As the year hurtles to an end, a great many of us are battered versions of who we were in January. Our hopes and prospects of a shiny new year, have dulled into a kind of never-ending, draining sameness. Much of that numbing existence, due largely to a global pandemic, beyond our control. The social, economic, physical and mental consequences have been extremely harsh, on everyone.
Some, have responded with remarkable strength, but not without scars and emotional trauma as evidence. There are very few that haven’t experienced some kind of exhaustion or fatigue along the way, and there are a great many more, who like rabbits caught in headlights, are frozen in a zombie paralysis, lurching from one crisis to the next.
Fatigue is real folks.
It is also normal, and part of our human experience. However, if we fail to acknowledge it, and regulate it early, it can become deeply embedded in the pattern of who we are, and that’s when it can become a serious long-term problem.
To begin, it helps by spending a moment looking at the science behind fatigue, and then the tool kit to help remedy and regulate it. Here the neuroscience is pretty clear – if we know how our brain is functioning around a particular issue – we somehow are better prepared to fix things, and we act accordingly.
So, to the science.
Whenever we are challenged, be that a work deadline, an unsettling email from a colleague or client, a crisis at home or some shift in family affairs, regardless of the scale or extent of that challenge – imagined or real – our brain reacts by flooding our system with hormones. This chemical cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol is introduced to mobilise alertness, and produce the energy required for us to address whatever the challenge is. This is a natural, and actually, a life-saving response, genetically designed in our earliest ancestry, to alert and activate us to a possible impending danger or threat.
If we are continuously bombarded by challenges, as has been the case for many of us during 2020, and we fail to create sufficient moments of relief, then this chemical cocktail becomes the norm and our system remains at that heightened level of alertness all the time. As you can well imagine that is not sustainable, and if we experience ongoing periods like this, we stay at those high alert levels, instead of returning to a neutral balance, where we can recuperate.
A failure or inability to return to balance, exhausts our system, and fatigue sets in. If we fail to address the fundamental causes, and simply try and push on (which is precisely what many of us try and do) then that leads to burn out, and that creates significant future problems.
Despite this we all have the ability to adjust, restore and repair – so let’s talk resilience.
Resilience, is our instinctive ability to respond to tough experiences. It’s our bouncing back from adversity, and it’s the strengthening of our resilience that will help us combat fatigue.
Strengthening resilience is only successful when we have the clarity of mind to know we have to take care of the whole-self, when we treat our whole-being with respect and care.
There are four aspects to whole-self and each demand particular focused attention – the physical, the mental, the emotional and the social – see the diagram below.
The most obvious here is exercise, we all know we need some exercise, but doing it, can be a challenge. We have to shift that mental idea into – this is a must! This is important! I have to!
Sleep, or the lack of restorative and enough sleep, is the biggest culprit in failing to restore resilience. We simply cannot endure without good quality sleep. One of the nasty habits some of us have become slaves to, is the use of tech in those final hours of our day. Ideally, that has to stop or that very least reduce – turn on the blue light filter. Contact. This is about hugging, intimacy, touch and sex. Without warmth from another being, we are deprived and empty. We draw strength from each other.
Sleep is part of this, because a good night’s sleep refreshes our mental capacity. Mindfulness is central. Learning to be more present enhances clarity and focus, lifts performance, and a develops a sense of overall wellbeing. Being more present, reduces time wasted dwelling on past or future states. Reappraisal, is our ability to stand back from whatever the daunting challenge is, and to reframe it as positive. It’s an opportunity to build a growth mindset over a fixed one.
Reappraisal, helps us regulate our emotional responses. Savouring is about deeply valuing the joyful, fun and beautiful experiences we have, really holding them, allowing them to penetrate into our very being. Gratitude, in noting all that we do have. A daily acknowledgement of what we are grateful for builds appreciation and thankfulness. Noting gratitude supports hope and happiness, all it takes is pen and paper, and five minutes a day.
Perhaps the most important of them all. Connections speaks to relationships. As social creatures, we need each other. We thrive in positive collaborations, and we wither and die without them. Building, working and restoring our relationships is paramount to our health and success. Neuroscience informs us that: reflection + relationships = resilience. It is clear that others matter, so take the time and effort to invest in the value your relationships provide, and in doing so, you will add value to theirs.
So, look through this resilience wheel, and consider where new focus and support needs to happen for you. You might discover you have a lot to fix or you may only require a few adjustments. Find a partner, a friend, a colleague or family member who will help hold you accountable to the growth required in each of these areas, and take those actions together.
Do so in small consistent steps and savour each victory.
For when you grow and support the whole self – you strengthen resilience and with stronger resilience you will bounce back from fatigue, sooner, fresher and more consistently.
Yes, we can do this, and we can do it together. Begin!