Feeling tired? Strategies to keep well during challenging times
It is almost a year since the start of the pandemic when we started to live in lockdown. Many have been working tirelessly to keep things functioning to benefit others in the community. Some may be feeling the effects of the relentless pace of work, and the emotional demands of dealing with people’s distress have eroded their energy.
It is a good time to remind ourselves of the benefit of looking after ourselves to do well and keep well.
Being present in the moment: When feeling stressed, it is difficult to manage our emotions. Taking a break, time to pause and breathe enables us to regulate our body as the breathing taps into our body’s natural calming response. It gives us time to step back and observe our thoughts, without judgment, to understand the triggers that caused our reactions. (Gilbert & Choden, 2010).
Focusing on what we can control: When we are worried and stressed, it can be challenging to get out of the cycle of negative thoughts. It can increase the sense of restlessness and apprehension, reducing our creativity and limit our capacity to explore alternative options. It helps us write down our thoughts, as this action enables us to clarify how we are thinking and feeling. It helps to slow down the process to allow time to reflect on what is happening.
Developing a growth mindset: We can do this by challenging fixed ideas about our capabilities, such as thinking that we are not good enough at a particular skill. When feeling exhausted, it is harder to value our skills, which erodes our confidence in our ability.
To turn things around, we can redirect our attention to reminding ourselves that our brains are continually being shaped by what we learn and by our experiences. It means that we can take a step back and observe our thoughts as just thoughts, not facts. We are capable of learning and developing skills at any age, and that with practice, we can grow and become more confident (Dweck, 2010).
Practising self-compassion: When we are tired and discouraged, it is helpful to remind ourselves that we are human – we can experience a range of emotions and that we, too, can make mistakes. It is useful to adopt an understanding of ourselves and others and accept our vulnerability as part of the human condition. We can view these as part of the learning process to correct errors to improve our work and restore our balance (Gilbert & Choden, 2013).
By being kind and patient with ourselves, like we do with our best friends, we can redirect our attention from the obstacles to the opportunities – and start to look at what we can do to move forwards (Henderson, 2010).
Creating a structure: Developing a structure for our day helps to manage our energy level to focus on our tasks. Identifying our priorities helps us organise what we need to focus on first and then create a plan for when we will do other tasks in order of importance. Having a structure also allows us to plan what we need to do, helping us manage what we will do to prevent distractions.
Creating a sleep routine: Sleep is essential to our body and mind. It sets us up for the day. Our body responds to cues in the environment, so creating a nighttime routine will help us sleep. For example, dimming the lights at least an hour before bedtime, getting into pyjamas, turning all electronic devices off at least an hour before going to bed. Also, doing something relaxing like reading a book, doing breathing exercises, or listening to calming music.
Exercise to feel well: Exercise is the single most powerful tool we have available to maintain our cognitive functions and manage our mood (Ratey, 2008). Exercise supports and strengthens our cardiovascular system, and what is good for the heart is good for the mind. Going for a walk and doing some stretching exercises will help to maintain our flexibility and posture. The general recommendation is about 30 minutes a day, five times a week of moderate exercise, including aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities (White & Wojcicki, 2010).
Eating well: Good nutrition provides us with energy, and it contributes to keeping a healthy microbiota in our gut, strengthening our immune system. A diet that contains mainly processed foods such as cakes, burgers, fries, and sugary drinks leads to a gut with low biodiversity in the microbiota, leading to experiencing tiredness, low mood, and reduced motivation. Health professionals recommend a Mediterranean diet – vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, olive oil and proteins such as fish and lean meats. (Sonnenburg & Sonneburg, 2016)
Connect with others: We can talk with a trusted family member or friend. They can act as sounding boards and can provide a different perspective. Sometimes, we may feel lonely and tend to isolate ourselves because it is hard to explain to others how we are feeling. One way of dealing with this feeling is to view it as when we are hungry. We know that our body needs some food, so we get something to eat. When we feel lonely, we can do the same – acknowledge the feeling as our body tells us that what we need is connection.
Focusing on what is meaningful: In challenging times, and when dealing with uncertainty, we may face tough choices and make decisions with little information. We may feel distressed if we think we have made the wrong decision based on the outcomes. It is helpful to keep in mind that we had to decide based on the information available at the time and focus on what was meaningful and of value.
Gilbert, P. & Choden, (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson
Henderson, L. (2010) The compassionate-mind guide to building social confidence. California: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Hillman, C.H. et al (2008) “Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects of brain and cognition”. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Volume 9. pp.58-65.
Jackson, E. (2013) “Stress relief: the role of exercise in stress management.” Health and Fitness Journal. American College of Sports Medicine. May/June 2013, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp14-19.
Medina, J. (2008) Brain Rules: 12 Principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. Seattle: Pear Press.
Ratey, J. & Hagerman, E. (2010) Spark. How exercise will improve the performance of your brain. London: Quercus.
Sonnenburg, J. & Sonneburgh, E. (2015) Gut Reactions. How Health insides can improve your weight, mood and well-being. London: Penguin Random House.
White, S.M, & Wojcicki, T.R. (2010) “Staying mentally sharp through physical activity.” American College of Sports Medicine. September, p.4-5