Brain Hacks

How Long is the Recovery Period for Burnout?

After a particularly adventurous year of endless travel, I found myself exhausted and craving alone time. I live what I preach and thus ‘stressed’ is not the correct term for what I felt once I’d reached that point of needing to just stop.

Stress and I are equal parts friend and foe. It challenges me daily, and every time I overcome it relentlessly knocking on my mental door.

Many people may say that being tired simply means you need to rest to recover.  But as a Stress Mastery Coach and a lifelong burnout recovery victim, I see being tired as the first of many ‘be careful’ signs that can inevitably lead me back to a state of burnout.

You see, it doesn’t matter what caused the exhaustion this time, once you’ve had burnout you’re forever looking over your shoulder and covering your tracks. The need for sleep, added to the subconscious memory of chemical imbalance from burnout previously, means that although I practice mindfulness and extreme stress management daily, as a recovering burnout victim, sleep deprivation can expedite my neural decline.

Sleep, as we all know is the only time that certain neural chemicals and hormones are regenerated or produced (think Serotonin, your calming hormone for example). It’s also the only time that Cortisol (your stress hormone) levels decline. A study that followed a group of pilots in 2014 showed those who slept only 6 hours a night for 7 nights while on duty showed an increase of 50% more cortisol in their bloodstream than the pilots who managed to get 8 hours of sleep.   A keen reminder of what the right amount of sleep can do for us.

Lowered serotonin and heightened cortisol levels are the foundation for waking up feeling stressed, anxious and worried – none of which are emotions I wish to encourage in my life these days!

I write this blog as a simple reminder to anyone who has ever suffered chronic stress or burnout.

Sleep is one of the most important daily rituals that must be kept.  I realize there will be times when the excitement of a wedding or event keeps you alive and partying through the night, but my hope is that when the dust settles, your number one priority is to get back in to the routine of sleeping the perfect allotment of hours for your age (see https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need).

For complete balance in my mental state, allowing me to perform optimally on a daily basis, I watch my diet, I schedule my sleep, I exercise (movement), I breath consciously and slowly, I smile often, I gravitate to happy people and social interactions, I contribute to others, and I challenge my mind by learning something new each waking day. All of this, above and beyond mind hacking and thought processing techniques.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?

When you first learnt to drive, it overwhelmed you, yet now you could do it in your sleep. Find someone to teach you and support your learning style and soon it’s simply a part of who you are.

Animatedly yours,

Ani

Brain Hacks

3 Things You Can Do Today To Avoid Burnout

In an audience of 200 managers and leaders, as a speaker, I’ll always invariably lock eyes with the few who I know are on the brink of burnout.

If I hadn’t been in their seats myself, I would be forgiven for feeling a bit shaken, unnerved, and possibly even reeling in a sense of personal attack.

They fold their arms.  They slouch back in to their chairs, not trying to hide any gaping yawns from their infrequent breathing.

And if they’re anywhere near the front of the audience, they do everything in their power to send you subliminal messaging that your wasting their time.

I’m often the recipient of ‘The Eagle Stare’, as I call it – penetrating and on purpose.

As a specialist in the field of burnout it’s my job to pinpoint the very people who don’t want to listen; who don’t want to sit through an hours lecture, who feel they have better things to do, just as I did only a few years ago.

It’s paradoxical to me that the very people who need my help, are the people who struggle to relax long enough to take it.   But I get it. I feel their frustration.

Google the term Burnout, and you’ll be rewarded with over 46 Million confusing and conflicting results.

Burnout is not a replacement name for mid life crisis or the housewife’s nervous breakdown, although these terms have seemed to take a backward step in the media of late even though they’re still very prevalent and damning.

Burnout is a mantle reserved for the overachievers amongst us, the high performers or type A personalities who ignore all the physical signs and symptoms that the chronic stress highway gives us, and do the exact opposite of what they should do; they put their heads down and work harder.

In fact, replace the term Burnout with ‘Workaholic’ and you’re almost there.

In the third phase of the burnout cycle, 3 fundamental things change in our lives, all because of ONE factor.

1.    We reach a point of absolute exhaustion

2.    We feel a hopeless despair

3.    And we are completely devoid of all emotion

All because we ignored the signs that our BRAIN tried sending us (sleepless nights, skin rashes, upset tummies, irritability, lowered libido etc.), until one day the ‘happy, calming’ hormones and chemicals in our brain had reduced so much, we woke up with nothing left in the tank to fight back with.

That is the science behind the reality of what these ‘eagle-eyed’ audience members are dealing with.

The beginners guide to addressing burnout, is to respect and deal with your brain chemistry first and foremost.

Yes, Yoga and mindfulness techniques help with the daily stressors, but they’ll only get you so far unless you refill your neural tank.

Take Dopamine for example.

Dopamine motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. Procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm are linked with low levels of dopamine.

Studies on rats showed those with low levels of dopamine always opted for an easy option and less food. Imagine a workforce filled with brains low on Dopamine, all vying to take the easy way out and work less.

Sound familiar?

There are some very simple things we can do today to tackle low dopamine directly.

1.    Laugh, even fake laughter increases the percentage of Dopamine released within the brain

2.    Eat animal protein linked with high Tyrosine (a precursor in the Dopamine chemical reaction) – think cheese, beef, lamb, chicken.

3.    Express wonder and marvel at the small miracles in your daily life, (like a butterfly crossing your path, or a free car space)

Don’t settle for being the person who throws the daggers in the room filled with high performers. Be the person who lights up the room instead. Take responsibility for having allowed burnout to progress so far and tackle your brain chemistry head on.

If you’d like more information or ways to address each of the Miracle 5 chemicals, head on over to my website; www.aniwilson.com.au.

And practice safe stress!

Animatedly Yours, 

Ani

Brain Hacks

The Simplest Way to Reduce Depression Stats in 2017!

Rates of people being diagnosed with Depression in the U.S reached an all time high in 2016 – why, when we’re spending MORE on wellness and mindfulness initiatives are our statistics of psychological illnesses skyrocketing?

The answer is simple – although these are powerful tools of alleviation and reduction, we’ve taken the power of knowledge away from the every day human. Within our hyperkinetic world, we have less time to appreciate what we already have. We’re allowing the media, commerce, trends and TV to fill our brains with intricate details of how badly we’re doing as a race, and forgetting to teach our children about how powerful the human brain already is.

A friend called me today to tell me about an interesting article she’d just read about how certain foods can impact memory. She was excited, yet this kind of news just showcases how truly uninformed most of us are.

Exercise & food impacts our hippocampus (memory), thoughts impact our neural programs, breathing impacts our hormones, mineral deficiencies impact our brain chemistry and the list goes on and on.

But our ignorance doesn’t need to be expanding at such a dire rate.

Mind and Brain Sciences if taught in mainstream schooling can impact the statistical chances of these kids ever knowing what depression or anxiety feel like.

  • My child knows the scientific reason as to why sugar impacts her health and creativity.
  • My child knows the scientific reason as to why her angry outbursts cause her stomach issues.
  • My child has been taught about how powerful her brain is from a very early age through my excitement and honesty.

Let’s get back to the basics and teach our children about the WHY behind nutrition, exercise and thoughts, and give them back control over who they grow up to be.

(There, that’s my vent for the day! Promise)

Brain Hacks

Are you at risk if you’re an Overachiever?

I recently had the fortune of being able to interview over 140 business owners on the pitfalls of being an overachiever.

The scale of business ranged from small to enterprise, and yet the answers when compiled were surprising and did not depend on the size of the business owners wealth or expected stress levels.

The purpose for my research was to see whether the average High Performing executive thought that their own habitual need to over achieve had a detrimental impact on their stress levels over the course of their careers.

The simple answer is that it did not.

Of course, when I asked the question, I purposefully gave all executives only 2 possible responses, giving them no head way for thinking outside the confines of my question.

Either: Our ‘Overachieving Tendencies’ DO increase the levels of stress in our lives

OR:  They do not.

Not one of the business owners (140!) answered me within those rules!

The results showed me two very interesting outcomes:

  1. Business owners are successful when they break the rules, looking for other ways to respond to a question, and tend to live outside the boundaries as proposed by others.
  2. Men are far more likely to have a “she’ll be right, mate” attitude when it came to working hard to achieve their goals. Almost all of the men, vs. only a handful of the women, believed that when they were excited about the end goal, stress was not a perceived threat.

Over 80% of the women I interviewed however, were more focused on providing a balanced response, with most answering “it all depends” or “it’s all a matter of perspective”, resulting in a final response of “Our overachieving tendencies both attract stress, and push it away, meaning it’s neither good or bad”.

Again, adding to the theory that good business owners are always looking for novel and different ways to tackle challenges.

So, according to 140 business owners from all over the globe, some level of over-achiever tendencies is required in order to be successful in your career. That’s good news for someone like me!

If you’re excited about what you can achieve, stress is no longer part of that equation.

Think it’s time to slow down? Nah! She’ll be right mate, let’s get going!

Animatedly Yours, 

Ani

Brain Hacks

Leadership Skills to Teach Our Kids

Whether you are a teacher, parent, or other type of caregiver, you have probably heard about the importance of instilling leadership in your children. But how? What skills? Although the following is rather basic, as adults we sometimes just need a little reminding of how easy it really can be.

1. Independent Thinking:

Help your child break out of the “cookie cutter” mentality by teaching him/her to think independently. Ask your kids’ opinions on things, and refrain from judging or expressing your opinion. Just listen so that no opinion is “wrong.” You might share your own opinion respectfully, and if it differs, all the better – part of independent thinking is hearing several sides of an issue and coming to your own conclusions.

2. Responsibility:

Age-appropriate responsibilities are important skills for building leadership. Give your child responsibilities as early as you can, and have him deal with the consequences if those responsibilities are not carried out. Of course, your child needs guidance; but once you explain what the consequences will be, sources say it’s best to let them play out. A child craves a sense of control and power over something, anything. By giving them responsibility you fulfil this inner need to feel valuable to the family unit.

3. Fairness:

Leaders need to be fair. Being too rigid and unbending is not a great way to teach your kids about fairness, but being too permissive isn’t, either. Help them to understand what is fair and what isn’t, and how sometimes being fair means being firm even when others are upset. Talk to your child about all the possible outcomes for their decisions and stand back as they quietly determine the right course of response.

4. Negotiation:

Have you ever pondered on the importance of negotiation skills in leadership? Think about it: government leaders, particularly the president or prime minister, need to be well-versed in the art of negotiation. So it’s okay to discuss your child’s wants and desires – ask him to present a convincing argument as to why he thinks he should have whatever it is, or participate in an activity. And sources agree that it’s okay for a parent to allow him/herself to be “talked into” something now and then!

5. Organization:

Teach your children how to prioritize tasks and organize their time. Show them how to use calendars to keep things straight, and explain how time is organized by prioritizing tasks.  A simple way to do this to start with is to give your child a list of things that must be done before bedtime and then get them to tell you in which order they believe those tasks should be done Ask them why they think that way and congratulate them for their response (whether you agree or not!)

Have your kids make lists of what tasks they plan to complete each day and/or week. This also helps break tasks down into steps – maybe your child has a research paper due three weeks from now. Helping your child break that down into weekly and daily steps can be very helpful – not only in accomplishing the completion of the paper, but also in instilling the leadership skills of organisation and time management!

6. Communication:

An essential trait in Leaders, expression of their goals and their vision for whatever project or task they are leading helps to share their commitment and workload with peers. Teach your kids good communication and listening skills by encouraging them to share their thoughts even if you disagree, and by actively listening yourself.  (Active listening means paying full attention, nodding, smiling as your child talks on.) When a child knows that they have been heard already, they invariably feel the need to speak less! Fascinating.

Tomorrows leaders are the children of today. We all know this, and yet sometimes our lives are so busy we forget how our simple actions are manipulating their reality and future selves. Lead by example, talk calmly with your children and inspire them to be a great leader just as you are. The more time you dedicate to their mindset and growth, the faster you’ll be able to delegate your ample household chores to them and give you that time back!

And say, ah!!

Animatedly Yours

Ani

Brain Hacks

How Do You Measure Personal Success?

One of the questions that people often have when they start becoming serious about striving for success is how they can measure if they are successful enough or if they are doing enough to achieve their goals. This question comes because of the propensity that people have to compare themselves to others. But you never seem to measure up when you do that, particularly with those who have already achieved success.

So, what do you measure against?

Each person is different and each success story is different. It is impossible to compare your journey to anyone else’s, so you have to do something else entirely.

You have to compare yourself to yourself.

The best way to accomplish this is by comparing your current self to your past self. Sadly many of us live for yesterday instead of capturing the beauty that is within you today.

Your past self may have made mistakes, but your current self, going forward from this moment on, has not made any mistakes. You have a fresh, clean slate and luckily you have the benefit of all of the experience of your past self to rely upon! How awesome is that!?

More importantly we often expect success without any tracking mechanisms in place. No matter what goal you are pursuing, or what end you are looking for, tracking your progress will allow you to see how different you are today from where you have been. This is called a baseline. Without a ‘before’ snapshot, how can you measure success?

For example; if you feel like giving up because the income stream that you have been working on isn’t nearly as large as you thought it would be, checking out where you were a year ago can put the present situation into perspective.

The bottom line is that when you want to measure your success, don’t measure it against other people. Other people may have had different opportunities, different skills and different circumstances that affected their progress.

Instead, compare yourself to your past self. If you have improved, then you are on the right track. If you have improved more than you ever thought possible when you started, then you can call that a huge success. If you are better off now and are well on your way to reaching your goals, then you are successful.  Never doubt it.

Animatedly Yours

Ani

Brain Hacks

3 Things to Know Before Stress Strikes

If I asked you to join me in running a marathon in 6 months time, would you wing it, opting not to train? Or would you commit and prepare, getting to know your body, it’s boundaries, your optimal speed and building your stamina and strength?

Unless you’re some radio jock on a dare, I’d guess the latter.

Now if I asked you whether you had a prepared strategy and regime to assist you during your next huge stress-hurricane, what would your response be? You’d probably wing it, right?

My life is filled with such episodes. This is the life I chose, and I consider stress quite a natural fuel-provoking part of my average corporate week.

For over twenty years I was asked to lead a team of over achievers in to the eye of raging storms, to navigate through dark times, to weather the horrendous effects of impossible deadlines, extreme expectations and demanding sponsors. And looking back I can thankfully say that my teams survived unscathed, achieving the impossible and miraculously engineering outrageous outcomes.

Me however? I always felt that it was my job as the leader to take the brunt of the hurricane’s force. I whirled around the outside, protecting my team within the eye of the storm, and much like the adrenalin rush that tornado-chasers feel, I managed to remain engaged, excited and motivated to win at all costs.

I had no plan.

I had no strategy of how I would protect myself. But I had an enormous strategy surrounding the protection of every other member of my team. Such is the world of great management.

And thus it didn’t surprise me the first time I crashed in to full and paralyzing burnout. Nor the second time, or the third.

As managers, leaders, business owners, mentors and teachers, the biggest failing I see amongst this realm is that we neglect to plan or strategize our own path.

We know our job comes with immense pressure, with times of torrential stress, and yet we sail in with our spinnakers up and a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude.

It’s essential we have a plan in place to protect ourselves from the fall-out that can appear years after the rush has past.

Here are a few key ways to formulate that plan.

  1. Know Yourself.

My radar for inner stress these days is of a ‘professional’ level! I’ve become very proficient at recognizing the signs, which now allows me to navigate quickly away from danger.

My sleep begins to suffer.

I feel agitated towards my children, which is my biggest alarm bell as it goes against the loving rules of my family that I, myself, helped to create.

And I move and speak faster than usual.

These are the first signs for me. What are yours?

  1. Create a plan

Just as with the marathon, it’s essential to prepare for those moments of stress.

For instance, the moment I recognize my warning signs, I review my eating & caffeine habits, I revert back to careful sleep patterns, I increase my mindful moments, and I consciously smile often and slow my walk, breath and speech.

My diet regains the essential minerals and nutrients for optimal brain health;

My sleep ensures my Serotonin levels remain balanced

In being mindful, I enhance resilience-promoting neurochemicals to be released, such as Oxytocin and Dopamine;

And in slowing my walk, breath and speech I communicate to my brain that all is in fact fine which allows the Parasympathetic Nervous System to take control, dampening the stress response.

  1. Act Immediately.

What good is a plan if you don’t act upon it? And yet, this is the hardest part of any strategy – knowing when to activate it.

A good idea for many is to share your stress signals and plan with a loved one, asking them to be your accountability partner. Their job is to tell you if they see any of the signs, and to support you in activating your anti-stress-strategy.

Remember, it’s a fool who goes in to battle unprepared.

Know yourself, know your plan and know when to activate it; and be the leader who navigates through with impressive stories to tell at the end.

Animatedly Yours,

Ani