How to get over that wall?
March 30, 2011 8:03 PM   Subscribe

After a year of effort, progress and gain, I've hit a physical and mental "wall". What is the cause and how can I overcome it?

After a year which started with a relationship break up (following a previously horrendous year) and loss of job, I've worked extremely hard to start two new businesses, regain respect and position within my industry, reestablished the damaged relationship, lost weight, got fit and generally got back on my feet. But now at this crucial time, just when I need to be capitalising on all this good work I find myself utterly exhausted. I've been in bed (working from a laptop as little as possible) for the last 4 days with no energy or motivation, sleeping erratic hours (6 hours last night, 3 this afternoon) and zero mental ability.

I thought after 4 days rest I'd be back on my feet but I'm still struggling. I have an important wedding to attend this weekend, meetings next week and a crucial deal to conclude within the next two weeks. But all I want to do is sleep. I don't feel stressed, I'm keen to keep up momentum on these new projects and gains but I'm struggling.

What is this? And what can I do to get back in action?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Look again at that list and tell me if you think that four days rest is really enough. Two new businesses? An intense fitness regimen? More and more and more coming up? You're not Superman.

I understand the feeling that this is the crucial time. It's sort of like that feeling you get after you finish a yoga class, where you're all stretched out and you're like, "Damn, this is the shape I'd like to be in when I START a yoga class." You are trying to enter the next phase, but you're too drained from the journey that got you there.

If you work too hard for too long, with no end in sight, something in you will inevitably rebel or fail. We tend to discover our limitations by exceeding them, and I think that's what you've done. Stop thinking about how to get back into action; I suggest that aside from resting, you talk with people. Talk about what you're going through, listen to their stories, just be human for a while. If you get out of bed, do so with the intention of doing something entirely unrelated to work. Go out and just wander. Come back when you feel like it.

Allow yourself this time. The Superman side of yourself will bound back and mop up the mess later, that's what he's for. He's proven his ability to do so.
posted by hermitosis at 8:20 PM on March 30, 2011

I've been in bed (working from a laptop as little as possible) for the last 4 days with no energy or motivation, sleeping erratic hours (6 hours last night, 3 this afternoon) and zero mental ability.

I thought after 4 days rest I'd be back on my feet

What you describe is not four days of rest. Rest does not involve working in bed, or sleeping erratic hours. It sounds to me like these four days in bed kind of happened to you, rather than being a planned break. You need to shoehorn actual planned rest into your schedule somehow. It only counts if it is planned in advance, and if work doesn't end up intruding. It sounds like you need a week or two of planned break, but if that is impossible, at least take two consecutive days at some point soon, and do relaxing things, and get a lot of sleep at normal night-time hours using whatever means necessary (medication if you have to).
posted by lollusc at 8:30 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

The combination of disordered sleep, mental and physical fatigue, and lack of motivation sounds like textbook depression. Are you prone to seasonal affective disorder? Consider purposefully spending time outdoors, in the sun, if possible. Just sitting around, doing nothing, outdoors.
posted by Nomyte at 8:37 PM on March 30, 2011

Yeah, I used to get the sniffles, and take a sick day, thinking "I'll rest up today, nip this in the bud, and be feeling better and go in to work tomorrow." And then the next day I'd feel worse--and I realized, when I stayed home I wasn't actually resting. I would do a few loads of laundry, cook a full dinner, take care of the cats, maybe sort through some papers, or some other tidying up around the house, talk to my Mom on the phone. It adds up. So take a few days and rest like that's your job. No working on the laptop in bed. Eat healthy, sleep properly, read something light, or watch something entertaining on TV. (I love me some crime dramas, but if I'm really trying to relax some of the more intense stuff can interfere.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:38 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

While taking planned rest can be advantageous, I often find myself in the totally opposite, and likely less healthy, camp. If I'm busting ass and being awesome, and slide back into old habits in any way, then I really don't feel like doing anything and can't muster up the gumption to do much but sit on my butt and play video games. This phase passes in time and I always get back on my feet, but the prolonged shut down can really screw with my goals. I'm not sure how comparable this is to your situation, but here are some things that I've done to get myself out of these slumps sooner rather than later.

1) a complete shift of venue. It's amazing how easy it is to sit around doing nothing if you never bother to leave your house. Go out for a walk. Go to a coffee shop. Plan a hike with some friends. It's not like you need to stop working, maybe working somewhere else will help shift you into a more productive state.

2) attention adjustment. It sounds a lot like you're having problems focusing your attention on one thing at once. Basically, there are so many things that need to get done for so many different projects that the prospect of multi-tasking becomes hugely overwhelming and your body says, 'F this,' and shuts down. If you notice that you are focusing on other things to the point that they interfere with other tasks you need to accomplish, set those other things aside for a week and do not think about them. That can be hard, especially if you have important deadlines coming up, but you can probably be creative with this. Basically, don't try to do everything at once and spread yourself over multiple projects. It sounds like you've been successful at that in the past, and you likely will be again, but it's very taxing on the mind and you may need to give it a rest.

3) diet adjustment. Examine what you're eating. Is it a lot of heavier, (in my mind) motivation sapping foods like pasta, breads, and sugar? You may want to try introducing an array of vegetables into your diet if you haven't been eating them, especially leafy greens. You get a lot of nutrients from those that aren't available in most commercially available foods (or able to be absorbed from multi-vitamins) and that may help sharpen your focus and help get you out of your slump.

These three things are the behavior changes that are usually the most successful in helping me change my mind state. Hopefully you'll find them useful.
posted by scrutiny at 9:08 PM on March 30, 2011

As someone who has personal experience both with overworking and witnessing the ravages of mental-illness in my family this is my advice:

1. Take this very seriously. This is your opportunity to nip in the bud something that could potentially ruin your life i.e. develop into a very real burn-out/depression that could be difficult to recover from.

2. If you work with computers your break needs to involve prologned periods where you don't look at a screen AT ALL (ideally not even a smart phone).

3. Change of location (preferably to somewhere which involves nature and not urban spaces).

4. Good food with good people and good conversation.

5. Avoid drinking excessively, drugs (unless prescribed and seriously needed).

It sounds like to to get your energy back your going to have to make some sacrifices to make the above happen, but if you don't want to end up in mental institution you have no choice.

I don't mean this to be 'scary', but I'm just trying to emphasize how important this is. I'm also stating my case quite strongly because it seems as if you've lost a bit of perspective on the balance between work and rest.
posted by EricBrotto at 6:53 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would a) try to get more sleep. Yes, more! And b) do some light cardio. Seems counterintuitive, but the combination of Better rest and Good exercise really help me.

I'd also see if you can't use the wedding or the weekend or something as the change of venue mentioned above. There are things that have to happen next week, but set them aside for a little bit and focus on your recovery. You've learned from exercise that it's the recovery that builds muscle, not the workout - so focus on that recovery to "work" better next week.
posted by ldthomps at 6:54 AM on March 31, 2011

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