How to Take Care of Yourself when you're Too Tired to Think
It feels like all the energy has been sucked out, like air out of a balloon – pffffffff – and now you're deflated. Exhausted. Heavy.
Sometimes it hits you almost out of the blue, an unexpected storm of tension that practically takes your breath away. Other times, it's more a slow fatigue that creeps up on you – almost too slowly for you to notice – until it reaches a point where it's all-consuming, like a thick fog.
And then, when you realise what is happening, it's already too late. You're already sucked into the vortex of fatigue, that parallell universe where everything is impossible and nothing has a point. It feels like your soul is tired, and that it's never going to change.
You didn’t mean for it to end up like this, of course. You did the best you could at the time. You diligently ate your vegetables and managed your to-do list. And still, you've ended up in this place of utter depletion.
You feel hopeless.
And now, you have to deal with it.
It's tempting to try to ignore it, at first. To brush it away and blame it on how much you have to do. To excuse it with "everybody's tired", and tell yourself that you just have to pull yourself together. And then you could use up your reserves and push through. You could set your alarm clock, force yourself out of bed and head out to work in the morning, take on a mask and play it cool. You could pretend you're okay.
And it would probably work. Except for the fact that you might die a little bit inside when you put on the mask, it would probably work for a while.
Until it won't.
Until you get sick – your body totally worn out from the constant stress. Maybe you'll catch the flu, or maybe get a cold – if you're lucky. It will force you to at least rest your body physically for a few days, maybe just enough to get you going for a bit longer. But if you're not as lucky, your body will say stop in a more serious way. And you'll spend years recovering from a serious stress-related disease, an illness that could have been totally preventable if you had only paid attention to your body's cry for help.
The good news is; there's another way.
You could stop right now and realise that you are, in fact, tired on the brink of exhaustion. You could devout yourself to taking excellent care of yourself for a while, in order to really re-fill the tank. You could clear your schedule and spend the time resting your body, while simultaneously nourish your soul on a deeper level. You could infuse your system with some much needed life energy. You could vow to take care of yourself first.
But it's hard to stop and it's difficult to know what to do when you are exhausted and overwhelmed. When tired, the brain tends to think in extremes, which makes it hard to make decisions and prioritise. To help you a bit on the way, here's what I have learned:
Accept that you are tired
First of all, you have to admit to yourself that you are tired and that you need to do something about it. This last thing is the hard part, because it involves making some uncomfortable decisions. You'll have to do less for a few days, which may look like calling in sick, taking out vacation on short notice, or otherwise not doing what you think you "have" to do.
Most people will stop here, because our thoughts and egos are so invested in this idea that we "have" to do things, and we like to believe that the world will end if we don't. But here's a reality check; it doesn't. It may be uncomfortable to tell your boss that you need to take time off, to tell a client that you'll be delayed on a project or to ask your partner to hold the fort at home for a while. Yes, it will be uncomfortable in the short run because you may have to disappoint some people, or break some social codes. But you. are. worth. it. And everyone will be better off when you don't collapse, don't get depressed and don't get burnt out. Trust me on this.
Once you have made the decision to do something about your tiredness, it's best to be open about it. Tell people you are not working because you need to rest. There's no shame in being tired. It doesn't mean you are lazy. It won't make people think any less of you. If anything, you'll inspire others to accept themselves more.
I know this step isn't easy. But it's absolutely necessary to learn how to put yourself first – in order to break the cycle. Experiment with short time periods at first. Take half a day off, or maybe a Friday or Monday. Practice prioritising yourself, and it becomes easier over time.
Take care of your basic needs
Once you have cleared some time to take care of yourself, it's best to use it wisely by focusing on the things that are going to help you the most, in the shortest amount of time. Usually, this involves taking care of basic needs such as sleep, rest, body care and nutrition. Sleep without setting an alarm clock, allow yourself time to lie down, and make sure you eat regular and balanced meals that will give you a nutritional boost.
If you have any physical conditions that are draining you on energy, addressing these is also a priority. If you can walk, a slow walk in nature may also help calm down your nervous system and help you relax your muscles. A hot bath can have the same effect. You're the one who can know what your individual needs are, and you're the only one who can give yourself what you need. Do that.
Nourish your soul
Often when you are fatigued, covering your basic needs isn't enough to feel re-energised on an emotional level. Physical exhaustion can take a real toll on us emotionally as well, which is why it's also important to focus on what I call soul survival.
We all have some things that makes us unique. We have interests, passions, ideas, goals and dreams – and our own individual personality that makes us who we are. With this, we also have unique needs – the things we need in order to thrive that maybe other people don't need as much. For me, this is travel, beautiful surroundings, poetry/literature, daylight/sunshine and deep conversations. Deny me any of those things for a longer period of time, and I would suffer greatly. What are your unique needs? It is my belief that meeting these needs are equally important to our overall wellbeing as covering our core, physical needs.
Because these needs are unique and individual, no one can tell you that you have to do this or that in order to nourish your soul. You have to learn what this looks like for you.
Based on this, I recommend to nourish your soul as much as possible while you are also resting and covering your basic needs. It doesn't have to take much energy, and can be combined with other things. Be creative! For example, when I am too tired to read, I listen to audiobooks or read short poems. And when I'm too tired to really be social, I'll have nourishing conversations over chat. It's a matter of finding ways to feed yourself while you rest.
It may sound like it's hard, but remember; going through the cycles of wearing yourself out to the point of illness is infinitely harder. It doesn't have to be this way. You are not alone.
Break out of the cycle of exhaustion and take care of yourself. You are worth it.
If you are tired right now, leave a comment below and share the reason why. Be solution-focused. What kind of help do you need? What can you do yourself?
PS. Registration for my workshop Listen to the Wild Within is closing March 1st. It’s born out of a calling to share a different approach to self-care – and teach you how to make it a sustainable practice. Read more and sign up here.