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Many of us already struggle with fatigue and exhaustion.
With COVID-19 going through the community, some people are finding themselves debilitated, weary. Others already struggle with chronic health conditions that drain their energy.
It has become completely normal to be busy and define ourselves and our self-worth through what we do. Many people have become too fatigued to continue at their former pace. We may need to relearn the art of appropriate rest and life-rest balance.
It used to be called convalescence, and it may benefit us as a community to adopt this stage of healing that is often skipped, to take some extra time to rest and nourish our body before returning to the former pace of living.
It is often a major life event—a death, a relationship breakup, moving house—that can be the trigger for a health breakdown. A virus can also do it.
Exhaustion can take many forms such as:
>> inability to sleep,
>> difficulty getting out of bed in the morning,
>> general fatigue even to the point of collapse, panic attacks, and a sense of crisis,
>> or just a general loss of interest in all the projects that seemed so interesting before, and a difficulty forcing oneself to follow through.
Anxiety often seems to go hand in hand. The more exhausted we feel, the more our mind focuses on narrow details, catastrophizes, and makes us lose perspective.
This is probably familiar to many of you, and it is to me too. I have struggled with low-level chronic fatigue much of my adult life. It was triggered by Epstein-Barr virus, which is also likely behind my Hashimoto’s.
I can have lots of energy for a while, but then crash. It can take some time (and some gentle admonishment from my husband) for me to realise that I am pushing too hard. It doesn’t always fit my image of myself, but when I finally allow myself to rest adequately, I get in touch with the underlying exhaustion.
When chronic fatigue or adrenal burnout happen, your body will not let you do what you were doing before. When we are ill, we take the least amount of time off. Then we dive back into our busy life as soon as we are able, instead of taking time to convalesce, to recuperate fully.
Resting does not satisfy the ongoing sense of pressure to tick off the items on the to-do list. It doesn’t get the house clean, earn money, or feed the kids. How do we fit rest into a busy schedule anyway? It is non-productive time; therefore, it is undervalued.
In rest, our parasympathetic nervous system is dominant. It is our natural default. Between activities, we should naturally be resting. It gives us time and space to listen to our inner knowing, to check in with ourselves. Look at animals and how they rest so effortlessly. When we need to be active, to go and hunt woolly mammoths, or go to work, or give a talk, or work on big projects, we switch into our sympathetic nervous system. Our fight-or-flight impulse comes in to deal with the world.
People now spend so long in their sympathetic that they can’t fully relax. Or they get to the point where they have been activated for so long, they collapse into their parasympathetic. They become unable to activate their sympathetic any more. That is popularly called adrenal burnout, although that’s not a medically recognised term.
Our lives need space for us to thrive. It is the space in the room that gives the room its functionality more than the furniture, yet we tend to focus only on the furniture and forget the space. If our adrenals are switched on and we don’t know how to turn them off, we even forget it doesn’t have to be like this. It feels normal.
Rest, recuperation, space between activities, and wind down time are all absolutely essential parts of our day. They can be scheduled in…but only if they are consciously valued.
Rest is actually a skill than can be learned, and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Without rest, empty time, like a field-laying fallow, it is impossible to be truly creative or productive in the long-term.
Busyness is not the same as productivity or creativity.
Here are some ideas:
1. Give yourself permission to rest. Create an intention to rest as much as your body needs. That may be more than you expected.
2. Schedule in adequate rest and value it as important as the activities that you do. That means holidays, weekends, evenings of relaxation…schedule them in.
3. Take the last hour before bed to do something nourishing. You may have a bath, read a book, meditate, listen to music, or better still, play some music. Make it non-computer, TV, or smartphone based. Perhaps, write in a diary so that when it’s time for sleep, you have slowed down, processed your day, and your sleep can be deeper and more refreshing.
4. Sleep in if you can, at least on some days. Some of us wake early with adrenals switched on, and a sleep-in, when it can happen, can be nourishing. So is a slower, more mindful start of the day, when possible.
5. If at all possible, have an afternoon rest time. If you have young children, they can be trained to have a rest time too, such as to read a book in their rooms. If you work in an office, you might be able to take 20 minutes of your lunch break to literally lie down with your eyes closed somewhere. Or when you get home, take some time to rest before making dinner so that your evening is more relaxed. We consider taking prescription medicines to be normal to help us to just keep going, but if “rest” is part of a prescription, it is often ignored.
6. A morning routine can include meditation time, walking in nature or yoga. Simple walking is beneficial to our brain and well-being. A meditation practice, or yoga, can change your life.
7. Take rest days from work now and then. Mental health days, or days to be creative, or nonproductive days, will make your work days so much more productive and creative.
8. When you get sick, such as with Covid, take some extra time to really get well before returning to your normal schedule. This is the lost art of convalescence. People would be sent to the seaside or mountains for the fresh air and healthier lifestyle, while they convalesced from illness. They might be there for weeks or months to recover from some illnesses. This much convalescence may be needed for many people today with adrenal burnout or other chronic illnesses.
If you have adrenal burnout, or you are recovering from a viral illness, you may not be able to return to your former schedule for some time. You may need to learn to pace yourself. It may involve letting go of perfectionism around the housework. It may mean, for some, letting go of work altogether for a while, if at all possible.
Rest time is how we get back in touch with ourselves. It is how we get in touch with what is really important for our life. It is also physically important for the nervous system, the endocrine system, the digestive system, the brain, the muscles…to rest between activities.
They just don’t function well without regular rest. We can push them so far, then they do snap. Or lead to more illness.
It is much better to build into your lifestyle the time to rest, slow down, and stop than wait till it is forced on you.