This article should not replace advice from a registered healthcare professional. If you are finding that your mood and overall health are a problem, there is help available. Our introduction to Kickstart Your Wellness talks in great detail about how to spot low mood turning into depression – which we’d invite you to read and become aware of the signs to help you if you are taking the steps of speaking to a professional.
Today is World Health Day, and April is also Stress Awareness Month, so this article could not feel timelier, especially at a time when thereseems to be so much talk about how this pandemic has been an opportunity for us to assess our lives from a slowed down pace. How this gives us an opportunity to build back into our lives what we want and how this has given us an opportunity to take stock. Purely from the perspective of a collective mental health issue, we have a really, really big problem with this. Whilst we absolutely know that many of these statements and much of the motivational talk that has happened around it are meant in positive ways, it creates a narrative that we should be coming out of the pandemic feeling rested and relaxed. That we should be ready to take on the world again with a fresh perspective and only building the things we really want back into our lives as we come out of lockdown. The problem with this narrative is that it thinks in absolute binary terms – and for many people (ourselves included) we are certainly not coming out of this pandemic with a sense of rest and recoup – very far from it. Due to the fact that we are not coming out of the pandemic feeling rested, we are not coming through this with a renewed want to take on the world. The only thing we’d say we’re really feeling is a renewed and reminded sense that we are so ready to travel again (which of course has a positive impact on our income too) – ready to experience a world wider than our tiny London patio!
We’ve all seen it – there has been these kind of lockdown waves – first there was the banana bread craze (no judgement if you enjoy making banana bread – we got in on it a little bit too). There were the claims to learn a new language. There were all sorts of efforts online to keep social momentum up. This was great but it started to get a bit tiring. We’ve noticed many people in recent months feeling more tired than ever – many worries that are compounding this sense of worry and a general feeling of tiredness, apathy and just getting through each day. When we see this whole ‘build back better mentality’ being bounded around – and this idea that we are going to be able to create the life we want now as we come out of the pandemic, it can really make us feel less than. If you’re struggling right now to hold things together as they are, you can feel this real sense of dread that you’re not making the most of things. In some ways, we feel like this notion has become so desensitized from its original aim that it has become similar to the bucket list tick off or FOMO.
Of course, we are not for one second saying that you should give up on the idea of living your life in an intentional way, which feels full up for you – far from it. What we’re saying is that exhaustion is not a place to start to make those big leaps from. Exhaustion is a place to take small, nurturing steps and to probably unlearn a little of what you’ve been hearing that has been making you feel worse/overwhelmed about where you are. It is not surprising that you perhaps don’t have this newfound energy right now to juggle a whole range of exciting things. Perhaps, not every moment of our lives needs to be about that?
Image Description: A landscape format image. Fay sits at the kitchen table with a laptop computer.Fay is looking out of frame.In the foreground we can see small pot plants, and a water glass and jug.We can see kitchen appliances, cupboards and a tiled wall in the background.Overall, the colours are sunny and warm.
What is exhaustion
We thought it might be interesting first to talk about this in the context of exhaustion – because right now, due to everything that is going on, we’re experiencing both mental and physical fatigue. So let’s look at some definitions:
Physical exhaustionis a state of fatigue that leaves youphysicallydrained and can be caused by mental exhaustion.
Mental exhaustionis a state of fatigue that is caused by long term stress that can make you feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained.
Simply put, we’re flat out over it. We’re tired of having lost our freedom. We’re tired of all the extra things we need to think about. We’re zoomed out, we’re tired of worrying about all the things we worry about like money, work, friends and family. It has been said that we are in a constant state ofhyperarousal. This is a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It happens when a person’s body goes into alert mode after thinking about their trauma. Even though there might not be any present danger, their body feels and acts like there is, which creates stress that lasts after the original traumatic event. It is not hard to see why we are feeling so exhausted.
Signs of mental exhaustion
- cynicism or pessimism
- apathy (feeling of not caring)
- feelings of hopelessness
- feeling of dread
- lack of motivation
- decline in productivity
- difficulty concentrating
So, looking at exhaustion and how we might be feeling based on the events of the last year, one of the main things that may be affecting you right now is a feeling of apathy. If you think about certain days in the past where you’ve felt really, really tired – you rarely feel like you’re on top form and raring to go. This is likely how you feel now, but on overdrive. Chances are, if you’re feeling the effects of depression, your concentration is also affected. Meaning you are not working at the same rate you maybe once were on things and so they may take you longer – thus making you feel more tired overall. There is also the factor that all of these things combined may be contributing to a feeling that some of the activities you enjoyed before might feel harder or even give you a sense of fear. One thing in particular that we have found very difficult is that sometimes, we just don’t feel like we want to get outside. We feel tired, like we can’t handle something long or, just quite apathetic about it. This is something we’ve heard from others too – especially as many people are finding that they have less energy overall because of how their mental health is affecting their physical health but also, simply, you might not have been exposed to the same level of fitness due to your location and are therefore not feeling as ready to get outdoors.
So why do we feel this feeling of failure – like there is something wrong with us for not being ‘at our best’ the whole time?
Big life events can make us feel like we should be doing something differently. We get very used to seeing epic film narratives about shifting events that cause someone to do something lifechanging. In truth, many people ask us what the single event was that contributed to us going from our previous day jobs to the business and platforms we run now. The answer is, there wasn’t a single event – it was a combination of a number of things over time. Not one of them on their own was enough. Each one combined created that change. We seem to have this collective obsession with shift events. It isn’t surprising, it can sometimes make for a fantastic story. Combined with this, there is also a feeling of FOMO. Pull into a picturesque view on the side of the road somewhere and pull out a camera and we can pretty much guarantee that within minutes, there will be a number of other people who are pulling up to take a photograph and see what all the fuss is about. It is a product of the world we live in – we want to feel like we are striving, perfection has been glorified and the idea of success is made up of a collection of things that, if you really look into them, might not even define what success means to you. We’re also phenomenally good at comparing ourselves to others.Peopleevaluate bycomparing themselves to othersfor a number of reasons. One reason is to reduce or remove some of the uncertainty surrounding the areas of their live to which they’re comparing. Another is that it is a way of being able to define who they are and therefore allowing them to define who they are in context of someone else.So, if we feel like we’re seeing other people starting to have all these things, these thoughts and start to live this much (in our minds) better life than what we are, we want in on it. This can lead to us going after things we don’t actually want. It can make us feel inauthentic to ourselves. It can even make us feel like we’re failing.
So, how about we stop feeling that, because we are not coming out of this pandemic feeling rested in the way that many people would have us believe, we stop putting that enormous pressure on ourselves? How do we do that?
Below, we’ve outlined a number of techniques that can help with this, and help you to find a gentler way of moving through where you are right now in a way that feels right for you and honors your individual wants and needs.
Image Description: A landscape format image.Matt sits on a grey sofa looking at an iPad.To the right of the image is a small side table with a modern styled lamp on and several house plants.Overall, the colours are sunny and warm.
Taking a gentler road
One thing that has become abundantly clear for us personally is that we’ve been judging ourselves based on a past version. A great example of this is around our concentration and productivity in work. We’ve found we’ve been getting frustrated with ourselves many times over for not doing things as fast as we maybe once would have – and this has sometimes meant we’ve ended up having to work longer hours to finish something than we would have before. Those conversations would always go down the route of ‘we didn’t used to be like this, so why are we now?’ The truth is, when we compare ourselves to a past version – be that in work, how your body looked before giving birth, how your body reacted before an accident or illness or how you were before an event that triggered mental health issues. You will always find a reason to be unhappy with where you are now. The thing is, as difficult as it can be at times, all we really have is this moment right now. Being gentle is incredibly important, as is really seeing where you’re at right now and working from a place of kindness. If you can get to grips with honoring where you are now, you will likely be able to make small moves forward in ways you can’t do from wishing your starting point was somewhere else.
How can I do this?
·Congratulate yourself regularly on small things you do – whether that is paying all your bills on time or making food when you’re actually hungry all the way through to hiking your first 10km in months – they are all small wins. Something we find very helpful is to write a quick list at the end of the day of all the things that went right. Everything from being able to eat when hungry to wins at work. Life is full of little good moments if we look for them.
·If you find yourself comparing or getting stuck in where you used to be and not looking at where you are, try to remind yourself to be gentle and soften. Remind yourself that you are experiencing a hard time. Remind yourself to see things in context. Again, congratulate yourself for getting this far. If you find this hard, try to think about how you’d talk to a friend if they came to you with the same worries and try to talk to yourself with the same compassion and respect you’d give a friend.
·We generally tend to have a negativity bias and look for mostly the things that haven’t quite gone as we would want them to. Even though it can be hard, try looking at all the things you have achieved. If it helps, make a list. Make a list of the things that have happened that make you, you. This list is to serve as a way of making you realise that there is so much about you to be celebrated. Feel like you haven’t achieved much? We’re talking really simple here – you could even just base this on your last week. Feel silly for writing down that you managed to do your food shop? These are actually the fundamental things that keep us going. These are important things to our actual functioning in life.
Of course, you might feel like you want to make some changes as we come out of the pandemic – it might be that you want to maintain hiking as something you do for your mental wellbeing. You might want to travel more, do a course or change your career. Whilst we truly believe that going after what you want is an amazingly respectful thing you can do to honor what it is you really want, it needs to be done by keeping where you are in mind. We often hear the phrase ‘getting from A to B’. However, we think this really simplifies what often needs to happen to get to that goal. Generally, it is about going from A to Z, with many steps along the way. This isn’t said to daunt you, it is actually said to help you see it from another perspective. To help you see that if you aren’t just expecting to jump from A to B, that you can enjoy, and break down the little steps along the way to help you do what it is that you want. This can literally be as simple as deciding you want to get outside for longer and longer hikes. So rather than going from 10km to 30km in one go, you’d build up to 13km, 16km and so on. Remember to also be gentle along the way; things change, your ideas change, and you actually realize you want something a little different (and the great thing about taking smaller steps). Try to develop a practice around getting into the habit of thinking in smaller steps than you usually would and get used to asking yourself the question ‘can I break this down even more’ especially when something you want to do feels a little overwhelming.
Image Description (left to right): A landscape format image. Fay stands in an urban garden trimming a plant with a secateurs. Fay is earing a bright blue knitted top and there is a wooden fence in the background.Overall, the colours are sunny and warm.
‘A portrait format image. A close up image of the branches of a plant. We see yellow berries and small green leaves. The background is mostly green and heavily out of focus. Overall, the colours are sunny and warm.
Helping your concentration
Right now, it is fairly safe to say that your concentration is probably not at its all-time best – it’s a feeling of constant distraction and that your focus isn’t always there – sometimes even forgetting what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Pretty understandable given what we’re going through, however, that can often lead to a feeling of fatigue as it can take you longer to do things. So how can you help this:
·take regular breaks (this doesn’t always need to be long)
·make notes to remind yourself of what you need to do/make a plan
·do things in short bursts (this can apply to everything from working tasks through to exercise)
How can we start to look at what we want in a gentle way?
It is really important that we of course still look to fill our lives in ways that will help us feel nourished but especially right now, this can actually feel quite overwhelming. Instead of looking at these big ideas that you might have mulling in the back of your head, try instead looking at smaller things that you want to add (or even remove from your life). It might be something like creating some time to do an online yoga class in the week or getting out for a walk at the weekend. It might be researching a writing course that you would like to do and working out how you can break this down to fit in with your life. But be reasonable – whilst it is important to realize that you will not feel the way you do right now forever, right now, you do. So be realistic about what you can do in the time that you have. Often, we get disappointed with ourselves when we set unrealistic goals that we know deep down we can’t reach. This is about helping yourself to feel gently nurtured. Not sure how to do that? Get inquisitive and ask questions. If you find yourself trying to set potentially unreachable goals, ask yourself what is really going to happen if you take three extra weeks to get to something? How much more achievable (and not to mention enjoyable) could something be if you broke it down some more?
The most important thing we invite you to bring into your thoughts right now is this is not a time where we can naturally assume we are starting at zero – a fresh canvas all the time. This is a time of complexity – and in times of complexity, we need to meet ourselves with simplicity, mindfulness and compassion for ourselves. We know that is easier said than done, and this can feel close to impossible if you’re dealing with depression, but taking a gentle, step by step approach, we really hope, will work to give you an amount of nurturing relief and acceptance.