Our brains need to have everything ‘just right’ in order to function at an optimal level. What is just right, you ask? Well, let me explain, through my own personal story.
In 2012, I moved across the country for a new job. It was a great opportunity and I was excited about the new chapter that lay ahead. There was a lot to do in the 4-6 weeks that I had to pack up and make the move so I began with purchasing a new notebook in which I would keep track of the multiple lists of things to do. I carried this book around with me everywhere I went, as there was a constant stream of things that had to be jotted down, new categories created, items checked off as they got done, and more. It was an intense time as I worked full time up until a week prior to my departure date.
Partway through this packing up process I started to feel unwell – I wasn’t sleeping well, I experienced disturbing stomach issues, and I couldn’t focus on the tasks at hand. I recall waking up (tired) on a Saturday morning, with nothing in my schedule and imagining a productive day of packing and sorting. I showered, had breakfast and then … I stood in the middle of my living room, paralyzed, in a fog, not knowing where to start.
How heavy was that notebook? You might be wondering what this has anything to do with it, but bear with me. That notebook started off light, a clean slate, with nothing in it but clean, clear, empty pages. As time went on, the pages began to fill up, with categories, endless lists, action items, dates, names, contact information, … The notebook and all its contents represented my thoughts, persistent thoughts which were in my head pretty much 24/7 (imagine the constant ‘flickering’ on a screen). These thoughts, and the notebook as the representation of these thoughts, became heavier and heavier, until it became a burden. I was thinking these thoughts in the shower, on the drive to and from work, while I frantically cooked dinner so that I could get back to the packing and sorting, before I went to sleep, first thing when I woke up in the morning, and very likely while I slept.
The absolute weight of the notebook didn’t change, but the fact that I attempted to hold it, carry it around 24/7 for 2-3 weeks naturally became a burden. The constant stress and the worry of a looming deadline left me incapable of functioning. The physical signs clearly indicated that my brain had shifted far beyond a normal range of ‘just right’, well past a sustainable sweet spot.
I sought out my naturopath! With the help of a natural sleep aid, a home made natural alkaline mix to settle my stomach and advice to spend more time away from the packing process, essentially, to ‘put down the notebook,’ I began to feel better, my brain returning to a ‘just right’ state of functioning. I began to feel more organized, and I regained my focus, sense of next steps and direction, and connecting with the bigger picture.
Stepping away and slowing down was exactly what my mind, body and heart needed. The time with family and friends, socializing, mild, relaxing exercise, not thinking about the notebook and all the actionable items in it, gave my brain a chance to recover and rejuvenate.
So, from a neuroscience perspective, what happened? My brain had gone into a state of overwhelm, with a massive and constant flow of dopamine and norepinephrine (hormones produced by the adrenal glands). This constant flow of hormones was the cause of my inability to focus, fuzzy thinking, poor memory, poor decision-making, and so on. Long term stress and anxiety cannot be sustained, although Western society, unfortunately, tends to reward people that take on unreasonable workloads.
This experience was a wake up call, and although I managed to make my way back to ‘just right,’ it was temporary. I experienced a similar ‘shut down’ six months later.
These experiences have been important reminders to reconnect to the wisdom of the body, to reclaim the notion of rest and rejuvenation by restoring our energy stores … on a regular basis, throughout the day. Our brains and bodies need regular breaks to function effectively, professionally and personally.
My own health and wellbeing is now my top priority. Professionally, mind, body, and heart integration and self-care is now a key component of all my professional work. I needed a few wake up calls to get here, and I remain vigilant to ensure I stay on the ‘just right’ path.
Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves in situations these days that has us pushing past our human capacity, over long periods of time, and we pay the price in poor performance, decreased productivity, lack of empathy or understanding, absenteeism, presenteeism, … in our workplaces and even at home. As a result, we find ourselves barely surviving, with idealistic visions of contribution and making a difference becoming a distant reality.
What’s the ‘notebook’ you need to put down more often?
What symptoms are you aware of that suggest you’re well past your ‘just right’?
What would be possible if you were mindful of the bodies signals and recalibrated your brain back to ‘just right’?
Commit to putting down ‘the notebook’ and taking a break, on a regular basis. I know it’s counterintuitive, but consider slowing down in order to get more done!