Latest posts by Wendy Harrington (see all)
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A couple of years ago I was so tired that trying to decide whether to just collapse into bed, or have a bath first, was enough to leave me utterly stuck. OK, in my case there were pretty clear reasons for me to have got to that state: I was 26 weeks pregnant, anaemic, and I’d just completed 2 events practically back to back – one of which had required to me to be onstage for 3 days straight. But whether you’ve been in Superwoman mode like I was, or if you’re exhausted for no apparent reason, when the going gets tough the wise woman takes heed.
We all know what it’s like to be tired from time to time, or to reach the point of exhaustion after an especially draining period. If you’ve been getting a big project at work off the ground; are breastfeeding a newborn or have been pushing it for some other reason, you probably anticipate needing to replenish for a while. But if you’re feeling exhausted for no apparent reason and just can’t seem to stop feeling tired, it’s definitely time to take stock.
Here are 5 signs you’ve got a point of exhaustion, and 5 emergency steps to take right away – before you find yourself at burnout.
5 signs you’re exhausted
Overdoing it is one thing. But if you’re in a chronic state of stress, overstimulation and over performance – and you’ve been in that mode for a few months or even a few years – it can be harder to recognise the signs.
Here are 5 things to watch out for.
1. You’re tired… all the time.
No matter what you eat or how much you sleep, you’re still tired. Ironically, this can actually make it even harder to get to sleep or experience quality rest when we do finally drop off. It’s a sign your system’s running on adrenaline (quite probably reinforced with caffeine) which can leave your nervous system actually unable to calm down enough for you to get the rest you crave. It can also show up as oversleeping which still doesn’t seem to cure your tiredness.
2. Procrastination or lack of motivation.
If you’re an overachiever, you’ll know this as the time when you really start to be hard on yourself for not performing. Similar signs include decreased executive functioning: reduced productivity, reduced performance, forgetfulness, and a general sense of mental fogginess.
If you find yourself berating yourself for messing up or dropping the ball, take a moment to consider if any of these other signs are present. Could you be suffering from exhaustion?
This is a symptom I’ve lovingly nicknamed the “Netflix sign”. It’s when you know there are things you could do that would probably help how you’re feeling — like going to bed, for one — but instead you stay on the couch and fire up another episode of whatever series you’re into. Or lie in bed scrolling through Instagram or checking Facebook.
These kinds of behaviours tend to arise because we’re trying to avoid a feeling of overwhelm, and they often go hand in hand with other “bad habits” like drinking too much alcohol, smoking, or reaching for the sugary snacks.
When we’re tired, many of us find ourselves tending to detach from others – for me it’s accompanied by a feeling of “I just can’t be bothered talking to anyone”. I’ll stop ringing my family, not want to talk to my husband when the kids have gone to bed and find myself avoiding communication with friends. Ironically, it’s when I’m most likely to need the support of those who love me that I withdraw most; can you relate?
5. Trying to control/fix things.
This is the flipside of the tendency to detach or withdraw – some of the women I’ve coached have shared that the opposite is true. When they’re exhausted they find themselves going into “fixing” mode, in an effort to control the people around them.
Suddenly driven to distraction by your colleague’s disorganization or your partner’s refusal to address their family strife? Check in with yourself first – is this a distraction from your own exhaustion?
What are your early warning signs?
This list is by no means exhaustive, if you’ll pardon the pun. We all have unique patterns and behaviours that come up when things have got on top of us. Take a few minutes to think about times when you’ve been at a point of exhaustion – or to be honest abut how things are right now.
If you’ve got an exhaustion sign that’s not on this list, chances are someone else will share it too. Share it in the comments below, so we can help each other spot the warning signs together.
How bad is it?
Are you reading through the list above thinking you’ve got every single one of those signs going on in your life – and more? Then it’s time to take action, because you might well be very close to – or already – burned out. If that’s the case, reach out and let us know. Click this link to book a call with the team. Burnout needs dealing with, and we have some of the best support out there for women who’ve reached that point – and if we can’t help, we can signpost you to somewhere that can.
If you’re not in crisis, and know you need to turn things around before you get to that point, here are 5 steps to take.
5 steps to get you out of exhaustion
These steps are simple, because we’re dealing with exhaustion. That’s the point where it actually becomes really hard to make plans for how you’re going to replenish yourself and get back on top of things, because you’re simply not functioning.
So, these 5 steps are designed to get you out of exhaustion and back to a more resourceful place from which you can start to see a real difference.
1. Reach out
One of the most important skills we need to foster is the ability to lean in to the support we need – from each other. Ask for help, in whatever form you need. In my case, it was literally asking a friend to come round and tell me: do I need to have a bath now or just go to sleep?
Maybe you need someone to babysit so you can go to bed at 7pm, or to do your grocery shopping, or lend you their spare room for a night whilst promising not to tell you the wifi password.
Don’t know who you’d call? Our BeOne community is the online space where women around the world gather to find community and support. Click here to join us.
Of course you need sleep, you’re exhausted. But when you’re past the point of clear thinking, it can be easy to underestimate just how powerful this is. Turn off the TV, put your phone on airplane mode, and get to bed early. Like, 7pm early. It’s time to get serious about catching up on sleep.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, work through some of the other steps first – or try some simple steps to help you unwind like avoiding screens or taking gentle exercise.
This is a less obvious one, but it can make a real difference becauseone of the first things we forget to do when we’re knackered is drink enough fluid. Rehydrate quickly by mixing up a jug of a mix of 1 part juice, 4 parts water, and a couple of pinches of salt.
Rehydrating the brain dramatically helps your executive function – and when you’re thinking more clearly you’ll take exponentially better care of yourself as you get back to a place of replenishment.
Yup, we’re going right back to basics. If you’ve been grazing on chocolate or eating out of the work vending machine, it’s time to get some decent nutrients inside you and eat a good square meal. Get your body filled up and make sure you have the energy you need to replenish physically.
5. Get physical
Finally, do something to take care of your physical body. A massage, a sauna, a long bath… something to take care of your physical body will make an enormous difference to your exhaustion. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it definitely isn’t a luxury – it’s an essential if you’ve found yourself at rock bottom.
Taking these 5 simple steps will give you the best possible chance of replenishing yourself to a stage where you can start thinking about a longer term strategy to get out of this state for god. Put them somewhere where you can see them in case of emergency – and pass them on to anyone in your life who needs them.
Need to get back on track?
When you’ve dealt with a crisis of exhaustion, it’s time to look at longer term ways to avoid reaching that limit. That might include reducing stress, asking for regular support from people around you and getting really clear on what you need in order to maintain your energy and wellbeing.
If you’re a member of our BeOne Community, check out Soft PowerCast 52 for an audio session all about how to deal with exhaustion. And if you’re not yet a member, click here to join – it’s free and this and a whole bunch of other resources are free when you do.
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