If you find yourself drowning is a sea of responsibilities, feeling weighed down by constant exhaustion and overwhelming busyness, you are not alone. Many Americans are reporting a drop in energy as stress levels rise. We are juggling multiple roles and demands for our energy. The fact is that your energy (including physical, emotional, and mental reserve) is a finite resource that must be renewed regularly. We have to honor what it means to be human with these real limitations. Continuing to push ourselves beyond our capacity is a recipe for stress exhaustion.
You can recognize stress exhaustion by the following symptoms:
- Body aches
- Upset stomach
- Crying spells
- Difficulty concentrating
- Racing thoughts
- Low motivation
If you are experiencing three or more of the symptoms above, it’s time to take some steps to regain your energy and avoid the harmful consequences of stress exhaustion.
Honestly Assess Your Energetic Drains
Begin by identifying all the factors in your life that require energy. This will include daily energetic drains (like household chores) as well as the less frequent drains (like medical issues). Once you have your list of factors, assess what percentage of your energy seems to go to each lately. Creating a pie chart or list is a helpful way to do this. Knowing your energetic demands can only add up to 100%, be honest with yourself about how much of your energy goes towards work, kids, parents, partner, friends, exercise, hobbies, volunteer projects, household chores, running errands, etc.
- Kids – 40%
- Work – 30%
- Partner – 10%
- Chores – 10%
- Volunteering – 5%
- Parents – 5%
Match Your Energy to Your Values
Most people get about half way through their list of energetic drains and realize they already used up 100% of their energy resources. How in the world can you create more energy for exercise, hobbies, or friends when 100% of your energy is already allocated to work, kids, partner, etc.? Take an honest look at your pie chart and see if it matches your values. Is this how you want to prioritize your energy? Does this feel satisfying?
If your energy isn’t lining up well with your values, then it’s time to consider creating change. How would you like this pie chart to look? Can you outsource some of your responsibilities or ask for help so the burden is less? Where can you ease up on your energetic expense in order to create space for something more important? Maybe this month you cut back on volunteering so you can help out your parents, go to the gym, or have lunch with a good friend. Every choice you make to spend your energy requires a sacrifice of energy elsewhere. So be thoughtful about what matters most to you. And give yourself permission to view these choices as temporary, so you can adjust how you spend your energy over time.
Practice Self-Compassion with Your Energy
We often feel uncomfortable challenging how we spend our energy because we hold unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Many of us feel burdened by the “shoulds” in our heads. We should be rock stars as employees, partners, parents, friends, etc. We believe we need to always be excelling and fully invested in each part of our lives, fulfilling everyone’s expectations all while staying fit and happy. And if we’re not perfect in all areas, then we harshly judge ourselves as total failures. These perfectionistic standards may come from our childhoods or our communities. And they cause us such unnecessary suffering. It is an act of self-compassion to acknowledge these unhelpful burdens we place on ourselves and try to accept that we simply cannot do it all at once perfectly. Once again, we must respect that we are human and our energy resources are finite.
Allow yourself to choose just three things each day to really focus your energy on. Imagine your energetic pie will shift from day to day. Some days you may go all in with work, family, and partner. While other days you’re all in with exercise, friends, and hobbies. Imagine shifting priorities from day to day so that over the course of the month you feel like you’ve given your energy to each aspect of life you find valuable. And give yourself permission to let the other things drop down on your list that day without guilt or anxiety. Your focus is to spend energy in a compassionate way that reflects your values. You can still keep up with chores and errands, but you allow them smaller slivers of the pie on different days, just 5-10%.
Renew Your Energy
Continuing to expend energy without renewing it is a fast track to stress exhaustion. Consider what you personally find renewing: getting a good night’s sleep, reading a book, catching up with old friends, binge watching shows on your couch, going for a walk, meditating, etc. Try to cultivate as many strategies as possible to renew your energetic reserves and prioritize creating the time and space for this in your daily life, yes…daily life.
Many people struggle to give themselves permission to rest and recover, viewing it as self-indulgent or selfish. Yet nurturing yourself is how you create even more energy for personal wellness and caretaking. It’s like the old saying: You can’t pour from an empty cup. Refilling yourself isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Focus Your Energy
Mental exhaustion is often related to relying heavily on multitasking. You respond to texts while watching the kids or work through your daily agenda while walking the dog. Multitasking is an inefficient use of energy. It requires our brains to constantly shift attention and focus. We not only waste mental resources in this process, we also tend to feel like we’re failing in each role. Without adequate focused attention on each task, we easily become confused or forgetful. This is because our minds work better when focused on one thing at a time. We can be more relaxed when we let ourselves get into the zone rather than juggling multiple demands and interruptions.
To focus your energy, it’s helpful to create space between tasks. Imagine allowing yourself a brief mental break between each task or role you have. You might take a deep breath and just tell yourself that you’re letting that last task go so you can focus on the next one. Maybe you stretch, meditate, visualize putting your responsibility onto a shelf to get a break from it. This allows you to more fully focus on the next task at hand without wasting energy still ruminating on the last one. This takes practice and intention. Be compassionate with yourself as you gradually develop the ability to focus for just a few minutes on one thing at a time. It’s often helpful to focus on being fully present in your body to stay in the moment. Tune into your senses while letting go of distractions.
Support a Culture of Energetic Conservation
Chances are that other people in your life are struggling with this feeling of exhaustion at times. Creating a network of support can help each person be accountable and more compassionate with themselves. Encourage your friends and family members to renew their energetic reserves. Support them when they set new limit that focuses their energy. And be honest about why you chose to skip an event or task when you needed a rest. The more we support one another to take care of our energetic priorities, the faster we create a healthier culture around the limits of our energy resources. Be gentle with yourself and all the demands in your life as you offer the same gentleness to others.
Written by Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D. for Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, wellness, perinatal mood, relationships, or parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Lakefront Psychology, LLC for a psychotherapy consultation, please call 216-870-9816.