High Octane Women

How superachievers can avoid burnout

Energy Zappers

10 Everyday Things That Drain Our Energy and Steal Our Time

In today's 24/7 world, where time and energy have literally become precious commodities, the last thing high octane women need are things that reduce both. But a lot of the habits we've developed, some of which we do under the guise of "saving time," actually end up draining our energy and wasting our time.

What are these terrible thieves that steal our limited resources? Some of them may actually surprise you.

1) Tight Clothes - No doubt, the way we dress can have a powerful impact on how we're viewed by others, and even the way we view ourselves. But at a time when the hottest fashions include pencil skirts, jeggings, and "skinny" jeans, it might be worth considering whether being a fashionista is worth the fatigue. Tight, uncomfortable clothing can wear you out faster than you can say Valentino. Why? Because tight clothing restricts normal breathing, which reduces the amount of oxygen that travels to our brains and muscles. Because oxygen invigorates our cells, the less oxygen they get, the more tired we feel.

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Solution: Wear stylish, yet comfortable clothing, and remind yourself to breathe deeply throughout your day, especially when you're feeling stressed. Deep breathing is a free, fast, and fabulous energy booster and stress-reliever.

2) High Heels - There's a reason why women laugh out loud when Robin Williams, in the role of Mrs. Doubtfire, says, "If I find the misogynistic bastard that invented heels, I'll kill him." Any invention that actually requires us to practice a skill that most of us mastered in our first year of life (walking) before we can successfully use it should give us pause. But not so for many women. Despite the energy drain (not to mention the pain) that high heels cause, we keep on wearing them ... to our own detriment. Just think about it. How quickly can you walk from point A to point B in high heels (time drain) and how much more energy do you have to expend walking there on your toes with your heels precariously suspended three or four inches off the ground on a base as thin as a pencil (energy drain)?

Solution: Wear comfortable dress shoes on regular days and save the high heels for those special, limited-time engagements.

3) Clutter - That's right. Clutter not only makes us anxious, which uses up energy, it also wastes time when we have to find something in the chaos that all too often has become our desks (or worse yet, our entire workspace or house). According to the Wall Street Journal, the average US executive wastes six weeks per year (about an hour every work day) searching for misplaced items in messy desks and files.

Solution: At a minimum, take a few minutes each day to straighten up your desk. The visual of a clean desk will reduce your anxiety and stress level. If disorganization is a chronic problem, don't try to conquer it all at once. Not only will you be exhausted at the end of the day, you'll probably be frustrated that you couldn't get what took years to clutter uncluttered in one day's time. The best approach to reducing clutter is to tackle it in small chunks. Commit to one room at a time and persevere. Over time, it will all get done.

4) Working Straight Through: Many high-achievers can get so focused on a project or task that they can work straight through an 8-, 10-, or 12-hour workday without taking a break other than to go to the bathroom (maybe). But is this the most productive way to work and live? According to Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We're Working Isn't Working, absolutely not! Schwartz explains, "We're hard-wired to make waves--to be alert during the day and to sleep at night, and to work at high intensity for limited periods of time--but we lead increasingly linear lives. By putting in long, continuous hours, we expend too much mental and emotional energy without sufficient intermittent renewal ... by living mostly desk-bound, sedentary lives, we expend too little physical energy and grow progressively weaker. Inactivity takes a toll not only on our bodies, but also how we think and feel."  

Solution: Take short breaks throughout your work day. Research has found that taking a brisk walk for just ten minutes boosts your energy for two hours, and if you can take your walk outside that's even better. Sunlight is a natural energy booster.

5) Negative People - There's a reason why negative people are called energy vampires. They suck the energy out of people through their chronic negativity, never-ending crises, and ongoing life dramas, leaving those around them feeling down, exhausted, and lethargic. As I discuss in my book, High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, negative people are easy enough to identify. They frequently complain. They rarely, if ever, have a good thing to say about anyone or anything, which is why it's extremely difficult to stay positive around them.

Solution: To prevent negative people from draining you dry, you first have to identify who these people are in your life (including determining if you're one of them), and then decide how much time, if any, you want to devote to them. Dr. Steve Ornelas, author of Energy Vampires: Managing Stress and Negative Thoughts in Your Personal and Professional Lives, suggests that one way to combat negativity in your life is first to think of it as a movie--if your life was a movie, would it be a drama, a comedy, an adventure, a mystery? You also should frequently ask yourself, "Is this the direction I want my movie to go?" If your answer is more often no than yes, consider your cast of characters. Are they overly negative? Overly critical? Overly dramatic? High maintenance divas? Always remember that you are the script writer, producer, director, and lead actor of your show. If you don't want energy vampires on your set, you have to get rid of them, and if you can't, at least limit your exposure as much as possible.

6) Negative Emotions - For the same reasons negative people zap your energy, negative emotions, such as anger, resentment, regret, and jealousy, zap it as well. Negative emotions make our minds and bodies tense. In addition, when we experience these kinds of emotions, we have to exert a lot of energy to contain them, which can be exhausting.

Solutions: When you're feeling angry or upset, force yourself to do things that run counter to tension, such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and positive imagery. Also, train yourself to look at the positive side of things rather than the negative side. In psychology, this is called reframing, which means changing negative feelings or thoughts into positive ones. It takes practice, but it works if you give it a fair chance.

7) Heavy Lunches and Junk Food - Large and/or high-fat lunches require our bodies to expend more energy breaking down all that food, which is why most people feel lethargic and sleepy after a big meal. Junk food, usually in the form of sugar, such as candy or soda, causes an initial spike in blood sugar, which makes us feel energized for a short period, followed by a rapid drop in blood sugar, which makes us feel drained.

Solution: Skip the heavy meals, and go for smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. And carry healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts, or low-fat yogurt with you, so that when you get hungry during the day, you aren't at the mercy of a vending machine to appease your hunger.

8) Skipping Breakfast - The all-night fast that happens while we're asleep leaves our bodies low on calories, and calories are what give us energy. Low calories=low energy.

Solution: Eat a good, high-fiber, low-fat breakfast every morning. If you don't have time to make breakfast before you leave in the morning, keep a box of healthy breakfast bars in your car so you're not running on empty when you get to work or wherever your schedule may take you.

9) Topsy-Turvy Circadian Rhythms - Inconsistent sleep-wake cycles throw our natural circadian rhythm out of whack, causing us to feel tired even on days when we've had a full night's sleep.

Solution: Discipline. Force yourself, as much as possible, to stay on a consistent sleep-wake schedule. This means going to bed around the same time each night and waking up, even on non-work days, at the same time each morning. Think of your body as a child--it (i.e., you) may resist consistency and discipline, but it (you) secretly longs for it.

10) Dehydration - The human body is composed mostly of water. So it should come as no surprise that we need it--a lot of it--to function properly. But very few high-achieving women take the time to hydrate as much as they should, which can leave them feeling tired and sluggish. 

Solution: Drink up! Eight to ten glasses of water per day is a good goal to strive for, but keep in mind that although soda, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol contain water, the best source for hydration is simply water (which is a bonus if you're watching calories because it has none).

Until next time, I'll leave you with the words of Aulus Cornelius Celsus (c. 25 B.C.-c. 50), one of the most important contributors to medicine and scientific thought during the Roman Empire.

Live in rooms full of light
Avoid heavy food
Be moderate in the drinking of wine
Take massage, baths, exercise, and gymnastics
Fight insomnia with gentle rocking or the sound of running water
Change surroundings and take long journeys
Strictly avoid frightening ideas
Indulge in cheerful conversation and amusements
Listen to music

Kind of gives new meaning to the proverb, The more things change, the more they stay the same, doesn't it?

© 2011 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved

Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).

Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., psychologist and author of "High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout," specializes in the area of women and stress.

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