Stress management has become such a key survival skill in the fast-paced world of the present (and probably the future). With this in mind, a lot of people have fundamental misunderstandings about stress management and productivity that should be corrected before they lead to full burnout. Danielle Robertson Rath has used her nearly 20 years of experience researching caffeine and energy drinks to give stress management advice to people as the GreenEyedGuide. Penny Zenker gets down to brass tacks with Danielle to discuss some important misconceptions that people carry to this day about productivity and stress management. If you feel like you’re slowly careening towards burnout territory, this discussion is definitely for you.
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How To Manage Being Fatigued And Overwhelmed With Danielle Rath
On this show, I search far and wide to find great people to talk to you about topics around productivity, how you can be your best self and this is no exception. I have Danielle Robertson Rath with me and she is going to help you to stay more focused and to beat fatigue. That’s an important topic for us to talk about. She has the GreenEyedGuide. She has years of experience researching caffeine and energy drinks plus several years of experience in risk management across multiple industries, including the food and beverage supplements, manufacturing and IT consulting. She’s got a broad base there. At GreenEyedGuide Research and Consulting, that’s GEG, she said, “We serve people who work long, unusual and unpredicted hours. We help companies where fatigue and caffeine use are the norms. Through our workshops and consulting, we teach people what to drink and how to think for every level of fatigue. This ensures that when fatigue does happen, it’s less likely to hurt the employee or who they serve.” That’s an important topic. Welcome, Danielle.
Thank you for having me.
Tell me why fatigue? Did you have a lot of people end up doing something because they had experienced themselves? What’s your story?
What I do was shaped by my own experiences. As one of my friends says, “Be the person you needed five years ago.” That’s what I’m doing with my business. When I first started college, that’s right when energy drinks came along, they were brand new and people had all these questions about them. Energy drinks are controversial now, but you can imagine how controversial they were back in 2003 when they were brand new. I was studying biochemistry and food science at the time in college. I was also juggling two part-time jobs to help me pay for college. I started studying energy drinks and trying to understand how caffeine affects the body and how these other ingredients in these drinks affect the body and what they do.
A lot of what people were saying at the time about these controversial drinks seemed very black and white. Like, “One Red Bull is going to kill you,” and “These drinks are poisoned.” I wouldn’t recommend these drinks. They’re not the healthiest things. For me at the time, Starbucks wasn’t around. It certainly wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t on every corner. I needed something an energy drink to help me juggle my full-time load of classes and also my two part-time jobs. I was learning at the time some of the things that people said about these caffeinated beverages was an over-exaggeration of the science. Back in 2003, I decided I wanted to be the real voice for people like me that knew that energy drinks weren’t the best option but needed it to get through a rough period in their life or certain occupations where having a fresh cup of coffee wasn’t feasible.
As I grew as a professional, I got my Master’s degree. My first book was called Are You a Monster or a Rock Star? A Guide to Energy Drinks. I published that in 2013 and since then my business has evolved to focus not only on energy drinks, not only caffeine but on fatigue in the workplace. That’s what I’m excited to be working on now. There are certain occupations like first responders, nurses, emergency department staff, third shift workers that for them the advice about sleep hygiene or drinking more water, getting more sleep is not realistic for their situation in life or their occupation.
Through my business and feeling what I see as a gap for these certain occupations where I’m trying to use my science background to help them understand how to minimize side effects from too much caffeine. I’m also addressing the other ways that you can minimize the impact of fatigue. You’ll never beat fatigue in the workplace. In my workshops, I can teach them how to manage the impact of it so their employees are less likely to get hurt. All of that is trying to help people that are like me that are trying to get things done when they’re sleep-deprived and overwhelmed.
Energy drinks are controversial now, but even more so in the early 2000s. Click To Tweet I’ve got a thousand of questions now. The first thing is you said you studied energy drinks, but you talked a lot about caffeine. Is all caffeine created equal? There are energy drinks, there’s coffee, tea, chocolate. Tell us about good caffeine and bad caffeine.
There are two important things to remember here. The first thing is that when it gets into your body, caffeine is caffeine. It doesn’t matter if it came from a pill, from a cup of coffee, from a tea leaf or an energy drink. Caffeine is going to affect you the same way.
That’s interesting because there are a lot of things that say, “Tea is better for you,” and the type of caffeine. What you’re saying makes sense. It gets in the body and caffeine is caffeine. That’s an important thing for everybody to keep in mind.
It’s so important for parents if you’re concerned about your kids having Red Bull, there are so many energy drinks in disguise, things that don’t look like energy drinks that have as much caffeine as a Red Bull or more. They might have this halo effect because maybe it’s a drink made by Starbucks. It’s as important for parents to talk to their kids about caffeine as a whole as opposed to specific types of caffeine. It’s for that reason. The second thing that I mentioned that’s important to remember is that where caffeine comes from usually provides other benefits, not because of the caffeine. The molecule of caffeine, it’s going to affect you the same way, but what else is in the drink? For example, if you’re getting a cup of coffee, you’re getting the caffeine, which is going to affect you the same way, but you’re also getting the antioxidants in the cup of coffee, chlorogenic acid. There are other things, other ingredients in that cup that you can benefit from that you wouldn’t get if you’re getting your caffeine from a soda or a pre-workout supplement. It is important to look at the big picture of what else you’re getting.
In a way, the delivery mechanism makes some caffeine a little bit better than others.
There are other benefits to the delivery mechanism. Too much caffeine is too much caffeine, whether it comes from coffee or energy drinks.
Let’s talk about that. What is too much? I don’t know if other people experienced this, but my body tells me like, I know that I can have two cups of coffee and that works for me. If I have three or more, I start to get tired. I don’t know if that makes any sense. It also wakes me up but I’m tired. I know and I only have two. Tell us about what’s the right and the best amount of caffeine to have its effect but not the negative effects.
Let me address this question in four parts. Everyone has different caffeine sensitivity. That’s your genetic disposition. That doesn’t change. You’re born with the enzymes that you’re born with and that’s going to be your sensitivity. Some people have a genetic ability to process caffeine super-fast. They can have six cups of coffee and you’re fine. That’s the way their body handles it. There are people like my husband that can have a cup of tea and he gets all jittery. Sensitivity is different from tolerance. Tolerance is something that changes over time. If you have three cups of coffee every single day, you’re building your tolerance and you might need more caffeine to feel the same level of alertness. In terms of recommended limits, people under eighteen are not advised to exceed 100 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is about one Red Bull or one cup of coffee. One standard eight-ounce cup of coffee is 100 milligrams. That’s how much miners can have in one day.
For healthy adults, it’s 400 milligrams or four cups of coffee. For women who are pregnant or nursing, it’s 200 milligrams and these two cups of coffee are also magical because of something that you said, which is if you have a certain amount, you feel more tired than more awake, which doesn’t make sense. There’s this curve that I like, which is magical, called the Yerkes-Dodson Law. They found with sleep-deprived truck drivers and Air Force pilots, there is this sweet spot, this peak in this curve where they performed better with less caffeine. Once you exceed that sweet spot, that peak in that curve, you’re either overstimulated or you’re so anxious that you perform worse. In your case, it sounds once you go past that peak, you get sleepy because your body is reacting to all the caffeine molecules. You can have 400 milligrams in a day, but try and have two cups of coffee or 200 milligrams at a time because that’s where you find that sweet spot, that peak in that curve for most people.
Now, I understand. I have sensitivity and I have the Yerkes curve.
The Yerkes-Dodson Law. I often call it the Barks-Doggie Law, because I’m a huge dog lover. If you’re bored or if you’re depressed, one cute little doggy might come along and make you feel awake. It’s like, “It’s so cute.” If you’re surrounded by 30 yapping dogs, that’s too much. It’s the Barks-Doggie Law or it’s the Yerkes-Dodson Law.
That’s easier to remember. That’s good to know. There is an optimal level and it’s proven by science. There’s an optimal level that’s going to support you. After that, it’s not doing as much value. I heard you say that we’re reaching outside. We need to get you through that difficult time or truck drivers and early response and people who have odd hours. It’s not realistic for them to rely on drinking water. They need an extra outside source. What about exercise? Do we need to go to caffeine or if we took regular breaks and did four jumping jacks or something, would we get the same level of an energy boost? Is there something else outside of caffeine that can give us that same or better level of energy?
I firmly believe that being more tired, more caffeine isn’t always the option. In fact, in the workshops that I do through GreenEyedGuide, what I do is I teach people that there are five levels of fatigue. For each level, there is a caffeine recommendation. You want to save the stronger energy drinks for when you’re more fatigued. There’s a certain point at which no amount of caffeine will save you. You need to sleep.
What’s wrong with the little nap? For the readers, because it’s all about also remembering the storytelling, connecting to your own life. I used to get tired when I’d be driving. I drive back and forth. I used to live in New York and my family is in Philadelphia and it’s not that far, but I would get tired. My solution was I pulled over to a rest stop and I slept for fifteen minutes and then I get back on the road and it feels so much better. I knew that I was alert and ready to go. I want people to realize that I get it. Taking a little nap at work might not be the option, but I know that my boyfriend for lunch, he goes out to his car and he’ll take a nap in his car over lunch and take 15 minutes or 20 minutes in addition to going out and having his lunch. There’s an option there.
Even if you have 20 things to do, you can only focus on one thing. Click To Tweet As part of my five levels of fatigue, what I teach people in my workshops is that for every level, there’s a caffeine recommendation but more importantly, there is something that you can do that doesn’t involve caffeine. For example, jumping jacks, walking back and forth to the bathroom, to the drinking fountain. That might be suitable for fatigue level one when you’re drowsy because you’re bored or you’re dehydrated because you haven’t had enough water. There’s a certain level in which you are feeling tired, but you shouldn’t have any caffeine. You should do physical exercise. You should get up and move around. If you’re bored because you’re doing a boring task, you should use the Pomodoro technique.
You break up your long, boring tasks into shorter chunks. That’s a great way without involving caffeine for you to feel more focused and more alert. As you get higher in the fatigue levels, there’s a certain point. In grad school, I lived a fatigue level 3 and 4. I would try jumping jacks, I would try climbing stairs and it wasn’t enough. I felt my body was made of sand. There are other things you can do. For fatigue level four, this is level 4 or 5. You’re close to your burnout. You need to delegate something. You need to take something off your list, you need to ease up at that level. That’s something that you can do without caffeine.
For example, when my son was a newborn, I have a high caffeine tolerance, but I was trying to be the superhero mom. I was trying to do everything. I was trying to read emails and do dishes and breast pump. It was all these things. I was losing my mind. I was about to lash out, it’s like, “I’m at fatigue level four. I need to focus on one thing at a time. I feel I’ve got twenty things to do. I feel everyone’s depending on me and I don’t want to let anyone down. If I don’t take one thing off my to-do list right now, I’m going to lose it.” There are several things that you can do for every level of fatigue that will help you to calm down, to feel more alert.
I do that. I want to stop there because it’s not the fatigue for that. It’s also overwhelming. I have a practice where I do that. If I start to feel a little overwhelmed or tired to that level, I’ll step back and I’ll look at what I have to do and I’ll start to de-commit to things. I’ll say, “I’m taking that off my schedule.” If it’s not an absolute must, I’m removing it so that I can focus on what’s next. That’s valuable for people who are reading. It’s to delegate and to remove things. If they’re not urgent, a lot of times we’re putting the pressure on ourselves. We get to say, “That gets done tomorrow,” or “That’ll go on the next week’s list.”
That’s so important too because a lot of people either advise caffeine or sleep to fight fatigue. Even people who are well-rested or fully caffeinated can feel mentally overwhelmed or physically exhausted. Sleep and caffeine can’t cure fatigue 100% of the time. You need these other strategies that don’t involve caffeine. Napping in your car may or may not be an option, but there are things you can do to help yourself to not feel so burned out.
Is there anything else that you feel that people need to be aware of to better manage their fatigue as well as their magnitude of what they’ve got to do?
Yes. There are two tips I would recommend for everyone. One is making a habit of always checking in on yourself. Having that mindfulness to say, “Where am I on a scale of zero to five?” Zero being perfectly amazing and wonderful, awake and alert, five being a walking zombie. Where am I? Even if you do nothing about it, knowing how tired you are or how overwhelmed you are can sometimes make a difference. If you know you’re exhausted or you’re overwhelmed, then maybe you should take a few seconds before you say something out loud. Having that mindfulness can help you. That’s the biggest thing. The second thing is, if you are someone who consumes caffeine 100% of the time, you should A, drink water first and B, know how much caffeine is in the thing that you’re about to drink. It may not be so easy to find that number if you’re drinking coffee or tea because that number isn’t always on the label or the menu board. It’s so important for that Yerkes-Dodson Law, that Barks-Doggie Law that we talked about. You have to know your numbers because then you can adapt based on how tired you are on a scale of one to five or based on how that much caffeine is making your body feel. That’s so important.
That’s something you put in some of your documentation. We push past it. We ignore how we feel or what we recognize in our bodies. It’s so important with that check-in to be able to recognize what’s working and what’s not working and where we are. I do this as well. I have people put things on a scale because they’re typically not things that we can measure. By simply putting it on a scale, 0 to 5 or 0 to 10 and check-in where you are, it gives you that mental note. When you have to give a number to it, I find that psychologically it makes you think about it more and in a way that makes you own it versus saying this is how I feel. It gives you that piece to own where you are.
This is key for anyone that’s trying to improve their time management or their productivity. With these check-ins, you will start to learn when you can push yourself further and get more done versus when you’re headed to a burnout. It’s for the long-term benefits of your productivity to know how much you can handle.
What about organizations? That’s the individual. Let’s have a tip for an organization of what they can do to help their employee base. A lot of people will push responsibility on somebody else and say, “These are the hours that are imposed upon me,” or “These are the pressures that I have and I can’t delegate or take anything off my plate.” What can the organization do?
There are two things an organization should do. One is to stop punishing people for admitting that they’re overwhelmed or tired. If your employees have a greater incentive to hide that they’re feeling overwhelmed or that they’re about to fall asleep on the job, your company is going to suffer. They’re more likely to make a mistake, which is going to cost you money either in workers’ comp or in a lawsuit if, heaven forbid, your employees mess something up which hurts your customers. You need to weigh the cost benefits of asking your employees to push past something versus having a safe space to confess when they need a five-minute break to get some sleep or something. Have that be acceptable.
I want to comment on that because some companies say, “We’re doing that. We’re putting in this lounge space and we are allowing people to take naps in these cubes,” or whatever. Interestingly enough, I was at a company that had all of those things in place, but they still had the mentality that if people were using them that they were wasting their time, that they weren’t being productive. It’s got to change in the culture. It’s not about that there’s a room for taking a nap or for relaxing, but it has to be part of the culture where it’s accepted.
You don’t want the person that’s spotted coming out of that room to feel they have a scarlet letter on their chest. That brings me to the other thing that’s so important for companies to realize. If you get up at 5:00 and go to sleep at 10:00, that’s seventeen hours. If your employees are awake for seventeen hours, their performance is affected as much as one alcoholic drink. If you’re asking them to stay late, work around the clock or if they’re doing work for your company at that seventeen hours, if it’s okay for them to have a drink of alcohol, okay. If it’s not okay for them, then you need to weigh that. If it wouldn’t be okay for them to drink, it shouldn’t be okay for them to be awake that long. There are some companies like, “If you had a drink last night, don’t come into work.” The post office does this. Their employees aren’t allowed to come in if they’re on call if they’ve had an alcoholic beverage, but being awake for 24 hours straight, that’s fine. It affects your brain the same. We need to treat being awake that long with the same risk and caution as we would if someone had been drinking. It will hurt your employees, your company, your company’s bottom line and your liability the same way.
They need to be conscious of and taking action around this topic of fatigue. I always say that we won’t sleep when we’re dead.
Make a habit of always checking in on yourself. Click To Tweet I’ll give one more story to emphasize this. I work with a lot of first responders and a lot of volunteer firemen. Some of them were telling me that they’re volunteer firemen, but they have a real job and their boss doesn’t make any exceptions. If they’re fighting a fire all throughout the night, they’re still expected to show up to work at 9:00 AM. The problem is if you have an employee that’s been awake for that long and you’re that strict about them showing up at 9:00 AM, if they make a mistake, you’re the one that’s going to pay for worker’s comp. They were doing this thing on their job, now you’ve shifted the liability to themselves. It would be much easier for employers to say, “I know you’ve got this side gig thing going on. Why don’t you come in an hour later, maybe two hours later? I will miss you at work and maybe things have to get shifted around, but that’s going to save my company and that’s going to make you more likely to keep working for me versus quitting or getting hurt.” You have to weigh the costs and the benefits that way.
Flexibility and leadership is what I’m hearing. It doesn’t work that that inflexible leadership or the dictatorship that may have been a part of a previous generation or decade or whatever. We see the effects of more accidents happening. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom here. I know you’ve got a new book. Tell us about the book and where they can find out and how they can get a copy.
If you go to eBook.5LevelsOfFatigue.com, you can learn all about my book, which is going to be live on Amazon March 23rd. This book is about getting stuff done when you like to feel crap. I’m not swearing. Those are some of the words in the title, but essentially the title is, how to get stuff done when you feel crap. This is exactly for the audience that I was talking about. The people that are sleep deprived or mentally overwhelmed but still have a job to do, whether that’s a real job or a side job or parenthood. This book walks through the five levels of fatigue. The caffeine side, as well as what we talked about. When do you delegate, when do you take a nap? It provides all of that information and all of the science behind it. I’ve got all the science sectioned off. If you’re not a science person, it’s very clear what you can skip and I give you permission to skip that science piece.
There’s the geek session section and there’s the other section.
It’s in a little box and I give you permission to skip the box.
It’s good that it’s sectioned off so that you can read it or not read it and for different personality types. That’s fantastic. I’m excited about the book. It’s so valuable for people to focus on where they are in terms of this area of fatigue and overwhelm. It seems it’s a bigger issue now than ever before. Is that true? Is it a bigger issue or have we pushed past and it’s become more chronic?
That’s a complicated question. I think it is a bigger issue now because employers have some harder expectations. It takes a lot more to keep up with the market these days. There are a lot more companies that have 24/7 operations in the digital world. I do think there are legitimately more expectations and higher expectations. You also have a workforce of Millennials that watched their parents work their butts off and then either get phased out because they were too old or retire for nothing. You have a lot of people like me that are like, “I’m not going to burn my soul out at this job because I’m just a body to you. I’m not a human being.” It’s twofold. It’s a mentality, but there are also higher expectations.
That’s a good thing. If there’s a new generation that says, “No, not me,” and is more focused on finding that balance and the purpose, but I’m not sure that they’re not burning themselves out in a different way.
You do need to take some personal responsibility. It’s a mixture of things.
Thank you so much. I’m sure we could talk on and on, but we’ll let people get your book and find out more information about you. If there’s anything else that you want to share, please do that.
Anyone can find me on social media. I’m on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and my websites. They’re all GreenEyedGuide. If you want to learn more about my workshops, you can go to 5LevelsOfFatigue.com and you can learn all about the book and sign up for alerts so you can be the first to know when it goes live. That’s eBook.5LevelsOfFatigue.com.
Danielle, thank you so much.
For those of you who are reading, pay attention and do that check-in exercise right now. Where are you on a scale from 0 to 5 in terms of fatigue and being aware? Identifying what’s going to be some good strategies for you so that when you realize that you hit a certain level in these five levels of fatigue that you’re able to come back from and lower your level of fatigue. It’s about energy management and managing fatigue is one of those areas. That is what’s going to make you more productive.
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About Danielle Rath
Danielle Robertson Rath (the “GreenEyedGuide”) has nearly 20 years experience researching caffeine and energy drinks, plus 10 years experience in Risk Management across multiple industries including Food/Bev, Supplements, Manufacturing, and IT Consulting.
At GreenEyedGuide Research and Consulting (GEG), we serve people who work long, unusual, or unpredictable hours. We help companies where fatigue and caffeine use are the norm. Through our workshops and consulting, we teach people what to drink and how to think for every Level of Fatigue. This ensures that when fatigue does happen, it’s less likely to hurt the employee or those they serve.
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