Everyone I spoke with last week is exhausted. Physically, emotionally exhausted.
I feel exhausted as I write these words. It was, ironically, a week rich with professional successes. I worked at a comfortable pace. I live in South Florida where the weather is nice and I get to swim in a lap pool every day. I’m not suffering. On the contrary, in many ways it was a week in which I settled rather comfortably into my new normal.
And I am exhausted.
You and I may feel exhausted because we’re working hard. Really, really hard. We may feel exhausted even though we’re NOT working hard.
Behind every activity we engage in, every person we engage with, every mundane little task we perform looms shock and trauma about the complete disruption of life as we knew it.
Emotional and psychological trauma, says helpline.org, is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people.
That about sums up current circumstances, doesn’t it?
Here’s the bedeviling part. If you’ve lacked self-care habits in the past, this lack is now magnified. If you DID have great self-care habits – well, many of those habits may not be actionable right now. If you live in Florida, for example, you can’t go the gym, swim in the ocean, attend your yoga class. And other practices, like meditation perhaps, may feel much harder because you’re suddenly sitting with the depth of your trauma. You’re bringing trauma into acute consciousness.
Trauma experts have a slew of strategies for how we can start to overcome traumatic exhaustion. What works for us tends to be very personal. What works for me may not work for you. If you experience chronic exhaustion due to childhood traumas, I urge you to consult with a professional. Here are my 4 favorite starting points:
1. Acknowledge that it is so.
Ditch your Superman- or Superwoman Complex. Many of us have been trained or trained ourselves to push through exhaustion. Try a little harder. Go get it done. That mindset has not been sustainable in the past, and it is not sustainable now. We cannot do anything about our physical, mental or emotional exhaustion if we do not acknowledge that it is so. Notice. Accept. When we don’t, we are likely to experience more debilitating PTSD in the future.
2. Focus on 3.
Wake up in the morning and identify your top 3 priorities for the day. Make sure the 3 priorities are actually achievable. If you’re overwhelmed with too much on your plate, “Pick 3” will immediately keep you from overwhelming yourself. It will make it easier to make more self-nurturing decisions as you move through the day. If you’re an individual who has been furloughed or lost a job, “Pick 3” will help you define and execute simple successes that will energize you.
3. Get Moving.
This may feel counterintuitive when you feel exhausted. Remember - trauma disrupts our body’s natural equilibrium; it freezes us in a state of hyperarousal and fear. As well as burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins, exercise and movement can actually help repair our nervous system.
Try to exercise for 30 minutes or more on most days. If it’s easier, three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day are just as good. Trust that this exercise will lessen your exhaustion. Exercise which is rhythmic and engages both our arms and legs—such as walking, running, swimming or basketball works best. If none of these are an option for you, play some music and dance. It works brilliantly.
4. Self-regulate your nervous system.
No matter how agitated, anxious, or out of control you feel, it’s important to know that we can change our arousal system and calm ourselves. Not only will it help relieve the anxiety associated with trauma, it will also engender a greater sense of control.
Mindful breathing is a quick way to calm ourselves. Simply take 60 breaths and focus your attention on each ‘out’ breath. Sensory input changes our emotional and mental state. Does a specific sight, smell or taste quickly make you feel calm? Or maybe petting an animal or listening to music works to quickly soothe you? And ground yourself. To feel in the present and more grounded, sit on a chair. Feel your feet on the ground and your back against the chair. Look around you and pick six objects that have red or blue in them. Notice how your breathing gets deeper and calmer.
And of course, always the basics. Exhaustion and trauma can disturb our sleep patterns. But a lack of quality sleep can exacerbate your trauma symptoms and make it harder to maintain our emotional balance. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day and aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Above all, keep it simple. But please, un-exhaust yourself.