This is something I have been repeating to myself for the last few weeks. It happens to all of us from time to time: we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes we’re fighting a bug or getting over it; sometimes it’s overwork or just stress or even just feeling really burned out. It really doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we just really want to take a break– from everything!
You know the feeling: the alarm goes off and as we turn it off, the thought of calling in sick runs through our head. You are on your way home from work, there’s nothing prepared for dinner and you feel too tired to cook, so ‘we can do takeout for one night, can’t we?’ Every little thing feels like a major production and the demands on your time and energy are really beginning to wear on you.
Before you give in and speed dial the Chinese Palace, take a deep breath and repeat after me: “you are stronger than you know!” Normally, I am not someone who subscribes to “feel good” mantras. I am not discounting mantras as ‘hocus pocus,’ but like affirmations, they are highly personal. Mantras and affirmations work for a lot of people, but for me, not so much. Standing in front of a mirror and telling myself “I am worth my best effort every day!” makes me want to roll my eyes. I have heard others remark “if you don’t believe affirmations/ mantras work, tell your kids they are failures every morning and see the effect that has on them.” I firmly believe mantras and affirmations work when we believe them and, while I truly believe I am worth my best efforts every day, I also know that some days, we have to put others ahead of us. In short, Real Life catches up to us. We have to get a project done, which means we work late, which means that healthy dinner we had planned isn’t looking good to us as we drive home, exhausted and already running late. “Hello, Chinese Palace?”
“You are stronger than you know.” I’ve been repeating this particular mantra to myself a lot lately simply because I’ve been so busy! There’s been more going on at work, there’s been more going on socially, and I’ve got tendonitis in my right hand which is healing very slowly. On top of all this, I’m house/ dog sitting for my sister’s family which means I’ve got 8 dogs on my hands and as I was packing the car the morning of my departure, I tripped over the luggage and landed in the flower bed! A few bruises, some muscle strains and landed on the right hand– lovely! I really felt like giving up! But, I packed the car, loaded my own dogs (2 of the 8) and headed off to my sister’s. There are people and dogs depending on me!
Given everything that’s gone on in the last few weeks, it would be easy to give up: I need a break! And the truth is that I really do need a break, but not from taking care of myself! In fact, taking a break and getting some rest would qualify as ‘taking care of myself,’ since it would allow me to rest, catch up on some sleep and de-stress. We all know what happens when we allow ourselves to become overworked, underslept and over-stressed: reference that sore throat mentioned above! We tend to get sick and worse, we tend to be chronically tired. You might think those should be reversed and that being sick is worse, but there’s a lot that stems from chronic exhaustion. It takes us longer to recover from illness and injury (reference the tendonitis in my hand), we tend to make mistakes due to poor concentration and we tend to make poor decisions as well. In short, when you are chronically tired, run down and over-stressed, your sleep quality goes down due to the stress, you tend to get more stressed more easily, you are likely to forget things or make errors, which can lead to more stress or injury and when you are faced with a choice like takeout or something healthier, you are more likely to choose the takeout since it’s one less thing for you to do!
Ideally, you should always be the first priority on your list since how can you take care of the others in your life is you are exhausted and burnt out? As I said, “ideally!” We all know that’s not what happens as much as it should. But giving up and giving in to junk food isn’t going to make you less tired or less burnt out or more rested. More often than not, it’s going to make you feel worse than you did before. If it’s full of sugar or carbs, your blood sugar will likely spike then plummet. If it doesn’t have a lot of nutrition, it will probably add to your feeling run down and if it’s more junk than nutrition, you will probably feel hungry again a couple of hours later.
At the risk of sounding like an old lady, too many of us use the very good practice of “taking care of oneself” as an excuse to give up. In short, we are becoming a culture of crybabies. It isn’t quite “he was mean to me so I’m not going to work/ school/ gym today” but sometimes it feels like it’s headed that way. It’s one thing to take care of yourself, as in stand up for yourself when a coworker/ supervisor is mean, rude or otherwise inappropriate, or to stay home a day or two to fight off a cold or flu. Staying home and getting some rest not only helps you recover faster, it keeps you from giving the bug to the rest of office! (Thank you for NOT sharing!) You know the people I’m talking about: they are the ones in the office who look for a reason not to come to work or to pass off the difficult assignments to you. Their lives are full of drama and stress and they need sympathy and attention because “it’s all too much to handle!”
Life has a way of wearing us down if we let it but we don’t have to let it get that bad. More importantly, we don’t need to give up every time we get stub our toe! We really are stronger than we know but most of us throw in the towel before we even begin to test our mettle. We’ve all heard stories of ordinary people who have survived some really hard situations and overcome tremendous obstacles: what we don’t realize is that the same kind of resilience and mental toughness is in all of us. We just haven’t had to go there, so most of us think “I’d never survive something like that!” When the time comes, however, we surprise ourselves by finding the strength we thought we didn’t have.
Obviously, surviving a few tough weeks at work or at home doesn’t really qualify as a “life or death survival situation,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t tough. When we give up on taking care of our health because things aren’t going as smoothly as we’d like, it becomes a habit and like all bad habits, the more we practice them, the better we get! We never put ourselves to the test because when things start to look difficult, we start looking for shortcuts and escape routes to avoid whatever difficulties might be coming our way.
We need to get in the practice of toughing it when it’s appropriate and taking time to rest when we really need it. FYI: “rest” doesn’t mean “takeout” or “ice cream”– it means getting some sleep, eating something nutritious and maybe getting a little sunlight. It can mean walking the dogs down to the park and rolling around on the lawn with them. Taking care of yourself is the most restful thing you can for yourself and it’s pretty dang healthy too!