Mistake 1. Skipping meals
A stressful day can make you forget about lunch or leave you too tired to prepare dinner in the evening. What you don’t realize is that you may be feeling tired or stressed not because of all the work you’ve done but because of the meal you’ve skipped.
The human body uses food as fuel, and just like a phone or a car, we switch off when we run out of fuel. The type of nutrient that’s broken down and used up by the body the fastest are carbohydrates - the only energy source for the brain - which is why brain fog and exhaustion are usually the first sign that you need more food. The entire digestion process usually takes around 6 hours, but this varies depending on your age, health, and other factors.
Most healthy adults should eat every 4-5 hours during the day. Healthy snacks (like nuts, fruit, vegetables dipped in hummus, or whatever you enjoy) are a great way to make sure you’re not skipping meals and keep your energy levels in check. It’s important to note that sugary and processed snacks like potato chips, sweetened yogurt, and candy are not great snack options because they are digested very rapidly and cause sugar spikes that will also make you tired.
Mistake 2. Watching movies or shows that make you emotional
Do you watch the news or your favorite TV drama as a way to unwind at the end of the day? Sadly, they may actually be doing the opposite. The next time you’re watching TV after a stressful day, try to pay attention to how it makes you feel.
This may sound like some psychological mumbo jumbo at first, but there’s actually a sound logic behind it. Being extremely emotionally invested in the events of your favorite TV show or feeling saddened or angry after watching the news is no way to relax because it overstimulates the brain. And our brains need a break too, and sometimes, that means turning off the TV. Doing some minor housework, taking a walk, or just some lighthearted chitchat with a friend can go a long way in relaxing your mind.
Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that TV should be off the table at all times, but it’s important to limit how much of it you watch and when. If you really insist on watching TV after a stressful day, go for comedies or shows you’ve already seen. These types of movies and shows usually don’t cause very strong emotions, so they’re more suitable as a means of relaxation.
Mistake 3. Use bright lights in the evening
Warmer, dimmer lights signal to the brain that it’s evening and time to relax. In response to warm and dim light as opposed to bright blue light, the brain starts producing melatonin, a hormone that relaxes and tells our body that it’s time to wind down and fall asleep soon. Continuing to expose yourself to bright blue light, such as that coming from TVs and smartphones, on the other hand, has the opposite effect.
When the sun sets, turn off the ceiling lights and switch to smaller table lamps or nightlights with warm white lightbulbs. In addition, set your mobile devices to switch on night mode (also known as ‘dark mode’ on IOS devices) automatically. This will set your phone and tablet to a dimmer and warmer light in the evenings.
Mistakes 4. You postpone small chores and errands
Even small tasks and errands start being overwhelming and stressful if you let them pile up or keep postponing them. Every time you see that unpaid bill on the table, that email from a friend you haven’t answered in days, or that cup you forgot to wash, they will be a visual reminder that you’re unorganized, forgetful, etc. Together, these small tasks and negative emotions accumulate and can become mentally draining.
Instead of postponing tasks and then repeating to yourself, ‘I should clean the dishes,’ or ‘I should pay the electricity bill,’ do the task right away. Even this small success will make you feel good about yourself and keep your mind clear of annoying thoughts and reminders.
If this isn’t possible, don’t rely on your memory. Instead, add the task to a to-do list that you keep in a visible and easily accessible place, like your fridge. This way, you’ll be reminded to complete the task as soon as you have time. Lastly, you can also allocate half an hour weekly to complete small errands and tasks like these to prevent them from piling up.
Mistake 5. Making plans that are too far ahead
Ticking off items on a to-do list certainly feels very satisfying and is quite helpful. However, if you stick to your to-do list too much or start planning too far ahead, this too can feel very suffocating and stressful. Instead of living in the present moment and enjoying a meetup with friends, you’ll end up constantly thinking about your calendar for the next week, trying to arrange every meeting into a perfect sequence.
Don’t let planning turn into a sport, as this will take the joy out of your daily life and can become quite exhausting in the long run. Instead of micro-managing your life, plan out only the mandatory tasks, such as appointments, meetings, and deadlines, and leave a little wiggle room in-between all those tasks - for you to relax and feel free to improvise.
Mistake 6. Shallow breathing
Does this sound too vague? Let us explain. Breathing may be an automatic and unconscious activity, but experts say that people tend to take smaller and shallower breaths when they’re busy or stressed. As a matter of fact, you may be breathing incorrectly even now, so do yourself a favor and take a few long and deep breaths right now.
Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychologist, stated to Huffington Post that “Shallow breathing reduces the amount of oxygen the body takes in and the amount that can be transported in the blood to our organs and cells for optimal function.” The oxygen deficit, in turn, can lead to anxiety and fatigue. This is one of the reasons why many relaxation and mindfulness techniques make you focus on deep breathing.
Taking a few deep and mindful breaths when you’re feeling stressed or exhausted can really help boost your energy levels. Alternatively, spend a few minutes once a day taking deep breaths while engaging the belly (and maybe close your eyes too). This will help you reset and energize your mind and take your body out of the harmful pattern of shallow breathing.
Mistakes 7. Drinking coffee in the evening
We’re not here to get into the “Is coffee good or bad?” debate. Coffee drinking has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you to either drink it or not. But if you do drink coffee, be mindful of two things - the dose and the time of day you like to enjoy your drink. Research suggests that drinking more than 400 mg of caffeine a day (about 3 cups of coffee or 5-6 cups of tea) can make you jittery, anxious, and it also increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Anything below that is fine for most adults.
Apart from that, it’s important to limit your caffeine intake to the first half of the day because caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in the brain, which are the receptors responsible for making you sleepy. This effect lasts for hours and may interfere with one’s circadian rhythm and sleep schedule. If you drink coffee in the evening, you’ll feel tired but unable to fall asleep an hour or so after drinking the coffee.
Experts recommend replacing an afternoon cup of coffee with tea, which is said to contain less caffeine and releases the caffeine into the bloodstream more slowly. In addition, tea contains the antioxidant L-theanine, which has calming and anti-stress properties.
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