Prem and Nishi have been complaining about exhaustion, their energy levels are so low, it’s an effort to smile. But, for two of the most hospitable, sociable persons you could meet, they say they’ve turned downright intolerant. Friends are not so welcome anymore, their jokes seem puerile, their bragging grates, even their well-meaning queries feel hypocritical. It goes with the territory, doesn’t it? When we are bone-tired, we tend to snap at others. We want to say, ‘Oh, leave me alone, go home!’ But this could be due to a whole lot of events.
According to psychologists, we undergo three primary phases in our response to deep stress:
Phase 1. To deal with the anxiety and tension, the body secretes adrenalin and cortisol, hormones that quicken heart rate, elevate blood pressure and make our breathing rapid. At this stage, we could be a little inattentive due to our preoccupations and… one little loose tile on the pavement can make us fall on our face and end up with bruises. Tip: During this accident-prone stage, be alert. Wear close-toed shoes instead of slippers. Don’t drive, hail a cab. Have a multivitamin tablet daily.
Phase 2. Gradually, the acute body reaction subsides and we enter a phase of defensive resistance. Our body gets into a state of readiness to deal with the situation. This phase helps us to be enormously productive where we become dynamos of efficiency. It gives us the energy surge to achieve, move forward swiftly or inch by inch. There’s clarity.
Phase 3. Here is where we have to really tread with care. Patience wears thin. Unknowingly, we try to hold on to our optimism. However, when things take longer than expected, the Phase 2 state of aroused readiness continues until stress turns to distress. We are so tightly wound up that we simply cannot unwind. Even if the work gets done, it almost feels like too little, too late. And chronic exhaustion sets in. Everything feels like a herculean effort now. Irritation growls just below the surface. Appetite is virtually non-existent.
But this is not the time to worry about your lack of appetite, that you don’t want to go for your regular walk, you can’t remember your old routine… Timely tip: Don’t add worry to exhaustion. And if you snap at somebody, don’t add guilt to your tiredness. Treat yourself with the concern, care and kindness you would show a friend going through a rough patch.
Be supportive to yourself. According to Kristin Neff, an expert in educational psychology, 75 per cent of people who are quick to help others, score low when it comes to being supportive of their own needs. Don’t bother about being a better host, parent, grandparent, etc. Kick off those tendencies and do things that please you. This is the time to reclaim your lost autonomy.
Take 10 more days off from work. Get yourself a foot, head-and-shoulders massage. Order a few meals from your favourite joint. Watch a comedy. Wear soft, loose clothes to lounge around in. Lie in your bathtub chin-deep in warm, fragrant water. Don’t answer the telephone if you don’t want to.
Sit with your favourite person – you. Dr Yogesh Mohan describes in an article how he helped an ‘emotionally exhausted, depressed’ patient. The good doctor made him sit and pay attention to his body. ‘Do you feel your body touching the cushion of the chair, your feet touching the floor… Just feel the sensations in different parts of your body.’ The effect was magical. By paying attention, the patient was able to slow down his breathing and found himself ‘going within.’ Dr Mohan said, ‘There is nothing to do, just be there.’ And he stayed there in the doing-nothing space for 15 minutes. Apparently, the session ended with the patient smiling through his tears and repeating, ‘I have never felt such happiness. I feel so happy…so happy.’
The fact is: we have no clear choices when it comes to dealing with externals — red tape, lawyers, dealers or government officers. But we have, as Dr Mohan points out, ‘the choice to breathe and control the rhythm of your own breath, a choice no one can take away from us.’ And when we exercise that choice, we begin to feel an inner cohesiveness, a feeling of at last being in control of our life.
Step back. Embark on a course where there is no politics, pandemic or endemic talk, no religion, racial issues or wars. You are no Atlas having to carry the world and its woes on your shoulders. You are a wonderful, loving human being who just needs to get back his or her bearings. It’s a temporary strategic retreat, dabbling your fingers in still backwaters, until you are ready for the world. When I went into this strategic retreat, I felt I’d shed some attitude, some hang up and my spirit was inches taller. Please try it.
Watch out for the pearls among the pebbles. Good things happen to people who watch out for good stuff. You may have heard the fable of the two swans — one was deft in picking up pearls from a heap of pebbles; the other was adept at sipping the milk from a mix of milk and water. Be a swan. When we hold the pearls up at eye-level and think and talk constantly about sweet success, little joys like being hugged by our kids and grandkids, meeting good people, of kindness and time given and received, of diligence that ultimately bore fruit, we see that the credit side of our life’s ledger far outweighs the debit side. It keeps exhaustion at arm’s length.
Reserve your best hours for your thing. We all have our best hours when we are more alert, extra productive, even-minded. And how do most of us spend those lovely hours? Paying bills, looking through email, browsing the net and looking after household needs. Change that around. Get immersed in your interests. It’s like you set your own exclusive personal ‘seal of Solomon on all things under the sun’ (G K Chesterton). The satisfaction makes everything else more manageable.
Unitasking is the way to go. As life gets more complex, become simpler. You shouldn’t be subjected to the ‘I am swamped’ syndrome. So, forget multitasking. Do one task at a time, at your pace. Be like the centipede who, when asked how she walks with such dignity when she has 100 legs to manage, replied cheerfully, ‘One step at a time!’. Chill!
Finally, some time-tested tips that always work:
- Drink warm water daily before your morning coffee or tea. It hydrates and peps up a tired body.
- Get some sun. it’s the original organic vaccine.
- Sport anti-blue light glasses while on the computer, mobile or watching TV; and anti-UV amber sunglasses outdoors. They keep the floaters away and the cooled eyes never grow tired.
- Get your oxytocin fix by doing something kind or sharing something with another.
- As you feel more normal, start a daily walk/swim. It gets the blood circulation going and banishes the last vestiges of blues and intolerance. When you are ready, your friends will be back in your life. Friends understand.
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.