How to get out of the fatal cycle of exhaustion and unhealthy habits

Some people have likely spent the pandemic using the extra time at home to get into Crossfit or learn how to cook healthy vegan meals. But most of us, especially those with busy schedules like business owners, have barely managed to keep our sanity by the nails. After finally getting the kids to bed, we either worked a little harder or collapsed on the couch to drink some wine and binge-watch. Bridgerton.

After two years of this, unsurprisingly, many people are completely and utterly exhausted. The solution to getting back in shape is not a mystery: move more and, Michael Pollan’s immortal phrase“Eat food, especially plants, not too much.”

Are you caught up in the catastrophic burnout-unhealthy habit cycle?

But while the essentials for building a healthy lifestyle that gives you the energy to grow your business and enjoy your life are simple, implementing them when you’re burnt out isn’t. You know you need to exercise, but when you’re tired, that’s the last thing you want to do. Then, not exercising leaves you with even less energy. The same goes for meditation, meal planning, or any other healthy habit. You need to do this to be less tired, but you’re too tired to begin with.

How do you get out of this catastrophic loop of exhaustion and unhealthy lifestyle?

Elizabeth Grace Saunders has some suggestions. “As a time management coach, many of the people who come to see me are already tired – sometimes to the point of Burnout. They want change but don’t know where to start. So we need to find a path to recovery that respects their current state but doesn’t leave them there.” she recently wrote on HBR.

Sounds familiar. Fortunately, Grace Saunders insists that escaping this vicious circle is possible if you follow four simple steps.

1. Start by sleeping.

It’s logic. It shouldn’t take much of your very limited willpower to convince you to rest (although it may require battling your anxiety or your schedule), and feeling more rested will help you achieve all of your other goals.

Grace Saunders has a pretty specific suggestion on how to go about reducing your sleep deficit. “Start by aiming for an earlier bedtime based on how many hours of sleep you need to rest. If it’s eight hours a night and you have to get up at 7 a.m., that means the lights go out at 11 p.m.,” she said. Set an alarm for 30 or 45 minutes before your bedtime if you need to.

“Once you start going to bed earlier, start working on your pre-bedtime routine so that once you’re in bed, you can actually fall asleep,” she continues. We at Inc.com have seen massive interest over the past year in all things better sleep, so if you’re having trouble sleeping, know that you’re not alone and there are tons good advice to help you. Sleep faster, better and more restfully.

Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel, who wrote a whole book on how to develop a healthier, longer-lasting relationship with remote work, agree with Grace Saunders that even though you feel like there are a million other things you need to work on in your life, you shouldn’t feel guilty about sleeping first.

“When you start trying to put the guardrails on a flexible, post-pandemic schedule, you might still want to spend your newly shielded time napping or watching sports in the open air. This is completely normal and expected: you will essentially be recovering, not just from years of overwork, but from the accumulated and consolidated stress of the pandemic. But just because you’ve lost sight of who you are and what you love — outside of childcare and Netflix — doesn’t mean those things are completely gone.” they recently wrote in the Atlantic. “Be patient and gentle with yourself.”

So start sleeping and don’t feel lazy. Rest is not a waste of time. This section is the longest in the article for a good reason – rest is the foundation and prerequisite for everything else in your life.

2. Next: nutrition.

Once you start getting enough rest, Grace Saunders thinks it’s time to think about how you fuel your body.

“Some of my Coach clients get so wrapped up in their work or have so many back-to-back meetings that they don’t feel like they have time to eat – or they just forget to! If you find yourself in In this situation, buy very simple nutritional options like protein bars or shakes that you always keep at your desk and aim to eat at least one or two during the day,” she suggests.

Or maybe your problem was that you were too exhausted at the end of the day to bother with planning and preparing healthy meals. More sleep should have helped with that too. Whatever your particular nutritional deficiencies, now is the time to put practical systems in place to deal with them.

3. Get moving.

After sleeping and eating like a normal human, and not before, it’s time to start thinking about exercising. Working out may seem like a waste of energy when you stare at your sneakers, but Grace Saunders reminds readers, “Exercise ultimately gives you more energy throughout the day instead of wearing it out.” It also has a host of scientifically validated mental health benefits, including improved focus and mood.

So set a reasonable goal, like 25 minutes to get your heart beating in the way that suits your fitness level and personality, three times a week, and stick to those times in your schedule. “If you’re struggling to get motivated, find support by working out with friends, going to a class, or hiring a trainer. You can borrow energy and motivation from others when you’re feeling drained,” adds Grace Saunders.

4. Go beyond the big three.

Sleep, nutrition, and exercise are perhaps the three main pillars of fitness, but you shouldn’t stop there. To get out and stay out of your rut, you need to go beyond the bare minimum. Grace Saunders, being the practical type, suggests that you pick things to improve, like better managing your email or your calendar, and tackle them one by one in turn.

Peterson and Warzel instead focus on fun. Remember fun? You are entitled to it as a human being, but enjoying your life and hobbies helps you maintain your sanity and achieve more.

“When the haze of exhaustion begins to clear, fight the urge to feel productive and channel it to begin exploring your own pleasures,” they suggest. That could mean more skiing, sailing, horseback riding, or learning the guitar. But whatever you love to do, do it too because nothing will protect you better from falling back into the catastrophic cycle of exhaustion-unhealthy habits just as much as joy.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.