Emotional fatigue can be more exhausting than hard physical labor. Why? Because it's insidious. Because it's pervasive. And because it's so easy to ignore, until it isn't.
Physical fatigue is something you expect, especially after a good workout or a day of yard work. It's worn like a badge of honor at times. When you tell stories about your T Rex arms in the shower after your CrossFit class, people laugh and nod and congratulate you for working so hard.
What happens when you're so drained that just the thought of taking that shower makes you tired? What stories do you tell when even the act of forming words and sentences feels like too much work? That's what emotional fatigue can do.
Emotional fatigue doesn't only come as a result of "bad" or challenging happenings. It can sneak up on you when you're swept up in the most positive and exciting goings-on as well. If you're like me, it stems from lack of awareness in the moment, a tendency to put yourself on the back burner, and sometimes a mild addiction to a giddy optimism that if you just keep forging onward, everything will settle down eventually "because it has to." (ha!)
When you're plowing forward, full steam ahead, and all the lights are green, you feel unstoppable. "This is fantastic!" you say. "Nothing can slow my roll - watch me go!" You floor the metaphorical pedal, the engine revs loud and strong, and you're off! You're absolutely exhilarated and so caught up in the excitement of this amazing energy flow that you don't bother to check your emotional fuel gauge, because who checks, right? This rush is too sensational! And you surge forward with your eyes only on the horizon - until suddenly, you're done. You find yourself stuck at a full stop, while all around you the excitement and fun are still swirling. You're exhausted, out of fuel, and a little disoriented, wondering what happened and how the eff you ended up here again: worn down, empty.
Here's the thing, dear Joy Warrior: nothing is wrong, you didn't screw up, and you're not really stuck. This is all just part of the dance we call life. When you repeatedly jump into the fray with everything you've got, eventually you're going to use up your "everything." And the bigger your jump, the more energy you use, and the more you'll need to replenish yourself.
So how do you start this recovery? Simple and basic: adequate rest, ample hydration, good nutrition. Let's break it down:
· Adequate rest = sleep and taking time. One of the tricksy traits of emotional fatigue is that it usually cranks up your “monkey mind,” the endless chatter of your ego listing all your shortcomings and missteps. Sleep can be elusive amid all this internal noise, exacerbating your emotional fatigue. In addition to sleep, I recommend anything that helps you quiet your monkey mind: yoga, journaling, meditation, getting outside. These are all simple actions that can last as little as 10-15 minutes. They can help you clear your mind by taking you out of your daily rut while getting some fresh air (and thoughts) into your brain and body. (Even if your monkeys are still chattering, at least you yourself will feel calmer.) Remember, no one is going to offer you this time – you have to give it to yourself.
· Ample hydration = water, herbal tea, and anything you’ll drink that is beneficial to your body. I’m not a nutritionist, so I’ll only say that high-sugar or artificially sweetened beverages will not be beneficial. They can make you jittery and may cause energy and emotional roller coasters as well as monkey mind. Coffee is a beverage I’d suggest in moderation, especially if you put stuff in yours (full disclosure -> I love coffee and I put stuff in it) since the caffeine and sugar can also cause jitters, roller coasters, and monkey mind.
The general rule of thumb for hydration is half of your body weight in ounces of water, so if you weigh 150 pounds you should be drinking 75 ounces of water daily at least.
· Good nutrition = light, nutrient dense fuel for your body and a healthy dose of moderation with everything outside of that category. As an emotional eater, I have found myself post-feeding-frenzy on many occasions, feeling uncomfortable and headachey after ingesting too many carbs and too much sugar. These “comfort” foods are the preferred fuel source for your body when it becomes physically tired, because they provide quick energy. Your body and brain will often interpret emotional fatigue similarly, especially if you’re not sleeping well. To minimize those cravings, and to energize your body and brain, stick with a steady supply of vegetables, fruits, and some lean protein. (Again, I’m not a nutritionist – simply sharing suggestions for navigating emotional fatigue.) A little comfort food can go a long way. If you’re going to eat something sugary, do so with intention: be aware of what you’re eating, chew slowly, savor the taste and texture. You may find you don’t “need” (aka crave) that type of comfort as much as you had thought.
When you make the time to nurture yourself in these simple-not-easy ways, you’ll find your energy begins to return in anywhere from a few hours to a day or two. Your recovery time depends on how emotionally fatigued you were in the first place. Keep refilling your own well, Joy Warrior, and soon you’ll be ready to head back into the dance. In the meantime, have a cup of tea and sit for a few.
While you’re savoring that tea and those few minutes of rest, please tell me one way in which you’re going to nurture yourself over the next three days. I’d love to hear from you!