I’m lucky enough to be spending this week with my almost-2-year-old niece, Bernie (oh yeah..and the rest of my family too 😀 ). Let me start by saying that Bernie is THE. BEST. The girl’s got a cheerful disposition, an insatiable curiosity, and 95% of the time is a content, chill little lady.
Except for last night.
After a long day that was out of her routine (my sister successfully defended her dissertation!), Bernie was having a very hard time at the restaurant we were at for dinner. Usually, she’s content with some forks and pasta and will pretty much do her own thing, but not last night. She started *insatiably* hungry, so much so that we had to feed her anything we could find in our purses and bags….basically a bunch of apple sauce and a kind bar. Then, she proceeded to be incredibly enraged unless she was running full speed. It was amazing – my fiance and I took her outside to get some fresh air, and she literally sprinted back and forth down the sidewalk for 10 minutes. It was impressive.
Ultimately, we had to pack Bernie up early to get her to sleep. Talking with my sister (Bernie’s mom) afterwards, I was saying I was amazed at the incredible energy Bernie had and my sister said, “actually, she was overtired and hungry. That’s why she was acting so crazy.”
A huge lightbulb turned on in my head: when tired and hungry, the 2-year-old got hyperactive and anxious. What does that mean for adults when we’re not properly rested or aren’t eating well?
We know the state of affairs: most of us aren’t getting enough sleep. We hit a point around 9 or 9:30 in the evening where we feel sleepy, but usually decide to push through it to finish work, watching a show, or to see friends. On the other hand, watching Bernie run around, I had this picture of the endless stream of office cake and cookies (or even just desk snacks) that are available to us most days of the week. This dose of pure carbs in the middle of the day doesn’t help us bring grounded energy to our daily activities.
While we can all (hopefully) control ourselves a little more than a toddler, I can also completely see how these physical deficiencies (not having enough sleep or having whacky blood sugar) can turn us into poor decision makers. For some of us this manifests as wanting to do more rather than less (like Bernie), or it can affect us in more subtle ways: making us feel sad, angry, irritated, or simply unable to think rationally and coherently. We self-sabotage our own happiness by doing *more* rather than doing *less*.
How to stop the self-sabotage
- Follow your physical needs. When you feel tired, go to bed. When you feel hungry, eat something. Take *care* of your physical state so that you have a strong foundation for the mental work and activity that you’re doing.
- Find a routine. Routine is powerful because it allows your body to get off hyper alert. When you build consistencies into your daily schedule, your body learns how to react and what to expect, so it doesn’t go into overdrive. An example of this is eating lunch consistently at the same time. If you eat lunch every day at 12:30, your body will start to automatically release digestive enzymes at 12:30, making you feel hungry and be better able to digest your food. If you eat lunch and different times each day, the digestive enzymes don’t know when to release, and you end up with poorly digested food and random pangs of hunger throughout the day.
- Catch yourself. Brene Brown taught me this in her book “Rising Strong.” I’ll paraphrase, but Brene says that when she finds herself irritated, agitated, or feeling “off”, she’ll ask herself – how was my sleep? Am I hungry (or have I eaten too much sugar?), Have I gotten time to exercise or take time for myself? Usually, she’ll find the reason for her negative feelings are based in a physical issue that she could do something to correct.
The last thing I’ll ask you to do is remind yourself of the last time you felt off emotionally/mentally, and if you can, do an inventory of sleep, food, exercise, and meditation/quiet time. Was something lacking? Was something off balance? Start to track that aspect of your physiology and see if there are better ways to build routine or follow your physical needs.
Ultimately, I believe our bodies want to be happy, we jut have to create the conditions to make that possible.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.