I woke up one day not long after Christmas and realized that I was out of gas. I didn’t just feel physically tired, there was something more going on; I knew I needed to take a closer look. I call myself a happiness expert and this didn’t feel like that. I took a pause and reviewed the last few months. It became very clear that I had done a good job of taking care of my husband when he had a temporary health challenge, I did a good job of taking care of a group I travelled to Europe with and when my husband’s family came for Christmas, I did a pretty good job of taking care of them too. But I reached the point where I couldn’t take care of anybody else until I took care of myself.
It happens to the best of us. We run out of gas with no gas station in sight. Fortunately, I didn’t end up in a pile on the floor like Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington did. She woke up on the floor of her office, having hit her head on the way down. She didn’t know she had run out of gas and what she gleaned from her experience, inspired her to become a sleep evangelist, preaching about the benefits of sleep in a book called The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your Life, One Night at a Time.
Because we spend so much time in our head thinking about to do lists and other people’s needs, we can miss cues, letting us know that something is up. Physical tiredness, as Arianna teaches, can be addressed with good sleep habits but how do we know we’re mentally tired and what can we do about it?
A mentally fatigued person might have difficulty concentrating, feel apathetic or overwhelmed; might feel a lack of motivation, dread or hopelessness. They might even feel angry, anxious or depressed. They may have an upset stomach, body aches, fatigue or loss of appetite and might feel socially isolated. I had some; not all of these symptoms but certainly enough of them to get my attention.
Mental fatigue can be caused by a change in lifestyle, perhaps death of a loved one, being a caregiver for someone ill or aging; it can be caused by financial challenges. It might also be caused by an absence of social support or having too much on your plate for too long, which was the case for me.
There is a prescription for each of us who finds ourselves feeling mentally exhausted and it begins with recognizing and accepting that we are out of gas. It’s never a bad idea to consult your doctor if you feel overwhelmed and your doctor may very well suggest some of the following ideas, some of which helped me a great deal in the last month.
If you are caring for a loved one who is ill, investigate respite care and make sure that you get some support. Often we think we have to do everything ourselves, when folks are waiting to help us if we’re courageous enough to ask. Recharging is so important and we have to make space to do that. It might be a vacation, a few days or hours with no agenda to help fill your tank.
Good quality rest is important and some form of exercise is too. Exercise like brisk walking is excellent to move stagnant energy around in the body and help lower stress response as well as helping us handle unknown stressors in the future.
Gratitude is a key when it comes to lowering stress. I strongly recommend keeping a gratitude journal; write down five things you’re grateful for every day. Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and tai-chi, go for a massage or learn deep breathing techniques.
Walking in nature is medicine for me, spending time alone, getting and giving hugs as well as having a good old fashioned chin wag with a friend all fill my tank. I’m happy to say that life is back on track and I have some new habits to take me through 2020 with clarity, calm and confidence. Living well is about being open to learning something new about ourselves and embracing ideas we can use to improve our results, so that we can inspire others to do the same.