It’s getting closer and closer to the end of the year, and many of us are starting to feel the weight of hard work laying heavy on our shoulders (and minds). Add to that a strict training routine for summer’s cycling season and it’s easy for health and wellbeing to slip silently onto the backburner. When was the last time you felt really and truly energised or that knee pain you’ve been struggling with eased off? It’s all too easy for the constant fatigue, anxiety and nagging physical pain to become accepted as the norm, part of the hectic pace of today’s life. Enough. Your mental and physical health is important. It’s time to start taking better care of number one.
Here are 6 signs you need to give yourself some TLC immediately.
1. You’re almost always tired
Being tired doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong, any number of things could be to blame – from insomnia to too much late-night coffee to you simply not clocking enough zzz’s. But if you’re constantly battling to keep your eyes open, even when you feel like you’ve had a good night’s rest, then it’s time to dig a little deeper. Not getting enough sleep carries some serious health risks, like heart problems, depression, stroke and diabetes, to name a few. In fact, Harvard Medical School found that for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all throughout the following day.
It’s also possible that you’re not getting the nutrients you need, as tiredness is the result of a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. For example, magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia, lack of potassium can lead to difficulty staying asleep throughout the night and having too little Vitamin D has been linked to excessive daytime sleepiness. Visit your GP if you think this might be you.
2. You’re chugging down on caffeine and/or alcohol like it’s no one’s business
According to research, we should be drinking just 4 cups of coffee a day. If, like me, that pretty much sums up your 8am to 10am routine alone before hitting up an energy drink, then it may be time to take a step back and re-evaluate things. Relying on caffeine to keep you going probably means you’re not getting enough sleep, and actually too much caffeine can have nasty side effects like insomnia, irritability, restlessness and stomach upset. (The latter is an especially effective way to ruin the perfect Saturday morning ride.)
And the same goes for too much alcohol. If you find that bottle of wine emptying out far quicker in the evenings than it used to, you may be using alcohol as a crutch to relieve anxiety. While it’s effective in the short-term, it has serious long-term side effects for your health. Studies have also shown that while it can help you get to sleep faster the quality of your sleep will be poor, and could be to blame for excessive tiredness despite getting your eight hours in.
3. You get sick super easy, and even when you’re not sick you don’t feel great
This is usually the first sign that your immune system is run down. Having a headache, stomach ache or some other niggling, constant pain isn’t normal. Either you have an underlying medical problem and need to get out to your doctor, or your body is begging you to give it some attention and care.
Too much stress – work worries, sitting in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store – triggers the fight or flight response in the body, which causes the sympathetic nervous system to release hormones like cortisol. This wreaks havoc on the body, resulting in things like elevated blood sugar levels and trigycerides (blood fats), which are linked to fatigue, headaches, inability to concentrate, irritability, muscle aches, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness. Eventually, if left untreated, this can lead to more serious problems, like depression. So take a minute to relax, zen out and get back to being healthy.
4. You feel anxious and irritable, like you’re almost always ready to snap
I’m not talking about swearing under your breath at the colleague who didn’t answer your email, or getting annoyed at the toys lying on the floor even though you asked nicely for the kids to clean up before bed. We’re all human, we’re allowed to get annoyed from time to time. I’m talking about getting angry at things you know to be irrational, and constantly feeling anxious, irritable or on edge.
When our physical and mental health suffer, this is usually the result, and we find ourselves unable to handle even the smallest of life’s annoyances without getting over-the-top mad. If this sounds familiar, then you’re probably just burnt out and need to relook at the way you’re treating yourself.
5. The last green thing to pass your lips was that lime jelly tot everyone hates
Diet is so important, and it’s often one of the first things to suffer when we’re stressed. If you find yourself struggling to remember the last time a piece of broccoli, spinach or any of those other unbelievably healthy green veg made its way to your stomach, then it’s time to take a step back. When your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, it isn’t going to perform well.
According to the Global Burden Disease study, which is recognised as the most authoritative work on global causes of disease and early death, poor diet is the biggest contributor to early deaths across the world, and can lead to a whole host of complications like osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Quick fix? Stop by the local greengrocer on your way home for some homegrown goodies, I promise your body will thank you for it.
6. You’ve skipped one or two (or nine…) of your usual weekend rides
When you no longer have the energy or motivation to do the things you love, it’s definitely time to take better care of yourself. The health benefits of regular exercise are hard to ignore:
- up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
- up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
- up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
- a 30% lower risk of early death
- up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
- up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
- a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
- up to a 30% lower risk of depression
- up to a 30% lower risk of dementia
Exercise is a quick fix to feeling crappy. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine, and these fun-loving fellows all work together to make you feel good and boost your mood. In fact, the effect of endorphins is so great, they trigger a positive feeling in the body that can be likened to that of morphine.
Over-training, however, can also be a cause for concern, and you should make sure your daily dose of activity isn’t what’s getting you down. The biggest giveaway is usually slippage in speed or endurance, struggling to sleep at night and things like change in appetite and heart rate. A good way to measure the latter is to establish your baseline. Anything out of the norm, either faster or slower while at rest, could be a sign that you need a break.
Bottom line: Take better care of yourself and life will be a whole lot more enjoyable. You’ll also be able to handle that colleague without creating a scene from Die Hard.