After my last article, I often got the question: “How did you work on restoring your energy, and do you have some tips or quick wins I could use?”. I went ahead and compiled the most valuable tips and tricks I received and discovered.
Let me start by making a disclaimer: what works for me might not work for you or your relatives, friends or coworkers. Everyone is different and will have their own unique ways of restoring energy. The best is to look for tailor-made advice from your general practitioner, dietist, psychologist, coach or trainer.
Tip 1 - Take time off and listen to your needs
So the first thing I did when I learned I was in danger of getting a burn-out was put my complete focus on my health. To be able to work on myself and restore my energy level, I needed to take time off.
At first, I tried working half time. However, with my energy level being so low, working half time didn’t do the trick of restoring my balance. In the end, my family doctor advised me to take full-time time off from my business.
Being an entrepreneur, this was a hard call to make. Still, in the end, it was the best option for a faster and more durable recovery. I decided to take a “sabbatical” and listen to my needs physically and mentally.
By standing still, we often start to understand the things that overwhelm us, what is best for us, and what route we should take instead. For some people, meditation is also a way to better get in touch with their needs.
However, for me, this did not really help out, being on the ADHD spectrum. My psychologist advised me to use a more visual and physical technique to define what I wanted. I had to draw two big circles on a big piece of paper on the floor. Circle one represents the change I was deciding upon, while circle two represents the status quo. When I stood in a circle, I had to imagine what it would be like and its impact on me. This way, I tried to understand how I felt in each of these situations, making the decision easier.
Tip 2 - Find your ideal sleeping ritual
At first, I slept many hours day and night. I thought this was good for helping me recover my energy. But after a month, I was still super tired. How was this possible after so many hours of sleep?
Apparently, it was better to always go to bed at 11 pm, wake up at around 8 am and do this every day of the week. And if I was really super tired and couldn’t keep my eyes open, I would take a short nap of 30 minutes during the day.
After doing this for some weeks, I already felt a lot better. My power breaks during the day have reduced from daily to one time a week. Quite some improvement, right?
Another sleeping issue I faced was panic attacks during the night and no longer being able to sleep for at least an hour. I’ve always been someone that processes things in my sleep. When I had math exams at university, I redid all the exercises in my sleep. If I could solve all of them by morning, I was reassured my exam would be great. Or, when I had board meetings, I needed to sleep over it and wake up with a whole plan based on their feedback.
What worked for me to contain the number of panic attacks to a single one per month today was writing down everything that’s on my mind in a small notebook before going to bed. This way, my head was empty. Goodbye, panic attacks. When I don’t take the time for it for a while, I start having them again.
Tip 3 - Discovering what gives and burns energy
The next thing I focused on was discovering the activities that really give me energy and the ones that cost me a lot of energy. During two weeks, I wrote down the energy givers on a green post-it and the burners on a red post-it. Ideally, you have more green than red ones.
After uncovering energy givers and drainers, I thought about how to turn the red ones into green ones with my stress coach and psychologist. For example, suppose you don’t like to do house chores, and you get the energy from listening to music, an e-book or a podcast. You could make the house chores more fun by combining them with listening to music.
Be careful with what you are combining. For example, I love to eat, but I was advised not to connect this with the red ones, as it would further stimulate my emotional eating behaviour.
Tip 4 - Understanding your logical fallacies
Another energy burner that I bumped into were logical fallacies. Having destructive thoughts about something will lead to bad behaviour. This kind of behaviour, in the end, burns a lot of your energy and puts you at risk of getting a burn-out.
For example, I really thought I always had to prove myself, as I’m a woman, I’m not tall, and I look younger than my age which doesn’t help being perceived as a strong entrepreneur/businesswoman. This destructive thought led to the following self-sabotaging behaviours:
- being a perfectionist,
- a workaholic having no time to take time off,
- often doing more than what was expected or requested,
- giving too little attention to my health,
- going to bed too late and sleeping too few hours,
- and eating unhealthy food.
So first, my psychologist helped me understanding:
- the logical fallacies I was making,
- recognise them,
- and do some exercises to reassure me these were incorrect.
For example, imagine the worst thing that could happen based on your destructive thoughts (e.g. being homeless). Then think of everything that is needed for that to become a reality. You will notice that you will already think of plenty of alternative routes that will prevent you from ending up in that situation, so this thought is false.
If you are looking for this kind of exercise, best to contact a psychologist who specialises in cognitive therapy.
Tip 5 - Eat healthy food and learn your intolerances
Another thing I really had to work on was eating healthy. If you search for this on the internet, you get a thousand possible ways, and some of them are contradictory. So I advise you to go see a dietist, and if you have a lot of stress or a burn-out best one with expertise on this matter.
My dietist made me keep a food diary to get a good view of what I was eating and drinking and its impact on my energy and bowel movements. She taught me:
- what a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner consist of,
- how I could food-prep or make something quick and easy,
- at what times it was best to eat based on my sleeping routine,
- And last but not least, we’re now working on getting a good overview of what food intolerances I have. When you have an unknown food intolerance, this can cost you a lot of energy without being aware of it.
If you would like to better understand what a healthy meal consists of, please consult a dietist and have a look at https://www.gezondleven.be/.
Tip 6 - Start to work out
Another essential energy booster is exercising. You don’t really have to be into sports to work out. Even simple daily things like walking, taking the stairs, etc., can already help you become more fit.
Walking an hour a day helped me feel better, physically and mentally, during my recovery. Next to this, I really enjoy fitness, Hoola hooping and yoga. Still, I also noticed that this was very exhausting for me initially.
So being at risk of having a burn-out, I got the advice to not jump into a sport or go to a personal trainer for intensive training. Instead, I got a doctor’s prescription for “beweging op advies”. Here you work with a personal trainer for physical exercises tailored to your needs. I’m still at the beginning of this program, so I have not yet much to share. I’ll add some details later on.
If you would like to improve your understanding of what exercise or sport would work best for you, please consult an exercise coach and check out https://www.gezondleven.be/.
Tip 7 - Rinse and repeat
And last but not least, integrate all these new habits into your daily life schedule. For me, this works with a flexible week planner, planning generic blocks such as enjoying breakfast and getting ready for the day, lunch, exercise/walk, focus time, me-time, and us-time. What also helps is making the habit atomic by attaching it to another already existing routine.
I use a flexible planner, as I prefer to work agile, and I’m on the ADHD spectrum. This means that sometimes when the planner says focus time, I simply cannot focus, so I shift it to something else instead of forcing myself into it. Or sometimes life happens, such as when you are tired or feel ill, or something comes in between, then you just shift your plans. Keep in mind that the important thing coming in between is not keeping you from taking good care of yourself.
Don’t push yourself into it if you are not really into planners or fixed structures. It will only have the opposite effect. Try to find out what works for you.
And most importantly, please stop using the excuse you don’t have time. You just need to take the time, as, let’s be honest, health is the most crucial thing in life.
Thank you for reading my personal story. I hope it helps you towards a healthier life.
Daphné learned how to create a safe work environment for and lead a team of neurodivergent people, after she was diagnosed with ADHD and ASD. She started Bjièn with Dietrich to help other leaders and teams embrace neurodiversity and make their workplace neuroinclusive. — More about Daphné