10/09/2014 05:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Burning the Candle at Both Ends? Take Time to Recharge This Fall


I met with my doctor last week, and he had some interesting news for me. My blood work showed that my cortisol level was too low. As he explained it to me, that only happens for one of two reasons:

1) You are the most relaxed person on earth -- clearly not me.
2) You've burned the candle at both ends for so long that you blew through your stress hormones -- bingo!

His "prescription"? A month-long vacation.

Seven weeks into the semester, I'm guessing my boss wouldn't go for the "I have to take a month-long vacation, can you cover my classes?" excuse. So what am I doing? Taking a two-week break from running and weight lifting, making sure I get enough sleep, and taking stock of my life to see where I got so off track that I messed up my hormones due to stress.

As we are three-quarters of the way through the year, now is the perfect time to revisit the goals you set for yourself earlier in the year and to get honest about what's working well and what's not working so well in your life.

Rate each of the following areas of your life from 1 (not so great) to 9 (perfect, thank you):

  • • Nutrition

  • • Finances

  • • Creativity

  • • Education

  • • Career

  • • Relationship with your romantic partner

  • • Relationships with your family

  • • Relationships with friends

  • • Social life

  • • Physical health

  • • Physical activity

  • • Joy

  • • Spirituality

  • • Home environment

  • • Self-care

  • • Mental health
  • Now it's time to do some serious reflection. For those areas you rated a seven or higher (green light), congratulations. There may be a few things you could do to improve those areas, but they shouldn't be your focus right now, unless all of your areas were seven or higher...

    For the areas you rated one through three (red light, warning!) or four through six (yellow light, proceed with caution), answer the following questions:

    1) Why is that area so low?
    2) What would make it better?
    3) How can you realistically make that happen?

    It might look something like this:

  • • Nutrition -- 6 -- haven't been eating enough veggies lately; need to just buy veggies at the store -- if I have them, I will use them.

  • • Finances -- 5 -- had some unexpected expenses lately so I'm living paycheck to paycheck for now; need to make a budget so I can pay off my credit card bill before the end of the year.

  • • Creativity -- 7

  • • Education -- 9

  • • Career -- 8

  • • Relationship with your romantic partner -- 5 -- been a struggle lately; need to do a better job with communicating my needs and what's happening in our family so we're on the same page.

  • • Relationships with your family -- 3 -- got into a fight with Mom; need to talk to her and smooth some ruffled feathers.

  • • Relationships with friends -- 5 -- haven't been able to spend as much time with them lately as I'd like; need to call my three best friends and schedule a lunch date.

  • • Social life -- 4 -- with the kids being sick, my social life has been off line. Now that they're better, need to schedule a date night with my husband and a girl's night with my friends.

  • • Physical health -- 6 -- got the stomach bug a few weeks ago, but am almost completely on the mend from that -- still need some extra sleep though.

  • • Physical activity -- 1 -- what physical activity? Haven't been making time for it lately -- need to start scheduling it in my planner again.

  • • Joy -- 6 -- pretty happy, but could use a little boost; maybe play some music on the commute home and sing along instead of listening to an audiobook?

  • • Spirituality -- 5 -- haven't been praying or meditating like I should lately; restarted it last week though and things are going well so far. Just need to stay the course.

  • • Home environment -- 8

  • • Self-care -- 2 -- with the kids being sick, I got off track. Have a massage scheduled this week to unwind and need to take some sanity breaks throughout my workday.

  • • Mental health -- 6 -- been feeling kind of blue lately; too much stress, too little sleep -- need to work on both of those.
  • There are a few ways to handle this information. I prefer one of these two approaches:

    1) Pick one of those areas and really focus on it for a month -- think: deep dive. This might involve setting goals for that area and checking back on your progress each week to see how things are going. I find weekly goals work even better for me -- that way I don't procrastinate.

    2) Pick three of those areas and set one goal for each to accomplish over the next month -- these will be smaller end goals than in the first scenario because you won't be diving as deeply, but that might be perfectly appropriate for areas that are already at a five or six -- areas that need a polish and shine rather than a total redo.

    At the end of the month, re-evaluate. See if your scores have changed. Or start with a new area (or three). By the time the season changes again, hopefully your scores will all be back in the green!