The Importance of a Routine
Mark Whittle from the Take Flight podcast writes about how a recent burnout prepared him for the COVID-19 crisis by encouraging him to get a routine - and how it may benefit you too.
Three weeks before we went into lockdown I collapsed. After 2 and a half years of balancing my full time job alongside my side hustle, I failed to listen to the many great guests who have featured on my podcast ‘Take FLIGHT’, who warned me of the impact on your mental and physical wellbeing that may come with pursuing your passion.
I completely burned out. I couldn’t look at my phone without getting a migraine and was forced to stay home. Little did I know I’d be home far longer than three weeks!
During this period, I started to reflect on the signs I’d been ignoring. Fatigue, weight loss, anxiety, lack of concentration – in a word STRESS. It might surprise you to hear the topic I study is peak performance, specifically daily practices that allow us to find optimal levels of human performance, yet I was practicing anything but. My ambition to reach the targets I’d set myself had taken priority over my health and I had forgot to practice what I preach. Now, out of necessity, I had to change my behaviour.
For the last 10 months I lived my life operating from the sympathetic nervous system, better known as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response. That physiological response that is triggered when you are about to be eaten by a tiger. Norepinephrine and cortisol, among other hormones, flood the blood stream promoting alertness, increasing the heart rate and draining the adrenal glands in order to stimulate a response that ultimately saves your life. Each time a tiger is bearing down on me I am incredibly grateful this happens….. but, not so much when it is triggered each time I receive an email, Whatsapp, phone call or DM – all of which happen from the moment I wake at 6am to the moment I go to bed at around 10pm, hence the inevitable burnout 10 months later.
My new goal was recovery. With this information, my routine would revolve entirely around practices that would promote a response from my parasympathetic nervous system. Also known as the ‘Rest and Digest’ system. The system that conserves energy and slows the heart rate down.
The first thing I did was sleep. The body is incredibly sophisticated! Mine had worked out that the only time I wasn’t thinking, strategising, worrying or stressing was when I was asleep. After months of working my full time job all day and working on my side hustle all night, I could finally get the sleep I needed – and when we sleep, the sympathetic nervous system rests. I would sleep until I woke, with no alarm and no shame. This included naps and during the first 2 weeks of my recovery I probably slept 15hours a day! I’m not suggesting you sleep through lockdown – but if you relate to this story, maybe you owe yourself a recovery nap in the day, or a cheeky lie in now you aren’t commuting to work.
Immediately after waking, I hydrate. Not many know we can lose up to 0.4kg of water during the night through respiration, more if we’ve been drinking or have a thick duvet. Hydration is the easiest habit to maintain. Make sure you always have water with you and drink little and often.
The Next stage of my self-care routine, and possibly my most valuable, is Meditation. We all have a crazy voice inside our head that doesn’t stop talking. Usually this commentary is anything but useful and nearly always hyper critical. This voice has been written about in many great books, but one in particular is ‘The Chimp Paradox’, where Professor Peters refers to this condition as the ‘Monkey Mind’.
Meditation is the best way I have found to pause this incessant chattering. To finally find a space between the noise – and in this space the magic happens. We meet Awareness! Awareness that there is a present moment and we don’t need to be stuck in the past or fixated on the future. Awareness that the voice you hear is only your thoughts, it isn’t you – and you can choose to change these thoughts. Awareness to the simple beauty that is surrounding us in every waking moment. And if you don’t feel that, then at least you get some quiet for 10 minutes!!!
Mantra meditation is where you repeat a word or sound over and over again in your head. This mantra is like giving a noisy toddler a new toy. It distracts the toddler, as we can distract our monkey mind. I practice mantra mediation, but there are so many forms you can try. Apps like ‘Calm’ or ‘Headspace’ are great. They provide free guided 5-10minute sessions for 7 days to all new meditators. There is an app called ‘Balance’ which is completely free during lockdown and another great place to start.
After meditating I grab my journal and write down three things I am grateful for. This can be anything. I am grateful for waking up this morning. I am grateful the sun shining through the blinds. I am grateful dominos are still delivering. Practicing gratitude each day is training the muscle in your mind to see the good in life. It has been proven through research that gratitude strengthens relationships, increases resilience and reduces stress and depression – and it only takes me 2 minutes each morning. I feel all these qualities are essential as we go deeper into the longest period of isolation any of us have seen.
Finally, my favourite part of every morning. The cold shower. Take your normal hygiene shower and when you would normally turn the shower off, instead turn it too cold. Ideally between 18-21degrees, for 2 minutes. Deep breaths of 6 seconds in, 6 seconds out will help relax your mind and body from the initial shock and ease you slowly into enjoying the euphoria of the cold.
There are so many benefits of being acutely exposed to the cold, but the most relevant during these times are the white blood cell and immunity boosting benefits. The symptoms of covid-19 are anything but pleasant – and a 2 minute cold shower can help strengthen your immune system when we all need it most. Plus, turning the handle to cold every day increases your will power. Another skill that can’t be underestimated as we await the news of a possible prolonged lockdown.
So don’t be like me. Don’t be forced to make these changes when it’s too late. What is happening in the world is a warning for us all to slow down. Let’s use this time to reflect on what we had and prepare for what is ahead. This 14 minute morning routine is the selfcare package that bought me back to full health and will help you through this period of uncertainty.
Mark is releasing a new podcast for lockdown. which will guide you through a variety of morning meditations, breathwork practices and life coaching material, to help you build your selfcare routine. Follow his platforms below:
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