Got the post-lunch malaise? It's not hard to improve your concentration

If you find it hard to concentrate and don't have as much energy as you'd like, it's easy to change that, says Dr John Briffa.

by Dr John Briffa
Last Updated: 21 May 2014

Early on in my career I worked as a junior hospital doctor. Despite my relatively tender years, I was perpetually tired. Some ‘sleep debt’ no doubt contributed to this, but even after snoozing away the weekend I certainly lacked the zip someone in his mid-20s should have. In addition to my general lethargy, I was prone to catastrophic energy crashes, most evident in the mid-late afternoon. In outpatients clinics and the operating theatre, I would sometimes feel the life drain out of me. My mood was quite labile too, often oscillating from elation to irrational irritation or demotivation throughout the day.

One morning, I was doing the necessary medical checks on an elderly man who was due to have a minor operation later that day. I was struck by the fact that, despite being almost 50 years my senior, he had an energy and vitality considerably greater than my own. My curiosity was piqued enough for me to ask him to what he felt he owed his brimming good health. It turns out he put a lot of store in ‘healthy eating’, something about which I had only the vaguest of notions.

I resolved that I needed to do something about the lack of nutritional education I experienced at med school. I began reading around the subject, and quickly learned that what was traditionally regarded as a healthy diet was anything but. Specifically, though, it dawned on me that my unreliable energy and mood lability were almost certainly the result of eating a glut of foods liable to inducing highs and lows of levels of sugar in my bloodstream. Many of these foods, by the way, including wholemeal bread, based potatoes and fibrous breakfast cereals, would be conventionally regarded as prime foods for energy and health.

I took remedial action, and shifted my diet in an altogether different direction. And I’m glad I did because the impact it had on me was profound. My sense of wellbeing improved quickly and steadily to the extent that, within two weeks, I felt I had more energy than ever before in my adult life. My disposition brightened too. An added bonus was that, in a few short weeks, I lost the chub I had gained at medical school (with no hunger and no additional exercise either).

So changed was I by all this that I may the decision to leave the traditional career path I was on to devote myself to helping people resolve their health issues using nutritional and other self-applied means including sleep, activity, light exposure and psychology. I witnessed countless individuals liberate themselves from long-term health issues such as fatigue, anxiety, depression, weight issues, joint and muscle pain, skin conditions, digestive discomfort and headaches - and all without recourse to medication or conventional means.

But, I discovered something else too: when individuals took approaches that addressed the underlying nature of their health issues (rather than merely treating their symptoms), the resolution of their immediate issues would usually be accompanied by tangible improvements in their energy, general wellbeing and mental functioning too. Many would report that they felt more mentally and physically alive than they had in years (just like I had).

Then, in the mid-90s I was asked to facilitate on a wellness programme for a global professional services firm. The delegates were senior members of the organisation, almost all of whom suffered from the sorts of wellbeing and performance issues that I now realise are endemic in the corporate arena. Some simple, sustainable changes in areas such as diet, activity, psychology and sleep reaped significant dividends for them in terms of enhanced vitality and performance. The results from the early programmes were so obvious that the initiative was rolled out nationally and, subsequently, internationally. The programme became part of the culture of the organisation and continues to run to this day.

Since that time, I’ve been privileged to work with many different organisations in the UK and abroad. While there are certainly things that set people apart from each other, I have found that wellbeing and performance affect almost everyone in the corporate arena, and are common in every setting in which I have worked.

At MT Live, I will be sharing what the last 20 years has taught me are some of the most effective ‘body and brain hacks’ for boosting energy and effectiveness. All the tricks and tools you’ll learn are evidence-based, but have also been tried and tested with literally thousands of clients and business professionals. Many of these strategies are very easy to apply, have considerable power to keep our body and brain running at maximum capacity.  Put even some of tips into practice, and you stand to be rewarded with greater resilience, and an ability to get more out of yourself and your day.

- Dr Briffa is one of the speakers at MT’s leadership conference, MT Live, on June 25, alongside Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King, Lord Heseltine (who needs no introduction) and Facebook EMEA boss Nicola Mendelsohn. Find out more here

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