How to Stop Feeling so ExhaustedOct 12, 2020
Talk to enough people and you will find that exhaustion is widespread, especially during this time of year. Managing a fulfilling life at home, a successful career, maintaining friendships, staying on top of your health and physical fitness, and getting enough sleep — it can seem as though there simply isn’t enough time for all of these things. Trying and failing to find balance leads to feelings of exhaustion.
Humans have always combatted exhaustion. Previous generations had much more demanding, physical labor-oriented jobs. Earlier still, humans had to hunt and gather to survive. Of course these strenuous physical demands have been attenuated by modern conveniences that allow us to live in comparative luxury. And yet, exhaustion persists. In fact, it may be more widespread than ever before.
Exhaustion is the result of a confluence of factors, some that originate within you and your developed capacities, physically and mentally, but also environmental stressors and biology.
Our society seems to be permanently ‘switched-on’. The omnipresent pinging, buzzing and chirping notifications of our mobile devices are the soundtrack to our lives. They are a key indicator that the border between life and work has been almost completely eroded. Mobile devices are not inherently bad, but they are part of a bad thing that we are doing to ourselves by creating a climate of permanent exhaustion.
In modern life, there is a relentless focus on productivity. We push for more and more productivity, but in doing so we are often ineffective, inefficient, and underperforming by prioritizing tasks that take more time and matter less, leading to feelings of exhaustion that only exacerbate our stress levels by rendering us unable to perform effectively.
Left alone, exhaustion becomes burnout. Stress compounds. Stress has huge negative physical and mental health consequences. Stress is killing us, from cancer to hypertension. It destroys relationships by making us unable to be our best selves, keeping us cut off and isolated from the people we care about and whose support enables us to thrive. You’ll find very few happy, healthy people who are dealing with too much stress.
Not all stress is bad. There is good stress, stress that stretches our abilities and pushes us to grow. And then there is bad stress, the kind that lessens our overall performance. The type of stress that results from being ‘too busy’ leads to exhaustion. That is definitively bad stress. Being busy and being productive are not the same thing. Maintaining effectiveness in work or any other task is one of the key ingredients to combating exhaustion.
Ask For Help
Self-reliance is a healthy thing to cultivate. In many cases, stoicism is a virtue to be admired. But we are connected to each other relationally, and the people in our lives are resources that we should be willing to draw from freely, just as we should eagerly offer to help others. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help, especially where it will make the quality of the work better and help diminish your level of exhaustion.
Stop Making To-Do Lists
Forget to-do lists. The only kind of to do list that works is a “must do” list. At the end of that “must do” there is an invisible “or else”. That “or else” is there because there is a consequence to failing to accomplishing that thing on your to do list. A lot of habitual list makers fill their to do lists with things that are either unimportant time-fillers or stuff that they would almost certainly get to otherwise. There are people who are skilled at making to do lists, and I wouldn’t discourage them from continuing to use a technique that works from them, but most of us will not find any benefit. Become a mono-tasker. Do the highest impact thing that requires the littlest effort, and then move on. By focusing on just one thing at a time, you are working in the way that is most aligned with how your brain’s executive functions are optimized to work.
Researchers At Harvard have reported that the average worker loses 11 days worth of productivity each year due to sleep deprivation, according to the National Institute of Health. It goes without saying that good sleep habits have an outsized impact on exhaustion levels, but it’s not just about sleep quantity, it’s about sleep quality.
As the pace of the world quickens and the degree to which we are connected and ‘always-on’ increases, our internal biological clocks have become misaligned with traditional work hours. Our work-life balance has gotten completely out of whack as a result. This has led to increased stress, particularly as more companies rely on fewer workers to do more work.
The stresses from our day follow us into the bedroom. Compound that with the incandescent blue glow of a phone screen, and we’re sabotaging sleep, all but ensuring that we’re not going to get the quality sleep we need to combat fatigue.
Go to bed early, wake up early. You’ll find huge benefits in doing both.
Rest is not the same as sleep. Rest is how you refuel your body and mind for continuous performance.
Keep Sundays for resting. It’s not just Christians that keep a day of the week for rest. Many world religions focus on reserving a day for rest, and with good reason. But rest shouldn’t just be confined to one day of the week. It should be part of your routine.
Your brain and body will benefit from rest periods of all lengths, from vacations to even very short breaks. View your work time as a period of sequential blocks. Between those blocks, reserve a couple minutes for rest. You can use a Pomodoro Timer if it helps to remind you.
Balance rest and work with exercise. Keeping your body active will keep your mind active. Countless studies have shown that exercise increases blood and oxygen flow throughout the body and brain, resulting in higher energy levels throughout the day, less fatigue, and higher alertness and mental sharpness. Exercise is an exhaustion fighting productivity booster.
Many people believe that they do not have time to incorporate exercise into their daily routine, but to those people I say, ‘take the stairs.’ These don’t have to be literal stairs, obviously. You can simply get up and go for a walk, or do some other simple exercise at intervals throughout the day. Research From The University Of Georgia has shown that even low-intensity workouts have an energy boosting effect.
Some estimates have shown that around 80% of workers go through their day in a state of mild dehydration. According to a study Performed By Wasterlund And Chaseling, dehydration of just 1% led to a 12% dip in productivity.
Staying hydrated is critical to keeping your performance on track and for keeping exhaustion at bay. Dehydration can lead to a decreased attention span and difficulty focusing. These things will throw off your productivity and increase the amount of stress caused by falling behind at work. All of this stress follows you home, hurts your quality of life and makes it harder for you to get sleep.
And it can all be avoided by simply staying hydrated.
Poor nutrition contributes to a lack of energy, decreased mental effectiveness and lower all around performance, in addition to the obvious negative physical health outcomes associated with poor nutrition habits.
I hope that what you’re beginning to see is that exhaustion is the outcome of a system of behaviors, habits and inputs that we give our body. These things compound, multiplying our sense of exhaustion into a cyclic pattern that begins to accumulate automatically.
Eating healthier foods, which means eating fewer processed foods, cutting out added sugars and sweeteners, eating more nutrient rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, reasonable quantities of nuts and seeds, healthier grains, fewer carbs overall and healthy fats, can give you the mental acuity to boost your energy levels and performance. Failing to eat healthfully can diminish your capacities, compounding in added stress and likely contributing to benefit losses from all of the areas above, weakening your chances of becoming a less exhausted, more productive person.
Listen To Your Body And Your Mind
The feelings that arise in your body and mind are signals about what’s happening inside of you. Feelings of exhaustion are a symptom of system-wide failures. Failing systems are not capable of producing desired results.
If you want to avoid exhaustion and become more productive, you must manage your behaviors as if you are the owner of them. And guess what, you are. Each of the above is the result of a choice that you make. You can choose to sleep less in order to ‘do more’, but you will only wind up doing less. You can choose to eat nutritionally deficient, convenient foods, in order to save time, but you will only wind up having to make up for it elsewhere. You can skip exercise or rest for the same reasons, but you will accomplish less. You can write sprawling to do lists, and you’ll even get a small dopamine hit just from writing the list, because it will feel as though you have actually done something by making the list, but you have actually done nothing.
Take simple steps to avoid exhaustion. Work in ways that are natural for your brain. Treat your body well and give it the inputs it needs, and give it frequent breaks. As a result, you will go home with less stress and sleep well.
Most importantly, you will escape the cycle of exhaustion that is limiting your performance and your quality of life.