Managing exhaustion - self care
Exhaustion is something that it is likely we can all relate to. Whatever the reason you have come across this article, we will all, at different times, have fluctuating levels of energy and resilience, depending on variables such as our mental and physical health, caring responsibilities, finances, significant life events, employment and social connectivity, addiction and relationships.
When under pressure from these multiple variables, and the additional expectations we often put on ourselves to be 'good enough', it is understandable that we might find ourselves feeling exhausted trying to 'do it all'.
Professor Marie Asberg devised the exhaustion funnel to explain how, at times like these, it is often the activities we feel are 'optional' or 'desirable' that we give up first, such as a weekly swim, a coffee with friend, time reading a book or a cinema trip can give way as physical symptoms, lack of sleep and energy spiral further into doing less, and lives becoming narrower, contributing to feelings of guilt, low mood and ultimately joylessness, leading to a deep sense of exhaustion.
Most of us will be familiar with the idea that we have to 'put in to give out'. That is that we cannot look after others unless we take care of our own needs first. Endless giving can lead to burnout, resentment, or loss of sense of self.
However, sometimes we may not realise that we are on the path to exhaustion or burnout, operating on autopilot, and just keeping going the best way we can, perhaps in difficult circumstances. How can we prevent or work with this?
Firstly, identifying when you are low on energy is a positive start. Check in with your body daily, perhaps on waking or going to bed. How are you feeling? Learn to listen to your body, taking regular gentle exercise and rest, hydrating, eating and sleeping well.
Try this exercise often used in mindfulness training:
Divide a piece of paper in half. On one side, consider and identify activities and encounters that nourish you. These will be different for us all, and might include things such as singing, gardening, reading, a favourite television programme or walk. On the other side, write down all that depletes your energy. Again, this will be different for us all, and may include items such as cutting down on time spent on social media, or unnecessary chores. Ensure that you are engaging in nourishing activities daily and making informed choices about your depleting activities.
Pause regularly. Become aware of the breath in your body. Narrow your focus of attention to just three cycles of breath as the breath just breathes itself. This is enough to bring you out of your busy thinking mind and into your body for a few moments, giving space to any situation.
Talk or journal. Find a way of expressing yourself in a safe and helpful way for you. Whether it is counselling, supervision, meeting a friend or talking to a colleague, sharing and connecting can be incredibly healing and help you to feel less isolated when running low on energy It also gives others the opportunity to support you, and journaling can help you to express yourself and notice themes and reoccurring patterns.
Being kind to yourself. It is likely that you are doing the best you can in challenging circumstances in a busy world. Recognising that some days, your achievement is that you have got through the day and that this is enough.
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About Tania Brocklehurst
Tania Brocklehurst (MBACP snr accredited) is an integrative counsellor, clinical supervisor, mindfulness teacher & CBT therapist