Do you feel tired, exhausted, irritable and less interested in life than you usually are? Have you been going flat out all year and finding your body aches, your mind foggy and your sleep disturbed? Do you find yourself frequently reaching for foods to pick you up, such as sugar and coffee?
This time of year I find many people feel like this. It is a busy time, and many of us have been working hard throughout the year, whether it be at work, socially, at home with the kids, or all of the above!
In Chinese medicine adrenaline – the hormone that keeps us going, and going! – is related to kidney yang. Think of it like the pilot light, the spark. Kidney yang is so precious; it fuels all the other functions of the body and gives us stamina. It fires our digestion so that we can make healthy blood and fluids to build resilience in the face of inevitable life stressors.
We are born with a certain amount of this precious resource, and while certain things deplete it, a few things can help restore it. With a lack of it we feel, well, completely burnt out.
Things that deplete kidney yang
Coffee, sugar and other stimulants – these give us a quick burst of energy, but it is borrowed from our future! It uses energy we may not have, so once the burst has gone, we feel more tired, and need to reach for another. They are also dehydrating, requiring a lot of flushing to get out of the system, taking minerals with it, depleting us further.
Stress – cortisol is our main stress hormone. It was designed to get us out of dangerous situations – such as running from a tiger. In these short bursts of cortisol, the body takes its resources from digestion, healthy hormones etc, and sends them to the limbs, to run – in order to save our lives. However in modern times, many of us are chronically stressed. This chronic release of cortisol depletes other systems of what they need, creating fatigue, digestion issues, sleep problems and hormonal issues. This becomes a feed back loop and we start to feel worse and worse.
Burning the candle at both ends – doing too much. This time of year is so joyous, however it feels that the list of things to do and where to be are endless! The balance goes a bit and there doesn’t seem to be enough rest to counter the hustle!
Do not despair, there are also things we can do to help this drain on the body, and gently pull ourselves back from the feeling of burn out.
Sleep well – placing importance on sleep will help enormously. Prioritising getting to bed before 10pm and getting 8 hours can help your sleep quality.
Doing something gentle and restorative before bed, such as a light walk, stretch or read, rather than checking emails or socials. Placing your phone on charge outside of your bedroom and replacing it with an alarm clock is a great hack for eliminating the urge to scroll before bed. This is because there are light receptors in our eyes, which tell the body what time of day it is. These are primitive adaptations, and would have monitored sunlight and fire light only. The light from a screen is bright, and tells the body that it is mid-day, throwing our natural circadian completely of course and disturbing our natural rhythms. Try for 1 hour before bed to have no screens.
Eat well – warm wet, whole food nourishes us on the deepest level. It restores our kidney yang, which in turn restores our digestion, enabling even deeper nourishment. Processed food is not recognised by the body and creates a lot of havoc, try to reduce as much as possible. Heal with whole food.
Rest and minimise stress – have naps, say no to a social gathering if you have to, listen to your body and to your limits. Aches and pains are telling you something. As are digestive issues, period pain etc. Slow down, watch the sky, swim in the ocean, read a novel. During the busyness of the year, do this slowness for at least 2 hours in your week, on holidays – as much as you can! This calm sends a strong message to your nervous system, putting it into our rest and digest mode, our healing mode.
Prioritise – can some things fall off the list of to do’s? Can anything be outsourced? Asking for help isn’t always easy, but it is a great skill to develop. Communicate your needs to loved ones, or caring health professionals.
Receive healthy touch – hug your dog or cat or friend, hold your kids, get a massage. Research confirms so many benefits of touch. We need it. Co-regulation with another nervous system is truly at the core of who we are. Sadly our society is lacking this basic human need, but we don’t have to. Receiving treatments such as shiatsu or acupuncture speaks to the body and nervous system on a deeply nurturing level. It’s not a treat; it is a way to remain well, physically, emotionally and spiritually, enabling us to give from a place of fullness rather than lack. That is real generosity, real sustainability.
Enjoy the lead up to the end of the year and try to balance with some of these tips…burn out is totally reversible, and nervous system support feels really good. Put back in what goes out and reach out for support to enjoy feeling great heading into a new year.
By Dr Nicky Brooks (TCM)