Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is a Type-A personality the new silent killer?

Working Hard
We all have to work at something: bettering ourselves, pushing our careers forward, investing in our relationships, building or "fixing" our homes, taking care of others to help them learn and grow, and reaching our own goals (in addition to making new ones). Sometimes it can be energetically or physically draining, but hard work can go a long way.

When we're just starting out in our careers it's important to keep busy and to put in the time. With anything, it's easy to sit around and do nothing - TOO EASY. Having that motivation and discipline to work hard at something is how we get ahead. Want to get into shape? It's not going to work if you decide to sit on the couch instead of moving your body. Want your business to soar? Having a Facebook page or website isn't enough, we have to hustle, we have to work on projects, make connections, get our names out there.

I wanted to bring awareness around overexerting ourselves. Many of us Type-A personalities love getting stuff done and controlling the organization of it all. We like the final "product" to be perfect, we create our own deadlines, and we can be competitive (either with outside competition or just ourselves).

Some of us really like staying busy. Maybe we work better with the pressure or get bored if there's nothing that needs our attention right away, so we seek more work.

It doesn't really sound bad, does it, being productive or overly productive? It's all in how we handle that much work and if we can achieve balance in our lives. For example, there have been some claims regarding the increased incidence of anxiety, increased stimulant use (including caffeine) and cardiovascular disease in those with Type A personalities. This isn't really far-fetched. We use coffee and other stimulants to keep us going everyday. Remember The Wolf of Wall Street? They used cocaine to wake them up and keep them sharp for such a high-pressure position.

Anxiety, Stress and Cortisol 
If we start feeling anxious about deadlines or time crunches, or if we're always in GO-GO-GO mode, this is where our health can start to suffer. Increased feelings of anxiety go hand-in-hand with the "fight-or-flight" response: it's your body's way of dealing with stress, and it's pretty awesome. We need this stress response, but if we are chronically in that state, our body can get tired from being "on guard" all the time.

Cortisol, the main hormone released in this stress response helps your body's efficiency for "fight-or-flight". Cortisol is also important for helping regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and your immune system. The idea is that cortisol comes in when you need it and then after the stressor is gone, the body recovers and is ready for the next "attack".

With chronic stress, we are constantly pumping out cortisol, so much so that our adrenal glands can't keep up with the demand. We also stop responding to those same amounts of cortisol. Your body wants the "fight" to be over so that it can repair, balance and be prepared for the next "attack". Without this recovery phase, it's very easy to experience Adrenal Fatigue (chronically low levels of cortisol).

Adrenal Fatigue and un-regulated cortisol can affect your sleep, blood pressure (feeling light-headed when you stand up), your mood, you may crave salt, feel tired (especially upon waking), have blood sugar crashes, brain fog, and get sick often.

When stress runs our lives, we can be more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, infertility, menstrual dysregulation, hypothyroidism. Yes, that's right, your adrenal function is very closely related to your thyroid and sex hormone regulation!

You might feel great now. Maybe working really hard keeps your even more motivated and you feel super accomplished. Those 4-6 hours per night of sleep are enough for you and you're getting stuff done! But this won't always be the case. Our bodies always catch up with us and although you're functioning fine now, you may burn-out a few years down the road, or feel quite debilitated. This is often the pattern I see in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients: previously type-A personalities who after 10-20 years have completely burnt out and their body can't keep up anymore.

What's important is the balance: avoiding being overworked by allowing the body to recover. How can you do this?

  • Set boundaries for work: This will look different for everyone but may include putting your phone away or not answering emails for 1-2 hours in the evening (or as soon as you walk in the door!). 
  • Eat slowly and healthily: Don't eat on the go, or rush your meals. Take the time to enjoy your food. Anxious, stressed or rushed eating will impair digestion. When your body is handling stress it sends all its energy and focus to other places in your body - and away from your gut! Limiting consumption of sugar and processed foods will also help decrease inflammation in the body. 
  • Limit or eliminate stimulants: Caffeine has been shown to increase cortisol; But you can't use what you don't have (see my post on why coffee might not be working for you). Caffeine can also promote or increase anxiety. 
  • Get enough sleep! Your body needs to relax, recover and repair. 
  • Supplement support: 1000mg of vitamin C per day can help support your adrenal glands. You can also talk to your naturopath about which adaptogens (botanicals that support adrenal function and cortisol) would be best for you.
  • Give yourself time to relax: Yoga, non-cardio exercise, colouring, working puzzles, playing games, take a bath, get a massage. 
  • Seek counselling: Sometimes it's nice just to talk to someone, to get things off your chest and to pick up new tools on how to manage stress. 
  • Remember to breathe: Remind yourself throughout the day to take a few deep breaths. We tend to have very shallow breathing, especially when stressed. Take a nice big slow cleansing breath to relax the nervous system.