We all have moments, days or sometimes even weeks when we feel exhausted. Mentally, physically, or emotionally. Sometimes, all three. And in the current day and age, burnout is one of those words that gets thrown around quite a lot.
Remember when we used to get “stressed” and anxiety used to be call “worry”? Times have changed. Mental health symptoms, overall, haven’t.
Low energy is practically endemic.
Although we have more information on self-help, self-care and the importance of wellbeing, we’re still struggling to put that knowledge into action, and find life balance, whatever that may mean for you.
When my mental health dips, overwhelm, burnout and self-doubt are a common trio to sneak up on me. Here are 12 strategies that can be done in just a minute or two to help check-in and assess what I can do to manage my wellbeing.
This is a checklist to consider: not all of these tools work for me every time, but they all have been helpful at some point. Thus, this isn’t a step-by-step, do this-then-that, but more of a “what about this?” list.
1. Ask yourself “what is working?” And then “what isn’t?”
The answers for me range from my sleeping pattern to dietary sugar crashes (pizza coma isn’t usually helpful when I’m already depressed), back to where I’m sitting and if I’ve opened the curtains today.
This is the first technique because it’s essentially how I came up with the following eleven items. What works for you, what is helping keep you afloat already? What is definitely making you worse at this moment?
Take notes if it helps.
2. Take a moment to ‘be’ in your space and time.
I’m not suggesting you meditate for an hour a day, but rather check-in with the state-of-you-right-now.
If this feels foreign, I recommend this post which talks through a technique I use with children and adults alike, and if you’re more ‘physical’ than mental, then here is your list:
- Force your shoulders down, actually drop them with some force.
- Then focus on finding your feet or butt and the stability beneath it.
- Roll your head from left to right slowly, doing a few circles in each direction.
- Finally, take a slow breath.
Voila! Tick this tool off.
3. Open a window or put on a fan.
The original version of this was “get outside, or at least open the window” but I rarely go outside when I’m feeling shattered. But I can open the window, see any sunlight that might exist (48% of days here in England have sunshine), and hear the birds / trees / cars. If it’s ‘stuffy’ in my head or the room, a desk fan works in a pinch.
Again, it’s a mindfulness moment, a pause in my thoughts and feelings, even if just for a minute.
4. Drink something ‘still’, preferably water.
It’s a bit ‘cliché’ but there’s a reason for it. It’s almost universal that water gives us a mentally refreshing jolt, but it is also something that in western society tends to be helpful due to hydration, sugar and salt levels.
If you really don’t like plain water, tea or coffee isn’t a bad substitute for our purposes, although fizzy drinks are less effective. As we’re focusing on wellbeing, as long as the sugar content isn’t too high, hot chocolate has a great ‘emotionally warm’ feeling for some of us.
I find room-temperature water works best for me, but experiment and take note of your favourite.
5. Change your environment, even for 10 seconds.
This doesn’t need to be a huge thing: Last week I was feeling a bit stagnant, so for this step, I just moved from the left side of the sofa to the right side. Yesterday I sat at my desk for an hour, facing the television.
Today I’m on the right side but am twisted to face the [now open] window, listening to cleaning motivation youtube videos.
Even walking over to a window for 2-3 minutes, sipping your tea and rolling your shoulders can be enough of a ‘change.’
6. Any “self-care” task… as long as it works for you.
I almost didn’t include this because it’s such an individual thing, but in 2019 I’ve discovered some scented hand cream that relaxes me instantly, I also have a battery-powered-candle from IKEA that sets a ’calm mood’ without any fire risk.
Equally, I was gifted a singing bowl for Yule which the noise actually ‘resets’ my brain when I’m over-thinking. (The free app, Insight Timer has these sounds if you don’t want to buy a physical bowl). [No, this is not currently sponsored, I just love the app.]
So, if you have a tool that works for you, schedule in one of them today. If it needs to wait 30 minutes, fine, but the sooner, the better.
7. Perform any type of physical movement.
Another often-cited yet often-discounted when we’re low on energy. However, I’m not asking you to run around the block, or even step outside. For this ‘tool’ any movement counts.
- Walking downstairs to make a drink.
- Doing 5 lunges or 10 jumping jacks.
- Dance around the room to a 2.5 minute song.
- Stand on the spot and twist left then right to stretch your lower back.
8. Cleanse your physical body, beginning with your hands.
When we feel like rubbish, physically or mentally, a shower and fresh clothes can make a massive difference.
However, if that feels like too much, even washing your hands in lukewarm water, and if possible, rinsing your face with warm water and patting it dry can help us feel more alert, awake and emotionally ‘reset.’
On tough days when I’m out of the house, exhaling while I run my hands under warm water in a sink can nudge me up the scale of feeling less tired.
9. Answer what you feel thankful for.
Again, a common suggestion in the self-help sphere, but neuroscience actually tells us that mentally counting situations you are grateful for impacts the chemicals and structure of our physical brain structure.
Thus, if being thankful that my cat came for a cuddle, that my internet is working fine this afternoon, and for this microwavable heat pack is going to make my future self happier and healthier… it’s a mental effort I will ensure I do.
Again, I work with anything and everything I can. On my most anxious days, I am grateful for my duvet and a glass of wine, while on better ones my gratitude looks more like fresh air, physical health and my job.
10. Fuel your body with ‘real’ food.
I am not someone who can judge or advise anyone else about eating, but one thing which works for me when I’m feeling a bit lethargic is to make a healthy food choice.
This essentially means I eat something healthy before I make a less-healthy choice. For example, I’ll eat some cucumber, lettuce, grated carrot or a slice of cheese instead of picking up a chocolate bar or packet of crisps.
You can still have the chocolate after if you want it, but I find about half of the time now, that little pick-me-up is enough to undo a sugar-crash and prevent another one, which is definitely one of my key triggers during burnout!
11. Complete some small task and feel the achievement.
One of the oldest cognitive therapy techniques is based on the idea of a “vicious cycle of inactivity.” To cut a long story short, it is natural for us to withdraw when we don’t feel 100% well. However, by resting, we are not creating the momentum or energy to then feel energised, and thus to feel like moving. The same thing happens mentally.
We do less. When we do less, we tend to feel worse. However, we feel a sense of relief about not pushing ourselves to things. If you’re someone who experiences self-doubt, guilt or shame, this impacts your thinking patterns and emotions even if it began as a physical shift.
To break this cycle of inactivity, complete one tiny task or aim. One of my favourite examples is to clean one tap on the sink with soap and warm water. No preparation, no big expectations, just a tiny step better than the bathroom was before.
Equally, any of the items on this list would count!
12. Ask yourself “what is my mission, or life quest?”
I find the best long-term ‘antidote’ to burnout and zapped energy is to cultivate my motivation and momentum. For me, this is about focusing on the bigger picture of why I’m here, or the pull inside me.
When you feel exhausted, remembering what makes you angry or what fires you up can be a good starting place to rekindle that inner fire and give you that sense of power or energy again.
That’s what I’ve got for today.
Tada. 12 tools I’ve learned to try when exhausted [over 15 years of trial and error] so you don’t have to. These are each small steps taking on average of 2 minutes, and when added up (even just 3 of these throughout your day) make a big impact on managing burnout before it truly sets in.
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