How to Cope with Exhaustion

Feeling like you’ve scraped the bottom of the energy barrel to the point where the barrel no longer has a bottom? So tired you just kinda want to cry and find somewhere dark to curl up in the fetal position so you can finally let your exhaustion overwhelm you? Feeling like you’re stretched beyond the point of recovery and to the point where all of the stress has invaded your dreams so now you have to deal with it while your awake and asleep? While none of these things is a good position to be in, we often find ourselves in them when the shit hits the fan and we focus ourselves on simply doing everything one step at a time until we’re finished. Or until we collapse from exhaustion. I’ve done both, and neither one works out well in the end because we’re ultimately taxing our mind and body to the point of damage.

There are ways to help prevent some of the damage, or to mitigate the negative aspects of trying to buckle down and work through long days, busy weekends, or months of ceaseless stress. None of them are guaranteed to work and they’ll all need to be tweaked to fit your specific needs, but the core concepts should definitely work for you. I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with various forms of exhaustion thanks to insomnia in high school, business and insomnia in college, and stress and business after college, so I feel like I’m pretty qualified when it comes to figuring out how to cope with mild to extreme exhaustion until you’re capable of resting.

The first thing I’m going to say, despite it making me feel like a total hypocrite, is that these sorts of situations are best avoided. Even short periods of exhaustion or sleep deprivation can interfere with your short-term memory, inhibit the formation of long-term memory, wreak havoc on your immune system and muscles, and will for-sure exacerbate any health issues you have, be they physical or mental. It is good to know your limits and to be able to push past them when you need to, but there’s a pretty big difference between “I need to just push through this” and “I think pushing through this is going to yield the best results I’m going to ignore options that would leave me feeling more rested.” I guarantee that you will always have better results if you can rest first. You can’t always rest, but you should when you can. If you rest up or take good care of yourself, you will see your best results in the long-run.

If resting up isn’t an option, you should really figure out which type of energy you’re going to be running short on. If you’re physically active during this period of low sleep or high stress, you will be short on physical energy. If you’re stretching your skills and abilities in new ways or being forced into new situations without much time to prepare, you’ll run out of mental energy. If you have to take care of people or deal with people who don’t want to be dealt with, you’ll rapidly run out of emotional energy. If you’re doing something that involves all three, then I feel so sorry for you and I wish you the best because most of my strategies for coping with a low energy of one or two types requires relying on the other(s) to help carry the weight or be turned into the type that’s running out.

If you need more mental or emotional energy, some quiet meditation or music is usually very helpful. Something that will help you feel a certain way or that will help you process the feeling you’re dealing with at that moment. Maybe you need something to make you feel powerful or something to help slow you down to alleviate some of the mental strain you’re experiencing. If it’s physical energy, I suggest taking it easy by sleeping, playing games with friends, or watching something while you let your body rest. Even a couple hours of any of these activities, while you continue to work on other things, can help get you back to a point where you can make it through the day. I’d recommend against anything that might be destructive, like excessive eating, alcohol, or drugs. I haven’t got much experience with the later, but I’ve seen enough people make that mistake to have learned the lesson.

Additionally, a change in your diet can help keep you going. Avoid too much sugar since that is going to just set you up for a terrible crash later, unless you’re eating natural sugars from stuff like fruit or vegetables. I recommend eating plenty of both to keep you going since it helps to have something to do with your mouth while you’re trying to focus. At the same time, having an idea of what kinds of foods provide the most energy for you will help a lot. I know my body processes protein very efficiently, so I can delay encroaching exhaustion by eating a lean, protein-rich diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit. It’s not really going to make you feel energized, but it’ll keep you fueled and prevent your body from taking too much energy away for digestion. Throughout it all, avoid sugary sources of caffeine. Stick to things like coffee or tea and don’t add too much sugar to them or else you will get an immediate boost followed by a crash when the caffeine kicks in so you’ll feel exhausted and be unable to rest it off. Also, drink more water than usual. A good goal for water consumption is to drink half your weight in ounces of water. If you want something a little easier, I suggest going for at least three quarts or liters. It’ll help keep your mind clear and hydration is key at all times.

The last thing, and the most effective, is getting organized and writing things down somewhere. The exact methods for doing so depend a lot more on how you think and how you tend to organize information, but it’ll help if you do it, regardless of how you do it. For instance, the only reason I’m still sane and productive these days is because I’ve taken to writing to-do lists and journaling things as the day goes on. Not only is it helping my emotional energy, but it’s take a constant source of mental energy drain (trying to remember everything) and offloading the work onto a notebook. I can write down not just how I’m feeling, but also what my thoughts were on whatever meeting I just had, save ideas for later, and get a little mental clarity when I set everything else aside for five minutes so I can write things out. For people who don’t have issues with remembering things that only exist electronically, there are a ton of applications and programs out there, most of which you can get on your phone. Heck, even Google Now does a lot of that stuff.

Like I said earlier, it is best to avoid pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion, but hopefully these tips will make it easier to cope when you don’t really have any other choice. Good luck!

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