Where are my high achievers at? These are the folks that constantly knock their goals out of the park and make it look easy, whether they’re training for a marathon, dialing in their diet, or Marie Kondo-ing their house. They’re the ones who get the promotions, the bigger bank accounts, the smaller pant sizes…
We live in a culture that celebrates busy-ness. I’ve seen it manifest in my clients (they typically come to me in the post-crush-my-goals stage, once their nervous system is toast) but also in my personal life.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/200807/parent-pleasing-people-pleasing-part-1-3‘>2 You might have been rewarded for straight A’s or gotten kudos after a game-winning goal. Maybe you had a parent or caregiver that was never satisfied or emotionally distant (which you mistook as unsatisfied). Or perhaps you learned that by achieving more, you managed to secure the love, safety, and acceptance of your family or caregivers.
In these situations, your self-worth becomes tied to your performance, meaning you’re only “good enough” if and when you’ve accomplished something exceptional. And even then, your inner critic probably doubts that it’s enough.
The Need to Always Do Better
What we’re really talking about here is fear. Fear that you need to continue excelling, producing, winning, and succeeding in order to not be rejected or lose the approval of others.https://www.mind-body-health.net/hpa-axis.shtml‘>4 Keep in mind this isn’t true for everyone. But for a lot of us, especially those of us with perfectionist tendencies, it’s quite accurate.
Pros of being a high achiever:
- You always bring your A-game
- You’re driven to get results
- You’re highly motivated
- You’re passionate about what you do
- You’re competitive
- You thrive on positive feedback
Cons of being a high achiever:
- You hold yourself to perfectionist standards
- You’re afraid of failing
- You believe you’re only as good as your last accomplishment
- You tend to overcomplicate things
- You don’t take time to appreciate your successes
- You’re prone to burnout
Burnout: How Crushing It Leads to a Crash
Research continues to prove that burnout is real – and that it’s more significant among high achievers and perfectionists.https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases:’>6
- Feeling depleted or exhausted
- Dissociation of negativity
- Reduced efficacy
Not only that, evidence shows that burnout leads to dysregulation of the body’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis — if this is you, you’ve probably already noticed the signs.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25433974/‘>8 They looked at two groups of participants: one with a formal clinical diagnosis of burnout and one with symptoms but no formal diagnosis. Researchers analyzed saliva samples of all the participants and found that both groups had significantly lower morning cortisol levels compared with a group of healthy control subjects.
Why does this matter? Because low chronically cortisol levels can lead to cardiovascular disease, fatigue, muscle weakness, digestive issues, and the inability to “crush it” even if you wanted to.http://www.jpp.krakow.pl/journal/archive/12_11/pdf/591_12_11_article.pdf‘>4
Stress and gut bacteria.
Studies have shown that stress reduces the number of Lactobacillus species in the gut and tends to increase the growth of and colonization by pathogenic species—changes that correlate to many of the negative stress-related alterations to gut health and function.https://gut.bmj.com/content/47/6/861‘>6
Stress and irritable bowel syndrome.
I had IBS for many years, and it coincided not just with all the grains I was eating but also the high levels of stress (training and professional/social) I was enduring. In fact, I always noticed that periods of high stress or heavy training were triggers for flareups. That was supposedly all in my imagination, but the actual evidence shows that I was right.
If you look at the common symptoms of IBS—how it presents in a human gut—it’s a laundry list of stress-related gut alterations. You’ve got leaky gut. You’ve got imbalanced gut bacteria. You’ve got supernatural gut motility (when you gotta go, you gotta go).https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19844211/‘>8
What, besides “reduce stress,” can you do to improve or maintain your gut health in times of stress?
Eat well and don’t neglect prebiotic fiber.
People go back and forth on fiber. Is it essential? Is it useless? Is it actually harmful, as the carnivores claim? I’ve been in this game for many years, and while I don’t think there’s any one answer that will satisfy everyone, I do have an answer relevant for today’s topic.
At the very least, prebiotic fiber is conditionally useful—and one of the conditions that render prebiotics helpful is chronic stress. Prebiotic fiber feeds your good gut bacteria (and sometimes bad, if you’ve got bad living there, but that’s another story for another time) who in turn produce short chain fatty acids like butyrate that have been shown to counter some of the stress-induced effects on gut health and function. In one study, researchers found that increasing prebiotic fiber in a mouse’s diet improved their resilience to stress and improved stress-induced leaky gut, suggesting that the two are linked.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26528359/‘>10 The best way to optimize melatonin status is to follow all the prescriptions described in my sleep hygiene post: getting morning and afternoon natural light, spending as much time outside as you can, reducing artificial light after dark, getting a bedtime routine, eating healthy food, and sticking to your bedtime sleep schedule. But that can be tough, as often the source of your stress will also be throwing your sleep schedule off. Supplemental melatonin can help here.
Supplement for stress.
I’m a ball of stress. Or rather, I was a ball of stress for much of my life. That’s probably why so many of my diet and lifestyle recommendations are geared toward high-stress individuals—I was trying to fix my own issues and quickly realized that I wasn’t alone, that many others could benefit from the same stuff. My issue was my stress was multifold. I was subjecting my body to incredible amounts of physical training stress that never seemed to end. I was balancing that with perpetual entrepreneurialism. I never sat still, always had something I should be doing. There was never a moment to take a breath. As soon as things let up, I was preparing for the next challenge, the next workout, the next test.
That hasn’t stopped—though it has slowed down, and I’ve gotten better at dealing with the stress. Many of my stress solutions have nothing to do with supplementation. Instead, they’re related to the food I eat, the exercise I do (or, more accurately, don’t do anymore), the overt stress reduction techniques I practice. But there is room for a supplement called Adaptogenic Calm, which I created to help elite athletes (like my former self and those I worked with) handle the oxidative stress load of training. Stress often is fungible, and psychological stress and training-related stress operate along similar pathways and thus have similar solutions.
Take probiotics for stress.
Remember how stress lays waste to the Lactobacillus species normally residing in our guts? Animal studies show that reintroducing some of them through probiotic supplementation can mitigate and even counter some of the stress-induced alterations to gut function, such as leaky gut and hampered motility.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201708/10-signs-youre-people-pleaser‘>1 For many of my clients, the eagerness to please ties into their self-worth and the need for approval and external validation. And it always gets put to the test around the holidays. By ensuring that everyone’s dietary preferences are met at dinner or getting the decorations “just right,” they feel more worthy, likeable, and accepted.
Keep in mind that people pleasing isn’t the same as being a good host.
To others, it probably just looks like you’re being really gracious and accommodating — and I have no doubt in my mind that you are. But being helpful at the expense of your own health and happiness isn’t a good trade off if you ask me https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/jscp.2012.31.2.169.
If you’ve always felt compelled to put everyone else’s needs before your own, it’s hard to imagine it being different, since people-pleasing isn’t just what you do, it’s a big part of who you think you are.
Here’s the good news though. The fact that you’re aware you’re doing these things is a sign you’re open to change. So, here are a few strategies you can start putting into practice right away:
1. Understand what you are and aren’t responsible for. If you’re hosting, providing food and conversation is likely in your responsibility wheelhouse; however, taking on the burden of ensuring your guests are happy every second of their visit isn’t.
2. Determine your boundaries and be assertive about them. Are you really okay with making four kinds of potatoes or having people stay later than you wanted? Get clear on your boundaries and practice sticking to them. And remember, asserting yourself can be scary at first, but it’s worth it in the long run.
3. Know that everything will work out fine. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the world is a crazy, unpredictable place and no amount of planning and people-pleasing can possibly ensure a perfect outcome.
I think that you’ll find when you free yourself from the rigidity of hardcore hustling and people pleasing, you’ll begin to experience your own state of flow. Heck, you might even enjoy the holidays this year.
“I want to enjoy the holidays without feeling guilty about it. I’m sick of everyone posting healthy versions of desserts and drinks. Can I not just have the real thing without being shamed?”
I have a hunch you’re overthinking this a little. Yes, you absolutely can eat whatever you want. Who’s stopping you? There’s no keto police. And no one’s going to pull your paleo card if you indulge in some pecan pie and eggnog.
Eat it whatever you want, I don’t care. The problem is, I think you care. Maybe you care what other people think.https://www.diabetesfoodhub.org/articles/food-shaming-changing-the-way-we-think-and-talk-about-food.html‘>3 Food has become so controversial and everyone loves to point a finger at anyone who’s got a different health ideology than they do.
Here’s a note to all you shamers: if you’ve decided to eat more plants, more meat, less sugar, less carbs zero carbs, or all the carbs, remember that everyone is different, and your beliefs don’t need to be smeared all over someone else’s. Ok, rant over.
If you’re metabolically flexible, treating yourself to a few “real” goodies won’t be a huge deal. As you go through the holidays, keep the 80/20 framework for the Primal lifestyle in mind. While it isn’t meant to support cheat days, it is about navigating real life.
“I’m thinking about adding in a few more workouts a week so I can indulge in holiday treats without derailing my progress. What are your go-to exercises for burning extra calories?”
Diet culture has sure done something to us, hasn’t it? Weighing, calorie counting, macros tracking, step tracking, making sure you’ve torched more calories than you’ve consumed…it’s just too much. And don’t get me started on those calculators that tell you how many sit ups or jumping jacks or hours of cardio you need to do in order to burn off whatever it is that you ate.
I’m fed up with contrived nutrition and fitness messaging. It keeps us stuck in the pattern of deprivation and all the ways we’re not good enough — or worse yet, how *good* we’ll be when we reach a certain weight or pant size.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/‘>6 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder‘>8 If you suffer from seasonal depression, it’s doubly important to protect your sleep fiercely. To boost serotonin, eat meat and poultry, which contain tryptophan (a precursor of serotonin), and omega-3-rich fish and eggs. Get plenty of sunshine, or look into light therapy, to increase vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D is important for serotonin production, and individuals with seasonal depression often have low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D supplements can help fill the gaps, but sunshine is better. Maybe you can take daily nature walks during your scheduled “me time” and kill two birds with one stone.
Let it Go, Let it Goooo!
I know from experience how easy it is to absorb all the stress and just deal with it rather than taking steps to alleviate it. Your heart is in the right place. You want other people to have a good holiday! You don’t want to let other people down! You want to teach your kids the family traditions! That’s kind and generous, but it easily tips into martyrdom, resentment, and losing your own joy.
Give yourself permission to simplify, change, cancel, and otherwise adapt the holidays as needed. Eliminating the “optional” stress means that you have more mental space to deal with the stressors that you can’t easily eliminate so you can focus on all the things that are truly wonderful about this time of year.
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Serotonin is a funny one.
Although the prevailing sentiment is that we want to “increase serotonin,” it’s not that simple. There’s no indication that more serotonin is necessarily better in every situation, or even generally. The link between serotonin and “happiness” or “mood” isn’t so clear-cut as the experts would have you believe, either. So while I am going to tell you how to “boost” serotonin levels because serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter, I plan on sticking to foods, supplements, and behaviors that promote physiological levels of serotonin. Boosting serotonin beyond what the body is designed for may not help you, and it may have unpleasant and unwanted effects.
Is Serotonin a Mood Booster?
Yes and no. For evidence, I submit two items. The first is clinical research and the second is pure anecdote, albeit personal anecdote.
Everyone has heard of SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. The most common form of antidepressants, their purported mode of action is to reduce the re-absorption of serotonin by neurons which increases the circulating concentration of serotonin in the brain. They increase brain levels of serotonin so it’s able to act longer. The evidence in favor of SSRIs in treating depression is mixed. Not everyone benefits, and it often takes several months to take effect. But they do help some people.
In recent years, depression studies have pitted SSRIs against another drug—tianeptine—that does the opposite: increases the absorption of serotonin by neurons and decreases the concentration of serotonin the brain. If the “serotonin=happy” hypothesis is correct, tianeptine shouldn’t improve depression. It should worsen it. But that’s not what happens. Both tianeptine, which lowers brain serotonin, and SSRIs, which increase it, have been shown to improve depression symptoms in patients with clinical depression. If anything, tianeptine might even be more effective.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26805875‘>2 Adequate levels of serotonin help us deal with stress, while chronic stress can deplete serotonin. As the precursor to melatonin, serotonin also has a powerful effect on sleep and circadian rhythm.
The underrecognized effect of serotonin on the brain’s ability to learn may explain why increasing serotonin levels through SSRIs can help depression patients.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11051338/‘>4 Gut serotonin may also travel to the brain via the vagus nerve, the “highway” that allows our gut to interface with our brain.
Serotonin also has other peripheral effects. For instance, it plays a role in bone formation and maintenance, with brain serotonin maintaining bone formation and gut serotonin inhibiting it.
How to Increase Serotonin
While you don’t necessarily want to boost serotonin to supernatural levels, it’s quite clear that low brain serotonin can have some unwanted effects. How do you make sure you’re making enough serotonin in your brain to enable optimal neuronal communication and melatonin synthesis, minimize rumination, and improve mood?
- Eat tryptophan foods
- Get plenty of natural light
- Get sun or take vitamin D
- Eat seafood or take omega-3s
- Spend time in nature
- Eat some carbs
- Take curcumin
- Drink coffee
- Get a massage
- Get your micronutrients
- Take tryptophan on an empty stomach
Eat Tryptophan Foods
We often forget that “thoughts” and “feelings” aren’t just ephemera floating around inside our heads without a material representative. Every thought, feeling, emotion, or mood we experience is a physical thing made of matter. We don’t just “feel better.” To feel better, we manufacture serotonin using an amino acid called tryptophan as the precursor.
Whether it’s turkey, eggs, dairy, beef, lamb, chicken, or fish, animal protein is a reliable source of tryptophan. Studies show that whey protein and egg protein both acutely increase tryptophan availability in the brain.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18648776‘>6
Get Plenty of Natural Light
Sunlight is a direct trigger of serotonin synthesis. The brighter the sunlight, the higher the serotonin production.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2728098/‘>8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24558199‘>10
I recommend getting most of your vitamin D from the sun. It’s better regulated that way, and you get the added benefit of lots of natural light. If you need or want to supplement (probably a good idea for most people during the colder seasons when sun exposure is low), look for a high potency formula. Here’s what I take.
Eat Seafood or Take Omega-3s
Not only does seafood provide ample amounts of the amino acid tryptophan, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in marine fat increase serotonin production in the brain and improve serotonin transport across neurons.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27723543‘>12 Turns out that turmeric (or curcumin, rather) increases brain serotonin levels in a dose-dependent matter.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2419509‘>14 This is probably why going for a walk or grabbing a quick workout is a surefire way to beat ruminating thoughts.
Generic alternative health gurus will tell you caffeine depletes serotonin. It sounds right, doesn’t it? What they won’t say is that caffeine has actually been shown to increase brain serotonin, at least in rats.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16162447‘>16
Get Your Micronutrients
This should really be standard advice for any health issue. Many problems go away when we eat more micronutrients—vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients—because micronutrients are essential to fundamental physiological processes and pathways. It’s a safe bet that all of us are at least mildly deficient in a handful of important nutrients—like B6, which regulates serotonin synthesis.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2944661/‘>1 Understanding our environment allows us to predict, with some degree of accuracy, what will happen in the future. From an ancestral perspective, certainty allows us, theoretically, to avoid danger, reap desired rewards, and ensure survival.
The need for certainty is a central tenet of psychology. Human development is all about testing and forming theories about the environment, from toddlers throwing objects and learning about physics, to young children acquiring theory of mind, to adolescents pushing social boundaries. Even our language reflects this. Consider how many words we have around the concepts of agency, self-determination, personal freedom, and free will, especially in more individualistic societies.
At its crux, the need for certainty reflects a desire to control and master the environment. We assert control through our choices, whether that’s deciding what to eat for breakfast, opting for the highway or surface streets on our commute, or choosing whom to marry. Every decision, from mundane to life-altering, depends on our ability to weigh the odds of getting a favorable outcome. We can only do that if our world is predictable, at least to a degree.
Consequences of Uncertainty
When faced with ambiguous or uncertain circumstances, brain regions associated with fear and vigilance light up.https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13415-016-0443-2‘>3 Subjectively, uncertainty may result in freezing or shutting down, excessive negative emotions, worry about the future, or worsening of certain mental health conditions.https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Femo0000876‘>5
Everything feels worse when you don’t even step outside for days at a time, and that’s easy to do nowadays. You also get the secondary benefits of unplugging. We all need a break from the news cycle and partisan social media posts.
Hang in There
These strategies aren’t just about weathering the current storm. Becoming adept at using them means you’ll also be more resilient in the future. As trite as it may be, hard times can also be times of growth. Knowing this won’t change the unpleasant realities of the current situation, nor protect you from future hardships. Neither does succumbing to the temptation to hide under a weighted blanket until all this is over.
If you’ve ever driven on ice, you know that if your car starts to spin out, you have to steer into it. It does no good to slam on your breaks, jerk the wheel in the other direction, or close your eyes and pretend your car isn’t doing a 360. Instead, hold the wheel steady and slowly regain control. The same goes here. Ultimately, keeping it together boils down to controlling the things you can control and holding it together long enough to weather the storm.
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If you’ve read Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Workweek, you can just jump to the end of this post. For everyone else, I invite you to take a closer look at your relationship with time. Especially those of you who are too busy to spend, oh, I don’t know, 5 or so minutes reading this.
Somehow, “I’m busy” has become the new “I’m fine” in response to being asked how you are. I get it thought — I know you actually ARE busy, but stay with me here.
Whenever I’m working with new clients, they’ll typically tell me they don’t have time to sit down for a satiating, nutrient-dense breakfast, so they just grab a “quick toast and coffee.” Or they have too much going on and can’t get to bed on time. It’s not just a once-in-a-while-thing either. It’s day after day after day.
Sound like your life? If so, let me ask you this: why do some people seem to effortlessly crush their to-do lists and others find theirs growing out of control?
Seriously, There’s Not Enough Time
I never like to say “We all have the same 24 hours in the day,” because that logic is fundamentally flawed, and can come off sounding privileged. In truth, all of us are filling our 24 hours in different ways depending on our jobs, lives, families, hobbies, obligations, and unique life goings-on.
Sometimes I choose to be busy during my 24 hours because I have lots of things that are important to me — family, friends, my clients, my home life, my role at the Primal Health Coach Institute. And *usually* I like that because I enjoy my work and I like being productive.
I’m choosing to be busy because it leaves me feeling fulfilled. The problem arises when it leaves you feeling like a victim, like you can’t keep up, or like you just want to bury your head in the sand.
Lack of Time = Lack of Priorities
It all comes down to priorities. If better health or a leaner waistline was really important to you, you’d make it a priority. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, you unknowingly put other, less important priorities in their place (everything from stewing over a mean comment on social media to worrying how you’re going to get it all done).1
Whenever you catch yourself having an I-don’t-have-enough-time moment, remember that what you’re spending your time on is a choice — and you always have options. This is the perfect time to take a step back and ask yourself these four questions:
- What’s important here?
- What’s not important?
- Am I wasting time on things that aren’t important?
- What else could I be doing with my time?
Go ahead and do this exercise with me for a sec. Get out a piece of paper (or the notes section on your phone) and jot down your daily schedule. What time do you typically get up? When do you go to bed? How much time do you spend at work? On social media? With your family? Daydreaming? Running errands? Working on your health?
Looking at your list, what are the three things you spend the most time on?
Like it or not, those three things are your priorities. How you spend your day reflects what you believe to be the most important. If that’s not sitting well with you — or you feel like you have an equal amount of priorities (even though that’s not actually possible), you’re in a good place to start making change.
Because when you learn to eliminate your non-priorities, you free up time to focus on what does matter to you.
How Do You Eliminate Non-Priorities?
It starts by taking things off the table that aren’t important or urgent. Research shows that having too many options can lead you to waste time attending to details that don’t matter or avoid a task altogether. In this experiment, a Columbia University professor set up a booth selling jams at a local farmers market. Every few hours she alternated between offering 24 jams and 6 jams. She found that 60% of the customers visited the booth when there was the larger assortment, however more people actually made purchases when there were fewer options.https://academic.oup.com/jcr/article-abstract/45/3/673/4847790‘>3 Researchers found that the effect was even more prominent in people who describe themselves as busy, adding that they were more likely to select an urgent task with a lower reward because they were fixated on the clock and “getting it done”.
But how do you determine what’s urgent and important? Enter the Eisenhower Matrix, named for the 34th U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s a prioritization framework (used by everyone from athletes to CEOs) that helps you eliminate time wasters in your life.
And in case you need proof that Eisenhower knew what he was talking about, during his two terms in office, he signed into law the first major piece of civil rights legislation since the end of the Civil War, he ended the Korean War, oh and he created NASA.
Eisenhower recognized that having a solid grasp of time management means you’ve got to do things that are important andurgent — and eliminate all the rest.
- Important tasks get you closer to your goal, whether it’s wearing a smaller pant size or not feeling ravenous all day.
- Urgent tasks are ones that demand your immediate attention, like a deadline or showing up on time for an appointment.
Once you’ve got that straight, you can overcome the tendency to focus on the unimportant tasks and instead, do what’s essential to your success, whatever that looks like for you.
Let’s Put the Matrix into Action
Using the questions below, you’ll be able to get a good handle on your priorities, evaluating which are urgent, which are important, and which can be delegated to someone else — or ditched altogether.
1. Does it have consequences for not taking immediate action and does it align with your goals?
ACTION STEP: DO IT. This is a task that’s both urgent and important, which means it’s a priority. And getting it done first will take a lot of pressure off your plate. Examples are:
- Completing a project for work
- Deep breathing when you’re stressed
- Responding to certain emails
2. Does it bring you closer to your goals, but doesn’t have a clear deadline?
ACTION STEP: SCHEDULE IT. This is a task that’s important, but not urgent. Since it’s easy to procrastinate here, scheduling time to attend to it is your best bet. Examples are:
- Working out
- General self-care
- Spending time with your family
3. Does it need to get done within a certain timeframe, but doesn’t require your specific skill set?
ACTION STEP: DELEGATE IT. This is a task that’s urgent, but not important — at least not important for you to do, specifically. Sure, it needs to get done, but you could probably pass off this task off to someone else, which frees up your time. Examples are:
- Making sure the kids are ready for school
- Shopping for groceries for the week
- Meal prepping
4. Does it not have a deadline or get you closer to your goals?
ACTION STEP: DELETE IT. This is a task that’s not important or urgent. And it’s a huge time suck! It’s the kind of “task” that makes you wonder where all your time went. Using a browser blocker like Freedom can help a ton. Examples are:
- Scrolling your social media feed
- Playing online games
- Worrying, obsessing, and stressing out about things that don’t matter
Bonus Tip: Figure out what time of day you’re the most focused. When do you tend to get a lot accomplished? Are you a morning person? A night owl? Knowing when you’re the most productive can help you get stuff done with less effort.
Now tell me what you think. Have you tried these strategies? What’s worked for you?
The post How to Deal with the Pressure of Never Having Enough Time (and Why It’s Total BS) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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