Episode 16: Running on Empty Series (Part 3)

This episode is the third in a series exploring signs that stress is starting to wear away at your effectiveness, health and overall well-being as reflected in different areas of life and health. Each episode also presents one, research-based recovery practice that can help you start to restore your equilibrium.

This episode explores life circumstances that can shift the balance of well-being toward running from empty, along with signs and symptoms that you are running on empty in your personal life. I also explore the positive benefits and share some tips and tricks which will help you build regular physical movement into your life.

TRANSCRIPT:

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.

This episode is the third in a 5-part series exploring some of the life circumstances that can lead to burnout and how to identify some of the signs that stress is starting to wear away at your effectiveness, health and overall well-being. Each episode will also explore one of the research-based well-being activities or rituals that can help you recover and begin to restore your equilibrium.

According to research by Tony Schwartz, CEO and Founder of The Energy Project and Jim Loehr who co-authored “The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time” we have 4 sources of energy--mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Each of these sources can be challenged, much like a muscle, but just like with a muscle, recovery is where the growth actually happens. Most of us overexert, and fail to recover, in some areas and underexert in others. Overexertion without recovery leads to illness or injury. Under-exertion leads to atrophy.

At the conclusion of this podcast, I hope you will go to @theboothandrews on Instagram and comment how YOU know that you are starting to run on empty, and what type of recovery rituals help you start to recalibrate using the hashtag #freedomfromempty.

This episode explores personal life stressors that can move us from a place of being balanced and well, to being exhausted and depleted. I also explore the signs and symptoms that may indicate that it is time to step back and re-calibrate based on current life circumstances.

When I began my second career, I was pretty aware and intentional about the kind of leader I wanted to be. And I knew that I was going to have to invest in myself like never before in order to maintain my energy and focus and perspective to be that leader.

But in hindsight, what I did not do was make adjustments in my support structures, the way I took care of myself, or in engaging in regular recovery activities as my life circumstances changed. For me, the birth of my third child, followed by my Mom’s death, followed by financial stresses at home, became the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.

It is true that many of the preconditions to breakdown and burnout were already there in my life, but they were exacerbated by my anxiety over adding a 3rd little person to my already delicately balanced life, the loss of my lifeline in my Mom, and the added financial pressure I felt as the primary wage earner at home. Before any of those things happened, I was already a little sleep deprived with a 3 year old who has always preferred company, especially at night, medication that I had to take every 4 hours for 8 weeks before my son was born, and oh yeah, I was a newly minted CEO of an entity created out of merger in a very stressful, though incredibly rewarding job. And somewhere in there, I participated in multiple endurance events.

My point is this . . . I already had a fair measure of stress in my life. And at first, my recovery techniques were enough to keep me on an even keel, even if not as healthy as I would have preferred to be. But as the personal stressors piled up, I did not double down on recovery. I did not double down on my well-being. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t have a full comprehension of the impact of those stressors on my life.

Here are just some of the life stressors that might take a manageable balance of stress and recovery and push the pendulum toward toxic stress and breakdown:

  • Caring for your parents

  • Caring for children

  • Adding a child

  • Caring for a partner

  • Someone you love being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness

  • Grieving something or someone

  • Going through a divorce

  • Losing your job

  • Changing jobs

  • Adding job responsibilities

  • And financial stress

Any and every time the stressors in your life change, I encourage you to (re-)evaluate whether you are engaging in recovery at a level that is commensurate with the level of stress. This likely will also include re-negotiating with your team (your life and your work teams) because the expectations and processes and allocations of responsibility may need to change in order to allow you more time to recover.

So how might an imbalance of stress and recovery “show up” in your personal life? These are all symptoms that I have experienced over time:

  • Trouble enjoying personal relationships

  • Difficulty being truly “present” with other people even when you are physically with them

  • Constant or growing tension in your intimate relationship

  • You might begin distancing yourself from other people OR you begin crossing boundaries with others in an unhealthy way

  • You have difficulty sitting still even when you are “supposed” to be relaxing

  • You dread going home at the end of the day (because work has become your “safe” place)

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consider that the source of MAY be the people in your house or that it MAY be that if you were regularly restoring your energy commensurate with your energy output, your experience of your personal life might be very different indeed.

In terms of restoration, today we are going to explore the benefits of movement along with some tips for integrating more (restorative) movement into your life.

Some of the top potential benefits of movement are these:

  1. Make you feel happier

  2. Help with weight loss

  3. Is good for your muscles and bones

  4. Increase your energy levels

  5. Reduce risk of chronic disease

  6. Help with skin health, brain health and memory

  7. Help with relaxation and sleep quality

  8. Reducing pain

  9. And promoting a better sex life

So, there is a really good chance that you already knew that exercise is good for you. And maybe you already do exercise on a regular basis. If so, good for you!! My caution would be to remember that exercise (or strenuous exercise) adds stress to your body as well, so consider calibrating the intensity of your workouts in relation to the amount of stress in other areas of your life.

Many of us, even though we KNOW we should move our bodies, struggle to make it a priority. So here are some tips and tricks to including more movement in your life:

  1. It doesn’t have to be a full hour to “count.” This is a personal struggle for me . . . if I cannot get a full hour (or more) of exercise in, why bother?!?! Well, because as with so many things in our lives, consistency is more impactful than a super long or intense workout once in a blue moon.

  2. Walking meetings--do you have to meet with people regularly? What if, instead of meeting over breakfast or lunch or coffee or drinks, or sitting around a conference table, you “meet” outside. On the sidewalk, or in the parking lot, or in a public space like a park or a trail. I can almost guarantee you that your meeting will be more energized, creative and productive if you are putting one foot in front of the other while you talk. Bilateral movement actually requires both sides of the brain to work together and share information. So, imagine the benefits of having both sides of your brain at work while you are problem-solving a work issue or creating something new?!

  3. Do something you LOVE--let’s face it, forcing ourselves to do a workout we hate is not going to be sustainable. So find something you love, and do it! I have also found that as I build capacity through one form of activity, I become much more confident and open about exploring other forms of exercise.

  4. Listen to your smartwatch/smartphone (set alarms or use apps to help you remember)--Does your smartwatch tell you to stand up? Mine does. Do you listen? I do. Sometimes. The point is that there are all sorts of apps and products that will gently remind us or motivate us to be more active. Of course, we have to actually do what we are being prompted to do, but we definitely don’t have the excuse that we didn’t “remember.”

  5. Stretch breaks--along these same lines; set a reminder to step away from your work station every 90 minutes and do some gentle stretches; stretching can improve and restore blood flow and work out some of the kinks that happen from sitting or standing in one position for extended periods of time

  6. Have a buddy--for a couple of years, I had a running buddy at o’dark thirty in the morning on Fridays. There are so many runs that would never have happened at that hour (or at all) if I hadn’t been meeting someone. Sure, sometimes we would text and bail, but more often than not, we showed up; even in 17 degree weather! Not only did we benefit from the exercise, but we benefited from the relationship we built over all of those runs.

  7. Calibrate your physical activity with the amount of stress currently in your life--if you are healthy and strong and have a lot of reserves and you want to push it, go for it!! If you have had a super stressful week, or have been anxious, sick or not sleeping well, an easy walk (and nature is great place to do this) or a gentle yoga class could be just the right movement for you!

  8. Schedule it (and protect it)--This one can be so tough. It is so easy to set our plans aside when someone else needs or wants something from us. One of the reasons I stayed committed to my first triathlon after becoming a CEO was because I was scared enough of the olympic distances (and my total discomfort with swimming) that it MADE me walk out the door to go train. Essentially, I used my training schedule to pre-empt one of my known tendencies--which was to stay at work for hours on end. It was easier of course to honor this commitment when I had a goal I was working toward that I wasn’t convinced I could accomplish without following my training plan to a T.

Hopefully this episode has given you some reasons WHY movement is so critical. And staying connected to that bigger WHY will help you honor your commitment, even with other people or demands seem more important. That bigger WHY can be:

    1. A goal you have set for yourself

    2. A commitment to a buddy

    3. Because you want to be a better leader

    4. Because you hired a coach who is going to kick your butt if you don’t (hey, whatever it takes, right?!)

    5. Because you want to be able to play with your kids

    6. Because you want to be able to do activities that you love

    7. Because you want to be able to get off the floor. When my second child was 6 months old, I realized two things. One, I had lost some strength and cardio capacity after being on bedrest with her. Two, she was made of bricks. And two, she was made of bricks. And even at 6 months old, I realized that if I did not start to exercise again, I was going to have a hard time getting up and down off the floor with my baby girl.

    8. Because you want to be a better husband, wife, partner, parent, or friend

    9. Because you (now) know that if you do not invest in adequate recovery, your physical, mental, emotional systems and your personal relationships will start to break down

Today, we explored life circumstances that can shift the balance of stress and recovery in your life. We identified some of the “signs” that you are running on empty and how those signs might show up in your personal life.

And I also explored the benefits of movement as a recovery strategy and some tips and tricks to help you break through any barriers you might have to moving on a regular basis.

As you wrap up listening to this episode, I hope you will go to @theboothandrews on Instagram using the hashtag #freedomfromempty and comment how YOU know that you are starting to run on empty, and what type of recovery rituals help you start to recalibrate.  

For more information about the work that I do with individuals, groups and organizations go to boothandrews.com. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @theboothandrews.

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.

I look forward to being back with you next time!

Resources:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-exercise#section11

https://www.childsplaytherapycenter.com/bilateral-coordination-important/

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