Episode #62: Warning Signs!
Warning signs are messages from our body that something isn’t right. If we learn to listen to them sooner rather than later, we can avoid a crash. I recently came face to face with a warning sign I ignored for too long.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
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At the beginning of the year (Episode 57 of the podcast) I talked about taking some time to recalibrate after a particularly intense and busy season.
I encourage individuals and businesses alike to build quarterly reflection into their plans and schedules. This is a time to pause and reflect on what is working, what isn’t working, what went really well and what didn’t go so well . . . and then to use that knowledge and information to adjust plans for the upcoming quarter, year, etc.
At the time I wrote that episode, I was reflecting on the fact that, while I had done a great job using the tools in my toolbox to survive the year that was 2020, it was time to expand my efforts toward thriving.
I did not yet share the word that had come to me for 2021 . . . Nourish.
Ah, the beauty when we set an intention with the Universe. Time and time again, when I acknowledge a lesson to be learned, I find that the road rises to meet me (or knocks me over the head until I get it).
I want to be very clear that when that word bubbled up for me, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about literal “nourishment” with food. But I was thinking about expanding the breadth and depth of the way I care for my body, mind and soul beyond the core survival strategies I had employed in 2020.
Fast forward approximately one-month into the recent promotion for my course (6 Steps to Stress Recovery and Burnout Prevention) and I found myself curled up under a blanket on my screened in porch crying because, after a nap and feeling queasy and slightly lightheaded all day, I had realized I wasn’t eating enough to sustain my activity level, and I was so depleted that I couldn’t bring myself to get up and fix myself something to eat. Yes, I am fully aware of the irony.
This is where my ex found me when he walked into the house. He asked me if I needed anything and I said, through my tears. . . “Can you please go get me a smoothie?” as my body desperately needed a hit of fructose.
I also reached out to two of my lifeline friends and acknowledged the mess I was in.
You see, I am a stress non-eater. The busier I am, and the more tired I am, the easier it is for me not to make time to figure out what to eat.
Add in a little (or a lot) of anxiety on top of that and I find myself in a constant state of queasy. Nothing sounds good. And I don’t have the energy to cook anyway. Or I do manage to cook something, and then I don’t want it.
Before I realize what is happening, eating feels very very very hard.
Adding insult to injury, I am usually in the gym 4-5 days per week, and in the week in question, I had also walked the dog 28 miles in 7 days.
I played out a classic example of the burnout spiral . . . giving up something that didn’t seem as important as the other things on my plate, putting myself in an energy deficit, and then spiraling out the bottom until I found myself in an emotional puddle on the couch on the screened in porch; embarrassed and ashamed that I had not done a better job of taking my own medicine.
At the beginning of this year, after I spent a few weeks moving at a much slower pace, I came out of the gate hot . . . preparing multiple meals to eat throughout the next few weeks. I was aware, without being as painfully aware as I am now, that I needed to do a better job nourishing my body with food. Two weeks later, I was still on task.
But sometime in February, my energy and intent around food slipped away. I was definitely aware that weekly meal planning had once again come to feel like a Herculean task, but I didn’t identify that as a warning sign of things to come.
I cannot overstate the importance of learning to recognize our warning signs.
Recognizing my warning signs is what gets me to bed on time, or even early some nights, or helps me give myself permission to nap.
Recognizing my warning signs reminds me to make sure I get some quiet time, and that I don’t abandon my nightly meditation.
Recognizing my warning signs helps me remember to do breathing or the 5 senses exercises or making myself a cup of tea and curling up under a blanket to regulate my nervous system when I feel my it amping up.
And in the last year as I have tried to make sure I am drinking enough water, I have started to notice what I feel like when I don’t drink enough.
Now, I hope I FINALLY have figured out that when I don’t have the energy to even think about what I might want to eat . . . THAT is a warning sign that I need to make an adjustment . . . ASAP.
You see, so many of us are accustomed to functioning at a deficit. In fact, we are so used to it that it feels NORMAL. And it may be normal, but it isn’t sustainable.
Our body is an incredibly complex and resilient organism that has some non-negotiable fundamental needs . . . we cannot outsmart these needs and we cannot ignore them without paying the price at some point.
By the time I realized that I had hit the point of diminishing returns in terms of food intake, I was in a crisis. Thankfully, as I checked in with myself, I could tell that I wasn’t in a mental health crisis although the thought did cross my mind.
But honestly, I am not sure how much longer my body could have held up under the added stress of not fueling it while also navigating the challenges that are life these days.
I let the law firm know that I was backing off my game calendar tetris for a couple of weeks (to the extent that I could given that my calendar generally books out weeks in advance).
In other words, I wasn’t going to take on any new commitments.
I took a week off of the gym which felt pretty monumental given that the gym is one of the starring tools in my toolkit.
I took a few weeks off of creating content for you, because honestly, I didn’t have much to say.
You see, our creativity and invention and even our capacity to consider others outside of ourselves is severely compromised when we do not take care of our basic needs. Not because we are weak, but because we are depleted.
I started focusing on calories. Not perfect calories, but calories; trying to get back up to eating at least 3 meals per day.
And by the second week, I found myself having energy around food again; selecting recipes, and preparing some things to have on hand so I don’t have to guess in the middle of a busy day.
Compared to some of my other stints in “food prep” land, I didn’t prep 6 meals in a single day and exhaust myself during the process. Instead, I prepped one meal that I could eat throughout the week. And then the next day, I prepped something else. And so on. I also made sure I had some easy snacks such as the ingredients for a smoothie and some greek yogurt, nuts and honey on hand.
This strategy felt much more manageable and sustainable.
Over time eating started to feel a whole lot easier and about 10 days in I had the distinct impression that my body was feeling a whole lot happier with me.
Last week was harder as my schedule had picked up again, but I again focused on the number of meals and snacks, doing the best I could under the circumstances while not hamstringing myself with unrealistic expectations about quality.
And as I think about what to prepare/eat this week, I am going to be honest. I could go either way. It would be easy for me to slip back into the mindset of . . . eh, I’m busy and I cannot think of anything so I will just ignore any hunger signals.
But now, I realize that I am at a pivotal moment. Because if I don’t look up, pay attention, and intentionally circumvent my old habits of allowing busyness to trump eating, I could find myself back in the same spiral in short order.
Instead, I am aware. Essentially, I have identified a new warning sign that I wasn’t as present to before (although I fully admit that this is not the first time that I have fallen into the trap of not eating). But hopefully, from now on, I will see this warning signal for what it is. An important message from my body.
Here is the other thing about warning signs. They are there for us all of the time. But they aren’t going to take care of themselves. If my experience has proven anything to me . . . the longer we ignore them, the longer it will take us to right the ship and get ourselves out of the spiral.
Is there a warning sign your body is sending you right now . . . maybe it’s about sleep, or water, or nutrition, or movement, or time in community with others? Can you identify it? If you can, I encourage you to take action sooner rather than later. And if taking action to respond to your body’s signs and signals feels TOO overwhelming, then it is time to slam on the brakes and rest up until your energy returns.
Remember, in terms of the energy pyramid, if you are starting from a point of depletion, start with sleep first . . . then water . . . then food.
And if you need help . . . ask for help. You are not weak if you cannot find your way out of the deficit by yourself. You are a human being who has pushed your body too far.
Help can look like recruiting someone who lives with you to encourage you and even help with resources as necessary. It can mean recruiting a friend to be your accountability partner and cheerleader. There are a number of apps these days that can help you reach your goals whether you’re trying to track your meals, or water, or even meditate- with or without calories depending on what your goals are. And help can even mean signing up for a program or hiring a professional whose role it is to help you reach your goals.
When we were in the first few months of lockdown last year, I found myself struggling to make myself do at-home workouts even though I KNEW with every fiber of my being how important they were to both my mental and physical health.
I found myself in tears on a Zoom call with my coach--our gym did a phenomenal job of checking in on its members during this time--and I made the decision to pay to have my coach be present via Zoom with me for 3 workouts per week. I needed the accountability.
Yes, in theory, I should have had the willpower and discipline to make myself do three 30 minute workouts per week. But I didn’t because I was spent. I was using all of my bandwidth to survive all of the other things that lockdown and the global crisis was throwing my way.
Unlike what our culture strongly suggests (or beats us over the head with on a regular basis) it is rarely a lack of discipline and willpower that make it difficult for us to invest wholly in our well-being. It is the self-perpetuating DEFICIT that leaves us feeling so exhausted and depleted that we cannot force ourselves to do one more thing no matter how “good” we know that thing is for us.
If you have a warning sign whispering (or even screaming) to you right now, stop, listen, and give yourself permission to do whatever it takes (including asking for help) to right the ship and refill the sails so that YOU can be glorious YOU sooner rather than later.
Signing off and going to make myself a smoothie.
Thank you for listening today. And, if you haven’t already, please hit subscribe and remember to rate this podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. When you subscribe and rate, you make it easier for other people to find this content.
And remember, if you aren’t receiving my biweekly newsletter in your inbox go to https://www.boothandrews.com/newsletterpage to sign up! You can find this link in my instagram bio @theboothandrews or in the show notes for this episode.
I look forward to being back with you next time!