The next morning I awoke early with a severe cough. Out of pride and stubbornness, I tried to ignore it. My mouth was dryer than sandpaper — a sure sign that my sinuses were locked up and I was a mouth-breather the entire night. This was all manageable, I thought. But then my brain signaled the body aches. I am not cut from a cloth that handles the shivers well.
My next move was to get up to wet my lips with water. I got up and felt like a young doe, shaking gingerly across the cold hardwood floor. The water was soft in my mouth but felt like a box of staples going down my throat.
I mused while washing up. I felt very tired. The mirror confirmed this.
Why must the body hold itself up until it can’t?
I’ve been going full blast lately. I am the equivalent of 11% battery life on an iPhone. Not completely buried, but in need of some renewal.
Have you ever felt this way? If yes, welcome to the club.
It’s an interesting position to be something of a freelance creative, business owner, or independent worker. If you’re in this bucket of laborers, it’s probable that you enjoy what you do and you’re good at what you do. This combination makes it quite easy to burnout.
But taking yourself to the edge to do great work feels awesome when you enjoy doing the thing you do, right?
Therefore, I don’t believe avoiding hard work or even seasons of over-reaching is inherently foul. The challenge is finding a fast, practical way to recharge when you know you need some renewal.
As a freelance creative, business owner, or independent worker, some of the goofy suggestions for recovery are laughable. Taking a weeklong trip to Ojai, California. Blocking off a whole day for a spa experience that sets you back $377. Hiring a personal chef to prepare plant-based meals for you.
These things are all good — but wildly impractical when you need something quick and effective.
This isn’t my first rodeo with over-reaching. Over the years, I’ve come up with a simple playbook to help restore my vitality. It takes 25 minutes and a few dollars.
Here is the overview of the strategy:
- Hot Epsom salt baths alternated with cold showering (sequence depends on the time of day). A total of 10 minutes.
- Meditate for 10 minutes.
- Write a gratitude note — this takes five minutes or less.
Now, let’s get into why this is the quickest way to recharge after you’re burned out.
1. Hot Epsom salt bath
Epsom salt is also known as magnesium sulfate. Magnesium is a practical chemical compound that can help us recharge our bodies and minds for a few reasons.
When we enter a season of over-reaching, the first thing that gets compromised is our nutrition and fitness. When we get busy, these aspects get the short end of the stick. In doing so, we are prone to become magnesium deficient.
Since healthy levels of magnesium regulate the nervous system, when we become deficient we influence our sympathetic nervous system and heart rate to be sent into chronic overdrive. Meaning, the result is an excessive cortisol (the stress hormone) production causing mild anxiety and a mind that can’t stop running.
Also, prolonged elevated cortisol levels — or being in a stress-state for too long — suppresses our immune systems opening us up to getting sick.
Disrupted sleep is a common by-product of a lack of magnesium since it’s one of the most powerful ways to relax the nervous system.
By taking a hot bath with 200–400g of Epsom salt, you will restore magnesium levels to help with:
- Better sleep
- Less anxiety
- Boosted immune function
The strategy behind a hot bath is that magnesium is absorbed through the skin and in hot water, pores are opened up increasing the absorption rate. A study done at the University of Birmingham found that bathing in a hot Epsom salt bath significantly increased mean blood magnesium in test subjects.
Fill a tub with water as hot as you can take it. Add in 200–400g of Epsom salt and soak for two minutes for a total of five rounds alternated with two-minute cold shower bouts.
*Note: If you are doing this at night, end with a warm Epsom salt bath. It’ll help induce a rapid dip in body temperature that will influence a state of calm, helping you fall asleep.
2. Cold shower
There is a certain rage about cold showers lately and hydrotherapy in general. However, for the sake of this piece, I want to highlight two benefits of exposing ourselves to cold when we are burned-out.
The first is that there is some evidence that cold showers help boost our immune systems. One study tested over 3000 subjects with cold showering and after 30 days a 29% drop in sick days were recorded.
Furthermore, there is some interesting research on the impact that cold showering has on our overall mood and alertness. Studies show that cold therapy is being used to treat depression. One claim as to why this is effective is due to the fact that exposure to cold is known to increase the level of beta-endorphins (pain-suppressing neuropeptides) and noradrenaline (the neurotransmitter that increases arousal and alertness). in the brain.
Cold exposure has also been shown to reduce the levels of serotonin in most of the brain regions (except the brainstem) which reduces sleepiness and fatigue.
From the research and from anecdotal experience, it seems that a cold shower is an immediate pick-me-up when we are low in energy from over-reaching. Some benefits include:
- Boosted immune system
- Heightened alertness
- Better mood
- Increased focus
Jump in a shower for two minutes and have it as cold as you can take it for five total rounds alternated with two-minute warm Epsom salt baths.
*Note: If you are doing this during the day and have to return to work of any kind, end with a cold shower. The cold will heighten alertness and rejuvenate your mood.
Stress is the disease of the 20th century. Seemingly, we are hurried in every corner of our lives. The irony is that we usually combat this challenge with more of what uses it in the first place: Over-reaching. The tendency is to go faster in hopes that things will level out with more forced effort.
The age-old practice of meditation is now catching steam. It’s no longer a mystical exercise done by those who live in the mountains. The science has proven that this simple habit is a practical antidote to the murderous intensity we live by today.
Research shows that meditation can:
- Drops cortisol levels
- Induce relaxation and triggers better sleep
- Improved attention and memory
- Boosts creative thinking
There are many ways to meditate. I’m most familiar with headspace.com. It’s like a personal trainer for your brain. All you need to start is 10 minutes and the app downloaded to your phone.
4. Write a gratitude journal
To round out our recharge exercise, we’ll finish it with a gratitude note. This can be a hand-written note, a text message or an email. Whatever you fancy. The mean isn’t so much important as the act. Here’s why: Research shows that a five-minute gratitude note can increase your long-term well-being by 10%.
Also, adopting a regular practice of gratitude has been linked with a stronger immune system and improved sleep — both critical aspects of recharging our systems when we’ve over-reached.