an inherent comparison of "what choice would be better" and the more options, the greater chance we will feel the potential of making the "wrong" decision.  In a world where we face multiple choices on career, companies, cities to live in, vacations to take, choices are abundant daily. The problem occurs when we become paralyzed by the many choices in front of us that we end up not making a choice at all.

Recently, I noticed that I have been getting "stuck" with my physical activity. I typically don't lack motivation to get moving but my problem is that I like doing everything. I like yoga, swimming, pilates, weight lifting, running (sometimes), cycling, spinning, I enjoy climbing, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and even just walking. I have class passes at minimum 5 studios and have held a gym membership for as long as I can remember. Even if I decide on doing yoga, then I'm stuck on what studio I feel like going to that day. This choice paralysis has often resulted in me missing class altogether because I haven't made up my mind. 

Last week I was contemplating this and it was then that I remembered the discussion about having too many choice. I could see this was keeping me stuck. And so I made a decision to limit my choice. I cancelled my gym membership, decided to use up my remaining passes, and for the foreseeable future, focus on cycling, swimming and yoga. I felt a weight off my shoulders. I gave myself permission to "not do it all". I decided to trust that I would benefit from focusing on the activities that I most enjoyed and stop pushing myself to do things I felt I "should". 

I am a better human when I'm active. I'm a better human when I'm eating well and I'm a better human when I'm getting adjusted. These are facts. I do no favours by skipping that workout or by using indecision as an excuse to be lazy. In reality,  indecision is actually a decision to do nothing and that serves no one.

In your life, what are you not taking action on? Where can you simplify? What are the building blocks for creating the best version of you? Figure that out and then go do those things.  Do it for you (most importantly), for those you care about, those that rely on you and even for the coworker or stranger you may be inspiring without knowing. Take action. Do the work and get sh*t done. Move your body, eat well and get adjusted. It really can be as simple as that. 

Your Heart and Vagus: 5 ways to tap into your inner calm

In Chiropractic College we were required to learn everything there is to know about the nervous system. Literally, every single nerve, where the nerve originated and branched to, what functions it affected and even the names of the grooves and spaces the nerve would pass over or through along its length. I had the most ridiculous ways of remembering everything from acronymns, to poems or phrases. "My heart is in Vagus" was one I remember most clearly...from someone who has never even been to Vegas. But it stuck, and it worked. The vagus nerve does in fact have parasympathetic input to the heart, however it affects many more functions in the body also. 

In our stressed out, maxxed out culture, understanding this nerve and how to stimulate it is a powerful tool that will have a ripple affect on your health. It demonstrates clearly how interconnected our anatomy and physiology is, but also provides further evidence of the sometimes ignored mind-body connection. 


Vagus Nerve 101:

  • The Vagus Nerve is Cranial Nerve 10 (of 12) and is the longest of all cranial nerves
  • Branching from the brainstem to the abdomen, it makes stops along the way to various other organs including the heart, lungs, esophagus & larynx (voice box)
  • Parasympathetic control (rest, digest and regeneration of body), this nerve slows the heart rate and signals stomach muscles to push food into the small intestine
  • Despite the many "output" functions this nerve has, it is believed that 80% of its fibers are "input", carrying info from Body to Brain
  • Overstimulation of Vagus nerve can lead to dizziness, light headedness and even fainting if blood vessels dilate with a decreased heart rate decreasing the ability to pump blood to the brain
  • The vagus nerve can be irritated by GI distress, hiatal hernias and (drum roll) poor posture and muscular imbalances (direct and indirect impact of Chiropractic care!)
  • In addition to the above, excessive alcohol, spicy food, stress, fatigue and anxiety can also irritate this nerve
vagus n notes.jpg

Strategies and Action Steps...

By now you likely have a hunch if 1 - your vagus nerve needs a little love and 2 - if your daily habits are supporting or inhibiting the nerve's influence. Here are 5 strategies that hopefully can become habits.

1. Wash your face with cold water. In fact, sudden exposure to cold can dial down our sympathetic system (fight/ flight/ freeze) and ramp up our parasympathetic system. Beyond washing your face with cold water, having a cold shower (or even ending your shower with a blast of cold) or using a cold pool (at least one gym in Calgary has one) on a regular basis can help!

2. Sing, chant or talk! No doubt the vagal connection to our voice box is a probable reason for this. Perhaps in your cold shower you can belt out a tune :). Although not for everyone, some yoga classes offer chanting (om chants have been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve) and singing also. This used to be super intimidating for me and not my jam, but the calming effect is undeniable. You literally feel your body vibrate. 

3. Move - specifically mild exercise, yoga and meditation. My initial introduction to yoga was more out of homesickness at the time, and although I've experienced various physical benefits, its the grounding and calming that keeps bringing me back to my mat. Mild exercise and yoga also help stimulate gut movement which supports the vagus' role in digestion also.

4. Deep and slow breathing. Breathing with your diaphragm (seeing belly and side expansion with inhales) at a slow rate of 5-6 breaths per minute is key. Equal time breathing in and out stimulates the vagus nerve and improves sensitivity of baroreceptors - sensors in the heart and neck that regulate blood pressure. Increased sensitivity of these receptors allows the vagus nerve to be stimulated sooner when blood pressure rises.

5. Nutrition. Not only WHAT we consume (including EPA and DHA found in fish oil, and probiotics) but WHEN we consume it. There is a growing volume of information related to intermittent fasting that shows an impact on heart rate variability, a common marker for vagal tone. 

I could go on with more strategies, but I'm not sure who stuck it out to even get to this point in the blog :). No surprise, the action steps suggested above are pretty much universal lifestyle hacks to support much more than just the vagus nerve. Everything is connected and as I've said before, if we truly want to improve the health of our communities, we must understand how the healthy body works and support it. 


Reducing Stress One Breath at a Time

Reducing stress can at times feel impossible. The reality of deadlines, curve balls and obligations can often feel like there is an endless list of demands. It is common to power through, sometimes at the expense of our health, occasionally burning out before we realize how far beyond our capacity we were living. In the western world, being "stressed" or "busy" can even, in a warped way, be a badge of honour or importance. It's almost as if we aren't stressed out or have too little time to kick back and enjoy some leisure time, we aren't working hard enough or serious enough about the next goal or accomplishment. 

When something is common among the people around you, it can be easy to equate that with "normal". Being tired, decreased memory, brain fog, muscle tension, are all common but I assure you these symptoms are not "normal" or inevitable. Ideally, we are taking steps proactively before burn-out occurs. We are active regularly, connecting socially, eating healthy foods, and hydrating. We are sleeping, meditating, laughing and getting adjusted. Right? Of course we are all on top of this (ha!). Let's get real though, sometimes in the thick of it, we need a pattern interrupt that can calm us in an instant. Someone may have just cut us off in traffic, or the coworker next to your desk is on your last nerve. It happens. Whether as part of your regular regime, or in a stressful pinch, one effective strategy is to breathe.

Mmmmkay...that's almost annoying advice. Really though, when we are stressed, our breathing becomes more shallow. Less oxygen means more physiological stress. Shallow breathing increases tension in the neck - it becomes its own vicious cycle. On-purpose breathing exercises (with intent) on the other hand, can slow things down anywhere in a short amount of time. 

In yoga, breathing is referred to as "pranayama". There are many exercises that can be effective, some more complicated and involved than others. Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi shodhana) is one strategy that can help to clear the mind and reset your physiology. 

(Note: for explanation purposes I will use the Right hand. Either hand can be used so if you are left dominant just mirror the instructions)

Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images
  1. Sit in a comfortable seated position. Feel free to sit in a chair or against a wall to support your back.
  2. Close your eyes and intend to keep an open mind without judgement. 
  3. Breathe normally, avoid feeling the need to change anything.
  4. Take your right hand and fold your ring finger and little fingers toward the palm, with your left hand resting on your left knee.
  5. Place the index and middle fingers of your right hand in the middle of your forehead, between your eyebrows. 
  6. Exhale slowly through your nose, allowing your lungs to empty completely.
  7. Gently close your right nostril with your right thumb.
  8. Inhale gently and slowly through your left nostril for 5 counts.
  9. Press and close your left nostril with your ring and little fingers. Hold for 2 counts.
  10. Lift your thumb to release your right nostril, and exhale slowly for 5 counts. Stay empty for 2 counts.
  11. Inhale gently and slowly through your right nostril for 5 counts.
  12. Press and close your right nostril with your thumb. Hold for 2 counts.
  13. Release your left nostril, and exhale through your left nostril for 5 counts. Stay empty for 2 counts.
  14. Start another cycle by inhaling through your left nostril. Continue to this pattern for 10 cycles. After you exhale from one nostril, remember to breathe in from that same nostril before switching.*

* Instructions have been adapted from Harvard Health Blog "Yoga could slow the harmful effects of stress and inflammation" by Marlynn Wei, MD, JD (2017)