29 October 2020
Under-Utilised Health Hacks: For You & Your Client’s
*** I believe self-care and productivity to be core-components of the human condition. A healthy-person — considering ‘health’ in a broad sense — is ambitious to connect, work, produce, create and achieve. These are traits that we not only want to foster in ourselves but all those we care about — be it family, friends…
I believe self-care and productivity to be core-components of the human condition. A healthy-person — considering ‘health’ in a broad sense — is ambitious to connect, work, produce, create and achieve. These are traits that we not only want to foster in ourselves but all those we care about — be it family, friends or clients.
Today’s article will be some simple tips to help do that. I have written about the general topic of self-care and productivity a number of times before, such as in the following articles:
Self-Care & Creating a Eudaemonic You (Part 1): https://www.jpshealthandfitness.com.au/self-care-creating-a-eudaemonic-you/
Self-Care & Creating a Eudaemonic You (Part 2): https://www.jpshealthandfitness.com.au/23231246294-2/
Maintaining Your Spark Amidst the Darkness: https://www.jpshealthandfitness.com.au/maintaining-your-spark-amidst-the-darkness/
However, I thought I might dig another layer deeper. With lockdowns occurring, we are all basically living under a version of house arrest, amidst an ill-economy, which brings a host of problems of its own — and that’s even without considering the actual virus at the centre of this.
So with that, I will attempt to throw around some tips and ideas that can help us fight off the ill-effects, both physical and mental, of lockdown.
First and Foremost:
Hopefully I don’t need to say this, but I will anyway: Your health and well-being are important! Do what you can to not only maintain but improve them.
Whatever you care about most in this earth, you will be able to do more of it, and at a higher quality, if your health and well-being are sufficiently intact — even if your “thing” is work!
Some people work to live, while others live to work. The thing that gets them out of bed in the morning is opportunity to build their company, progress their career or to serve clients and create products.
While we tend to think of health and well-being as staving off disease, and not a concern for those pre-retirement age, that is a fallacy. The more well you are, the clearer you can think, the more productive and creative you can be, the more you can do and the more stress you can tolerate while keeping it together.
Having our health and well-being in pristine condition is the closest we can get being super-human!
So, even if your own unique circumstances mean that money and career-security (or something else) are the primary concern for you right now, it is important to keep in mind that you will only be benefited by greater amounts of health and well-being. Whatever problems you face, you will be better equipped to tackle them, and jump on any opportunities that arise — as they no doubt will — if you are caring for yourself.
Today’s article will hopefully provide some guidance for doing that, by looking at a few factors which impact our health and well-being but may not always be at the forefront of your mind. These will be working hours, exposure to nature and community.
1.Working Hours? I’ll Take All of Them
If you’re back working mostly — or entirely — from home, one of the trickier things to navigate is when to work. Because you don’t have a 7am client, or to face your boss at 9.01am, then there’s some laxity about when exactly you sit down and start work.
Personally, I prefer to be sitting at my laptop no later than 6.30am — I know Martin tends to be a morning-worker as well. Often, I am sitting on my laptop, doing one thing or another, and an email from Martin comes through, or he posts in our Cert 3&4 Facebook group, before the sun has risen or the time starts with a 7.
Alternatively, Jacob is the one who carries the brunt of the workload in the PM. He tends to not mind a sleep in, makes sure he gets a good coffee or 10 under his belt first and then settles into work for the day — not stopping until well into the evening. So, while Martin and I might be updating programs, writing or pinging off emails before 7am, Jacob will be the one holding down the fort and doing the same after 7pm.
When it comes to Jackson, honestly, I’ve got no idea. He’s on some weird, made up time-zone time. I don’t even think “Perth” is actually a real place.
The point here, is that we are all a bit different, and work best under different conditions — so some flexibility of when exactly we work can be useful. However, just as too much flexibility can cause issues on the dietary front, the same principle applies when it comes to doing work and being productive.
A study from 2004 titled: Overtime Work In Relation To Blood Pressure and Mood during Work, Leisure, and Night Time, found pretty much just that. While flexibility and autonomy are noted characteristics of well-designed workplace environments — in that they have higher levels of employee health and productivity — a large degree of freedom regarding time (as opposed to task-selection, or other work-related decisions) appears to yield worse outcomes, at least based on the sample in this study. The primary issue, however, seems to be when overtime is performed.
“Overtime acts as a stressor because it increases the demands on an employee attempting to maintain performance levels in the face of increasing fatigue. Additionally, employees working longer hours are exposed to other workplace stress for a greater amount of time.”
This has led to numerous studies on overtime looking at its effects on cardiovascular health, depression, type-2 diabetes, disturbed cognitive function and fatigue — and spoiler alert: overtime made all of them worse.
The point I want to make here is that because we don’t have hard and fast time-boundaries due to working at home, we can be a little lax at both starting and stopping our day. If you’re a little slow to start, then you have two choices you can make. You can either, a) knock-off on time and do less than what you should have/needed to do, or b) work overtime. Which as we are discovering, has some fairly significant health and well-being effects.
The study goes on to reference a previous paper which I also looked at. This was what they had to say:
“Proctor et al. (1996) tested a profile of mood states in 248 male automotive workers as a function of overtime. The authors reported significantly increased feelings of tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion in participants working overtime as well as in participants working more than five consecutive days a week.”
Now let me ask you this: How well do you think you can do your job — especially if you’re a coach, which requires caring for people — if you’re constantly fighting off tension, depression, anger, fatigue and confusion?
Not incredibly well, would be my guess.
One of the best ways to deal with this problem is have clear and distinct times within both the day and the week, when you are NOT doing work. It seems counterintuitive that in order to do more and better work, you need to reduce the amount of opportunity to do it — but this is what numerous studies seem to indicate. Just like the body, the brain needs to be fresh to do its best work.
The key here is to avoid overtime, which not only costs you more mentally and physically than regular worktime, but also reduces the amount of leisure and recuperation time available to you. Which, theoretically, you would need more of if you’re worked more than normal. This is something that can quickly spiral into a feeling of never having enough time for yourself, or burnout, if you’re not careful. And with the poor-mental health vibes already in the air, it’s worth being proactive about.
So, how do you avoid overtime?
Well, you get what you need-to-do done. And how do you do that? Being organised and having a plan is a great start. It won’t always go exactly as intended, but that is no reason to lack structure and direction. Personally, I have chunks of time throughout the day written on my whiteboard, and what task I am supposed to be working on during that time.
As I said, it won’t always go to plan. But some self-inflicted guidance is helpful, especially whilst we are living through lockdowns, which make us concurrently feel trapped and lost.
My advice: Give yourself some relatively strict start, stop and breaktimes. After that, you can possibly start determining which tasks you’ll be working on when, and build your own schedule, appropriate to you, from there.
Your health, well-being, clients and boss will likely all thank you.
2. The Nurture of Nature
Early in my development as a coach, I was so attached to a scientifically informed identity, I was overly reactionary and dismissive towards ideas that seemed “guru-ey” to me. Thankfully, I have outgrown that (at least, in part), and now approach health, fitness and well-being in a much more holistic manner — while still gravitating towards scientific evidence, if it is at all available.
Unfortunately, though, the term “holistic” has become synonymous with pseudo-science and practitioners who push an ideology, rather than anything resembling empirical evidence. I do not wish for this to be the image that springs to mind, however, when I say the term. When I say “holistic,” I am simply trying to promote the idea of using many more of the tools at our disposal, than is typically utilised. Yes, an appropriate calorie-intake, adequate protein and 10 sets per muscle group each week is good start for looking after yourself or your clients, but there are many more chips still on the table. Start cashing in!
An effective and cost-efficient method that probably isn’t leveraged to its full extent in the “evidence-based community” is exposure to nature.
A 2017 meta-analysis of 64 studies across a 10-year period titled, “Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review” (2) had the following to say…
“When one ponders humans existing less than 0.01% of the species’ history in modern surroundings and the other 99.99% of the time living in nature, it is no wonder some humans yearn and are drawn back to where human physiological/psychological functions began and were naturally supported.”
“This in-depth review illustrates, honors and supports the increased awareness of the positive health-related effects (e.g., stress reduction and increased holistic well-being) associated with humans spending time in nature, viewing nature scenes via video, being exposed to foliage and flowers indoors and the development of urban green spaces in large metropolitan areas worldwide. Not only valid and reliable psychometrics have been implemented [showing increased perception of safety, calm and well-being, as well as reductions in depression and substance-dependence], but valid and reliable physiological measurements [such as reductions in heart rate and blood pressure] have been used to show significant and potentially healing and health promoting effects.”
“Healthcare professionals and educators may turn to the SY [Shinrin-Yuko or “Forest Bathing”] and NT [Nature Therapy] literature for simple, affordable and enjoyable complementary interventions to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms and enhance joy, relaxation, overall sense of well-being and balance in life.”
Sounds pretty decent, hey? Both physiological markers of health and psychological measures of well-being were improved by exposure to nature. And some of it wasn’t even “real nature,” but videos of natural phenomena. What a crazy world!As we might expect, there does also appear to be a link between these physical health and psychological well-being benefits and cognitive performance, too.
Even if you’re not planning to solve the problems or modern physics, or trounce your friends in some digital Scrabble during an iso-games night, cognitive performance is still crucial to us because it is effectively what we translate into productivity. Anyone who has dieted down to a standard-deviation below their settling-point can attest to how much we rely on our brains, even when we don’t think we are brainy people.
How well our brain is operating is integral for not only the ideas we have, but how efficiently and effectively we work, but also just how we deal with people. Social information and interaction is complex, and the more well rested our brains are, the more caring and compassionate we tend to be.
And as it seems, getting out into nature can help with your cognitive performance too!
This is evidenced by a 2018 systematic review (3), which looked at over forty studies on the topic of Attention Restoration Theory (the idea that cognitive performance is benefitted by/recovered faster, when exposed to natural environments). This papers conclusion can be stated as simply:
“Our updated literature review and meta-analysis showed that working memory, cognitive flexibility and to a less-reliable degree, attentional control, may be improved after exposure to nature through restoration of cognitive processes related to directing attention.”
Now, I will re-iterate something that was mentioned in both papers; that sample sizes tended to be small and that more longitudinal research is needed. Please do not misconstrue this as me saying, “nature will solve all your problems.”
This is not at all the case. To put unwavering faith in the goodness of nature, is to commit what is known as the naturalistic fallacy. Nature has many, many deadly, dangerous and otherwise disadvantageous elements. However, technology and other aspects of modern life do too.
The idea I am trying to promote here, is that the humans of today do not tend to get enough exposure to nature, as indicated by improvements to health and well-being when the nature deficit is alleviated (in part or in full).
To quote my entire Instagram feed from the year 2018, in order to “live your best life,” you likely want an appropriate blend of efficient and powerful modernity, interspliced with things reminiscent of slower and simpler times, such as the eternal connectedness of nature.
The nurture of nature is always there, but sometimes you need to be proactive in seeking it out.
3. Community is “Cool Cool Cool”
Just to be clear, Abed was saying “cool cool cool,” before Jake Peralta was even a thing.
Abed was also onto something else — well, among many other things, the man is a genius (at least he was until Season 3ish, then he becomes really normal and less cool). That other thing, that Abed was onto, though, was the name of the show: Community.
Community (not the show), is something that has been shown to have powerful health and well-being effects. Actually, come to think of it, the show Community probably does too. Regardless, in this section I am talking about community in the sense of being part of a group of people who share traits, values, desires or other things in common.
The idea that community is healthy, is not a new one. The psychologist Abraham Maslow was talking about it over 50 years ago, and he certainty wasn’t the first to push the idea! Regardless, even the health and wellness supporting effects of community are time-tested, they still don’t seem to be effects that we reach for consistently on a daily or even weekly basis.
Among the various sources we could look at as evidence of the benefits of community, is one of the most substantial and famous studies that has looked at what we might simply consider “healthy aging.”
The study, which initially kicked off in 1938 and is still going now, over 80 years later, is known as the “Harvard Study of Adult Development.”
The following some quotations from a publication about the study aimed at non-academic readers, which is beautifully titled, “Good genes are nice, but joy is better.”
“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”
“You can see how people can start to differ in their health trajectory in their 30s, so that by taking good care of yourself early in life you can set yourself on a better course for aging. The best advice I can give is ‘Take care of your body as though you were going to need it for 100 years,’ because you might.”
“It’s easy to get isolated, to get caught up in work and not remembering, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen these friends in a long time … So I try to pay more attention to my relationships than I used to.”
Waldinger also has a highly popular TedTalk on the topic, which I highly recommend checking it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI
In the talk he goes on to say:
“When we gathered together everything we knew about them [the study participants] at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
“Over and over, over these 75 years our study has shown that the people who fared the best, were the people who leaned into relationships with family, with friends, with community.”
Waldinger recommends some simple solutions to improving the quality of your relationships, which include:
– Replace screen time with people time.
– Do something new within an existing relationship
– Reach out and rekindle a relationship that has wilted
It definitely isn’t sexy but having quality relationships and a sense of community in your life is one of the best things you can do for your health and well-being. As with anything worth having, it tends not to come easy, however, I encourage you all to work on your relationships.
Learning to attend fully to others, listening and being genuinely interested in what they have to say, might actually end up being one the best things you ever do for yourself!
And that brings us to the end of this article on some typically under-considered elements of health and well-being. I hope you make greater use of them all and bring a higher quality of life to yourself, and then spreading the joy amongst other.
I say all this not to diminish the real-world issues that are currently occurring, but as a reminder that they aren’t the only things that are occurring. When we have problems in our life, we tend to become so myopic, that all we see are problems.
This just isn’t the case though. It is not an accurate reflection of reality. Every single one of us have a mix of problems, as well as absolute gifts, that life has bestowed upon us.
Yes, if possible, problems should be solved — but not all can, so wasting time fretting about them is to magnify the existence of a problem. And with the problems you can solve, you often have a better chance of dealing with said problem if you take a step back, look at the bigger picture, breath and then decide what you’re going to do.
As I said, I hope you consider the power of the interventions I mentioned here. While I suggested them most directly in relation to yourself, the reader, you can also simply consider this as valuable information to utilise with your clients.
By encouraging them to make use of appropriate start and stop times for work, to spend more time in restorative, natural environments, and to improve their relationships, you will likely further improve their physical and mental health beyond what you were already achieving previously.
And what more could you want from a coach, right?
1 – Rau, R. and Triemer, A., 2004. Overtime in relation to blood pressure and mood during work, leisure, and night time. Social Indicators Research, 67(1-2), pp.51-73.
2 – Hansen, M.M., Jones, R. and Tocchini, K., 2017. Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) and nature therapy: A state-of-the-art review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(8), p.851.
3 – Stevenson, M.P., Schilhab, T. and Bentsen, P., 2018. Attention Restoration Theory II: A systematic review to clarify attention processes affected by exposure to natural environments. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 21(4), pp.227-268.
4 – “Good genes are nice, but joy is better” The Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/