Help me get my groove back
September 17, 2013 6:43 AM   Subscribe

I have been working at the limits of my abilities for a decade or more. I am running out of steam and need a long break, but family and work responsibilities prevent that. What immediate, short-term tricks do people have to boost their energy levels?

I have been working very hard at a variety of responsibilities (family, paid work, voluntary work) for a long time - 10-15 years. I get stuff done quickly and well, so I tend to accumulate work, often when other people fail. I would easily "work" for 60-80 hours a week. I get occasional vacations but rarely for more than a week.

I have an unsupportive work environment, family members with significant health issues and a toddler to look after. I also have significant long-term projects to complete, largely on my own initiative. My time, money and flexibility are very limited. I can change very little of this immediately.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel: I have a long-term plan to dig myself out of this, including obvious changes like more exercise, sleep and meditation, and I am making good progress but it is not fun and I find it difficult to maintain motivation, momentum and energy. My question is, what quick, simple things have you done when you've needed a boost to push over the line?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Sleep and eating are #1 and #2. Make sure you're not taking shortcuts with your eating habits. Eat clean, healthy foods (mostly vegetables) and make sure you're getting enough sleep at regular times. Don't push through into the night because it gains you extra hours. Sleep is part of the routine, not a "nice to have."
posted by xingcat at 6:52 AM on September 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

One thing that worked for me was a gym with childcare (LifeTime Fitness where I live). They literally take your child for 2 hours while you spend time exercising or enjoying the sauna or just lounging about. It's the best socially acceptable alone-in-public me-time!

(Great for your toddler too, as they get to crawl about in a giant indoor playground and interact with other kids).
posted by rada at 6:53 AM on September 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Make a half-hour appointment slot on your calendar, in the same way as you schedule your work commitments. Ideally somewhere in the middle of your week. Call it "Meeting" and invite yourself to it. Use that meeting to stare at something green for half an hour, or perhaps some body of moving water, like a fountain or small river.
posted by idlethink at 6:54 AM on September 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

I know you say you can't get out from under this immediately—a lot of people think they can't. But they actually can. (Including me.)

I'm seeing a lot of this in your post:

voluntary work
Is this do-or-die volunteer work?

I tend to accumulate work, often when other people fail.
Honestly, let them fail sometimes.

I also have significant long-term projects to complete, largely on my own initiative
Again, your own initiative could be bringing you down. Is this project do-or-die?

I'd really consider if these three things are actual work, or just you keeping busy because you feel like you have to!
posted by functionequalsform at 7:02 AM on September 17, 2013 [20 favorites]

You cannot work at the limits of your abilities for sustained periods of time without rest. You will burn out.

I know that you feel that your commitments are all non-negotiable, but I hope you will reconsider this, because it sounds like you are prioritizing other things over your health. You're an adult and you have the right to make those decisions, but at least some of them are decisions -- choices -- and not just an ongoing crisis that you have to nurse to calm all day every day.

I encourage you to consider that your health -- mental and physical -- is also a priority. You can get another job. You can volunteer somewhere else on a more manageable scale. You can turn down work. You can't get another body or another brain.
posted by gauche at 7:10 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

When someone is as overtaxed as you sound like you are, often there is nothing that will maintain that person's energy levels and let them keep theor workload without sacrificing health and sanity. I know that it's dofficult to contemplate, but I really think that in your situation the best thing you can do for yourself is to drop at least one of your responsibilities immediately.

Take a hard, cold look at your workload and find something that is causing you a lot of stress but which doesn't really and truly need you specifically to be doing it. (I know that it probably feels like none of your projects/responsibilities can get by without you, but really if you think about it many of them could be done acceptably well by someone else. None of us are truly irreplaceable.) Then find someone else to take it over from you.

Yes, you will lose a little face and it may be embarrassing, but life will go on. You will be less stressed. You will be able to devote yourself more fully to your other responsibilities, and your performance there will improve. You will be less likely to suffer a burnout or breakdown, which could be far more damaging than just gracefully transitioning out of one or two of your less-important roles. And most importantly, you will feel much, much better.
posted by Scientist at 7:12 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

voluntary work
Is this do-or-die volunteer work?

I tend to accumulate work, often when other people fail.
Honestly, let them fail sometimes.


I've learned to be a lot more selective with my time. I just had a call from an actor/director I know who's asked me if I can volunteer to read the stage directions at a staged reading he's doing - they're rehearsing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and performing Monday. He's said they "at least" need me Friday and Monday, and "If I can make it" Saturday and Sunday.

I am free Saturday and Sunday, but I am not going to attend those rehearsals. Because I know how much downtime I need, and the rehearsals would cut into that time. I enjoy that volunteer opportunity, and I love the people involved, but I need to come first, and that's just that.

(I'm even thinking of cutting back on a longtime volunteer stint I've been doing for 3 years now, in the summer. I played hooky from them this past weekend and realized....I felt better than I have in a while.)

Consider whether any of these things can be prioritized or your time can be downgraded....and do that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Cut out caffeine, refined sugars, and refined carbs. Those give you a temporary spike and then a long-term exhaustion. If you can't eliminate them entirely, cut back.
posted by windykites at 7:16 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If there is volunteer work, take a leave of absence. Often this is the hardest to do because we are told so often that without our efforts, the organization would wither up and die. It's not true. So graciously let them know that due to health concerns that you will be unable to serve on the board, run the empty bowls dinner, sing in the choir, or whatever else it is that your doing there.

As for doing the work of others, don't. Do your work, at work, and leave at 5 on the dot. Letting people fail is good for them, it builds character and teaches excellent lessons. Stop depriving folks of the amazing gift of failure.

As for the "long-term" projects, how many of these can be outsourced? If it's your Honey-Do list, call a handyperson in to complete it for you. If you're renovating the basement, get a few bids from contractors. If it's scanning the pictures into the cloud, there are services that do that. Your time is worth money, sometimes it just doesn't make sense to use your time to do jobs that it's just as easy to pay someone to do.

You have my permission to do nothing. It's okay. The world will not fall apart if you lay on the sofa watching the Doctor Who marathon. The sky won't collapse if you get a cleaning lady instead of doing your own toilets. I think there's no better Sunday afternoon than taking Wee Anon to the aquarium.

Rest, relax and read those books you've been meaning to get to.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:46 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

And, despite the fact that we all know that exercise and eating right will make you feel better, if cutting out sugar or whatever stresses you out? Just don't do it right now. When you're in a better place you can start that sort of project.
posted by AmandaA at 7:48 AM on September 17, 2013

When I've been in exhaustion mode, what helped the most was starting to regularly do an exercise class I love, which naturally made me want to eat better, and also buying soap I really like.Together those made me feel normal again.
posted by slidell at 8:22 AM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am 3 years into the rut you've found yourself in. One thing that I have found helpful at work is to think "If I were to not do this, would someone else do it?" If the answer is "no" then it drops to teh very bottom of my priority list and I don't bother doing it, because if noone else would, it's not something that needs to be done. I have accepted that I don't have time to voluneteer or work with causes right now because I work too much (at my paid gig). I rationalize this by dreaming of the day when I have my FU money saved and can afford to do what I want with my time. I try to get as much sleep as possible (but usually fail) but I have made a rule that I don't stay up for work, I only stay up to talk/ cuddle / etc with my SO or dog. I also decided that I'm not going to work against nature in the extra hours I give work. I an a night owl so I work my overtime after regular hours. I refuse to come in early. As far as eating, I eat healthy, but I eat out a lot. I consider it a built in cost of the game, just like gas to get to all 50 million places you need to be in a day. I also am not one of those people who is always 15 minutes early. I often have just enough minutes to get from one place to the next. Don't beat yourself up over not being early.
For immediate pick me ups, the most useful thing is getting a change of scenery, even if just to run to a convenience store to buy a banana. Just get out and away.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:40 AM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can relate to you all too well.

As laudable as it is to add something like exercise or meditation to your schedule, you should heed the advice of others: you have to drop something from your schedule, too. You can't add these self-improving things without making room for them. That room comes from saying no to something else.

I know this seems like just a knee-jerk AskMe response, but seriously, you might consider therapy, too. The reason I say this is that I could have written this question. I like being involved in things, I'm highly capable, I'm enthusiastic for new projects, and I have a hard time saying no. As a result I have a very busy job, am always adding new projects at work, have a big volunteer task as well, am in graduate school, and also do overly ambitious things at home. It translates to burnout. It's not healthy.

With therapy, you can learn how to observe yourself doing these things, reveal their actual (as opposed to hoped-for) effects on you and your relationships, and maybe understand better why you feel so driven and whether there are other ways to achieve the same goals with less stress. For instance, are you afraid of saying no because you need to fulfill an idea of being a "good" or "helpful" person all the time? Is work and volunteerism the main tool you use for making friends or staying socially active? Is being overly busy a way of avoiding thinking about things that are more uncomfortable or doing things you find more boring?

I am not saying any of this is particularly true for you as I don't know you, but there are any number of reasons we do this to ourselves, and usually it's not just because we're wonderful and talented and desperately needed. The world is full of many wonderful and talented and desperately needed people who have learned to give of themselves without also depleting themselves, and it's something we can learn with some assistance.

If there's one thing to cut back on, I'd guess it's volunteerism. I do too much of it, and I find that people who are driven to be helpful are especially vulnerable to taking on too much, and volunteer roles will absorb everything you can give, plus more.
posted by Miko at 9:59 AM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, I just asked this question about how to reduce getting-things-done stress and be more efficient with time, and it had some great suggestions.
posted by Miko at 11:01 AM on September 17, 2013

Sorry for multiple comments, but one other thought: I often find that when I start burning out, I have that feeling: "I need a BIG LONG break." I have fantasies of dropping it all and running away, doing nothing but lying on a beach for a week, going to a quiet mountain retreat and sitting on a dock for hours at a time, etc., because it seems like only literally doing NOTHING for days on end will be enough of an antidote to reset me.

It's been really helpful to understand that these fantasies really just exaggerate my actual needs. No, I can't take weeklong idle vacations very often. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't plan in smaller vacations from your tasks. For me, it turns out that when I'm fantasizing about a week away and can't get it, two days away gives me at least 80% of the relaxation I'd have gotten from a week. It can be an all-or-nothing thing to think "God, I NEED to get away for a WEEK and I CAN'T because I can't do ANYthing because I'm too BUSY" and feel awful about that, when really if you prioritize having a few days a month, or a weekend a month, or a long weekend every three months when you have no obligations and can get out of your routine, that goes a long way to helping things not build up to that really stressful point where it feels like only sailing an outrigger to Tahiti alone will restore you sufficiently.

tl;dr take smaller, more frequent breaks instead of pushing yourself to hang on for longer ones that are harder to get and less frequent.
posted by Miko at 11:05 AM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

i don't do this often but when i do it really helps. i take one day out of the week to just rest. no work work, no volunteer work, no house work or personal "projects" (aka work). just rest as much as you can, or do something enjoyable that isn't demanding or that you will get competitive about. i find it is good to unplug from technology at this time as well. of course you do have to take into consideration your family obligations (family member's health & toddler) but as much as you can a weekly chill day.
posted by wildflower at 1:57 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

The world's graves are full of indispensable people.

Try to internalize this sentiment now and then.
posted by lalochezia at 4:43 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Drop the volunteering for a while and stop picking up so much of other peoples' slack. This includes your family responsibilities.

I too had a volunteer gig that I loved but which was eating up too much of the time I needed to feel good about waking up in the morning. I scaled back. I really enjoyed what I was doing, the organization did rely on me, and it was a big part of my identity, so it was scary to pull the trigger, but I am much happier now that I have prioritized my "me" time. And the organization is doing just fine.

I did something similar with a high-maintenance family member who needed help--I made it clear to another family member who was positioned to help that not only did my troubled family member need help, so did I. This isn't always an option, but it very well may be.

Basically it's about setting boundaries.
posted by elizeh at 4:54 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I won't point out that there's always things you can drop, because frankly, I don't do a good job of following that advice. But I can tell you some of the things I've done when I feel like the mountain of stuff bears down:

- Stretch often and regularly. I actually found that making a habit of stretching when I go to the restroom was really helpful. It adds less than a minute to an activity (ahem) you're doing anyway
- When i finish a 'task' - whether its a conference call, or getting an email out, or a document finished, or whatever - I give myself a mini-treat. Sometimes a sniff of a calming aromatic oil like lemon oil, or 3 minutes staring out the window
posted by darsh at 12:45 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

- Stretch often and regularly.

I'll second this suggestion. If you've already got the rest/water/exercise/boundaries part of the equation covered, I would give a 15-minute morning stretching regimen a try. I was given one month of daily morning stretches as a challenge and I believe it has made me feel better.
posted by lekvar at 3:16 PM on September 18, 2013

« Older How can I find this pumpkin spice whiskey?   |   What to do with thin brick construction debris. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.