Refilling the tank of life
November 6, 2016 7:53 AM   Subscribe

I've had the busiest and most stressful year of my life, how do I recover (mentally, physically, emotionally, socially)?

This has been a one foot in front of the other type of year. Many good things, much hard work, but the stress and in cases pure physical exertion has left me totally drained. I'm finding it harder to bounce back than at any challenging period in my life.

2016 in a nutshell: I wrote and finished my graduate thesis, graduated from graduate school, embarked on a difficult and full-of-rejection job search (which required frequent travel to new city), left a very comfortable and pleasant living situation (unfortunately necessary due to lack of long-term job prospects) moved all of my possessions to my parents house and storage unit in the Midwest, moved myself and partner to New York City without jobs, moved dog, cat and partner through 2 sublets, scrambled to find a job once in NY, started a demanding job, started teaching a class in my field, found a long-term apartment, flew back to the Midwest to retrieve possessions and drove moving truck to New York City with my dad. While my parents were here after the move to the new place, my grandfather passed away, which then required a trip back to the midwest. And adding to this, New York is a tough place to live!

I have no reason to complain, and this isn't one. This work has seemingly paid off. I have much to be thankful for. It would be nice for any number of these life events to be able to take a moment to reflect and appreciate them, but this year has forced me to immediately pivot and move to the next challenge. I am totally drained, physically and emotionally. The stress and uncertainty of a job search and moving without a job was really heavy. I feel tired all of the time, I only look forward to the weekend. I have no energy to keep up with friends, reconnect, all I want to do is go home and lay in bed. When I last moved for graduate school, I had a burst of energy of being in a new place. But being in New York feels like a necessary evil done for practical reasons.

I don't think I'm depressed, I'm going to get a physical soon to see if there's anything going on physically. I think I'm just worn down.

I guess I'm looking for some practical, everyday solutions to bounce back from such a draining period. How can I acknowledge the work I've done, be thankful, be kind to myself, and start building a life in this new city when I feel like the tank is empty?
posted by Sreiny to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Can you take a bit of time off? Not necessarily a trip but just a few days off. A weekend off is not enough to recover from sustained periods of stress. After that a good regimen of self care will help more long-term but to get over the immediate exhaustion more than 2 days off goes a long way.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:58 AM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a very normal response to an amazing amount of upheaval. Positive change is great, but it's still change, and it's demanding. I've had a somewhat similar couple of years myself.

I would "go with the negative": sack out on the couch on the weekends as much as you feel you need to. Eventually I think you'll get tired of it.

Also, I wonder if your nutrition and other basic self-care suffered during the busy time, and maybe that's why you're feeling drained? Wouldn't hurt to consult with a nutritionist/personal trainer if you have the means. I just lucked out recently by finding a "holistic personal trainer" who's recommended a very gentle regimen for me and also is helping me keep an eye on nutrition.

Finally, make sure you're drinking enough water.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 8:20 AM on November 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Assuming everything checks out with the doc -

Can you take a few days off and go out of town? When I lived in NYC I always found it refreshing to get out of the city and spend some time in the country, especially with good friends who would let me stay in the spare room do whatever my energy level permitted, whether that was reading in bed all day or baking muffins or going for walks.

You could also look at local retreat centers which are usually religious but don't necessarily require visitors to go along with the religious stuff. Or just go somewhere warm with a beach.

A staycation might also be helpful if you can give yourself permission to relax and not worry about whatever unfinished tasks are in your space.

Side note: NYC is an exhausting city and takes some time to adjust to. Take it easy on yourself.
posted by bunderful at 8:47 AM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would actually suggest not taking a break from New York. NYC can be tough and isolating, especially in the winter, but I'd imagine that taking time away from the city would make it harder and worse to come back.

My suggestion would be to find some museums or activities/hobbies that you like and dig in. This is a wonderful place to be, but you have to make your own way.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:03 AM on November 6, 2016

I'm going to say drink lots of water, take power naps (20 min), eat protein and vegetables and be gentle with yourself. Breathing-type stuff is the only thing that helps me with stress. That includes just deep breathing, or exercise or even singing.
posted by puddledork at 9:05 AM on November 6, 2016

Stay in bed.

I sortof hate projects, not because they can be fun, rewarding, exhausting, frustrating but because they END. That end transition just sucks. A degree is a big project, give the transition a bit of time. If you can swing some bed time with trashy novels, well, why not, literally? A new project will come around and the excitement of the world will stir the soul. But take a break if you can manage.
posted by sammyo at 9:46 AM on November 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Spend some of your free time exploring the many beautiful natural areas and museums hat can be found in NYC. Go for a walk on one of the beaches; check out parks near and far; visit the museums. There is much there to inspire!

And try to get regular exercise, either by joining a gym or by simple walking in your new neighborhood. Start now so you'll build up gradually to the nastier weather.

If you're religious find a place to worship. If you're not you can still avail yourself of places of worship during their off hours; many are architectural gems designed to give people peace and hope.

Don't be hard on yourself, you're going through some big changes. You're older than you were when you started grad school and you're reacting differently to change and that's normal.
posted by mareli at 10:13 AM on November 6, 2016

I know the weather is starting to get cold, but if you like this sort of thing, pack a picnic and go spend the day in Central Park. Hug a tree! I find going for a walk in a wooded area helps me unwind, so long as I make a point to not think about anything on my to-do list while out there.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:29 AM on November 6, 2016

I went through a couple of times like this while living in NYC and what I found to be very restorative when I couldn't actually take a vacation was spending a whole day at Spa Castle in Queens. Reading, swimming, snacking on healthy food and fresh juice, relaxing in the various saunas and hot tubs, napping on the lounge chairs, etc. You can do all that just with general admission (I think $45? it's been a while) without paying for any of their spa treatments like a massage or body scrub. They let you bring your own beauty products in, so you can do a mask or a deep conditioner on your hair while lounging, if you enjoy that kind of thing.

The warmth and humidity of the whole place in the midst of the windy, cold & dry NYC winter also seemed to intensify the restorative and relaxing effect. And you'll sleep really well after spending the day there.

Check Groupon. They often have discount admission on weekdays if you can afford to take a day off. Hope you feel better soon and gain your energy back.
posted by zdravo at 12:30 PM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you've had such a tough year -- that is honestly a lot to deal with. Here are three things that have been helpful to me in similar circumstances.

Check in on your basic self-care routines -- how are you eating, sleeping, exercising, and cleaning yourself and your environment? Do you have any routines or habits (ie, journaling, daily walks, whatever) that have gotten lost in the crush? Sometimes after a busy time like you've had, it's good to reset the tried & true routines. This is not a time to start a brand new program -- just go back to what you know feels good.

Give yourself permission to rest. Sleep, watch cartoons, read books, lay around in your jammies -- whatever you want, whenever you're able. Tell your friends that you'll catch up with them in a month or two after you've had a chance to catch up on your R&R. Ask your partner to help in whatever way seems appropriate. You deserve it -- take the pressure off yourself! When you're ready, you'll want to reengage with the world -- no need to force it.

When you feel up to it, try getting out in nature a bit -- it can be amazingly restorative. It might help you especially to find some bits of the natural world in NYC -- they exist and they might help you feel more ok in your new place. Explore the parks and natural spaces near your apartment -- you might be surprised at how much you find! If you're anywhere near the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (and its Conservatory), I'd recommend it as a good place to start.
posted by ourobouros at 3:14 PM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about a lacrosse ball and foam roller? They're great for self-massage; you might have developed some knots during your year of stress. I like to lie on mine to do my upper back, then put it under the side of my thigh to get rid of anything that's crept into my IT bands.

Of course, massage with a therapist does the same thing, but is costly and might not meet expectations; at the very least you have to research, decide, and schedule. The foam roller is cheap (the black foam model is sufficient - you don't need the green or orange textured ones), available any time, and uses your own body weight to control the experience.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:16 PM on November 6, 2016

I went through a rough year in '16, though I don't think quite as rough as yours. As soon as I got a breather I told folks I would be practicing "radical self-care."

Because I'm a project-oriented person, I made it my project to learn about what "self-care" is. What do people do to take care of themselves? What have I written off as "selfish" or "consumerist" or whatever that actually would help me stay in a healthy, positive, contributing place? I have really gotten serious about it.

The things I added into my life and practices this year include:
Meditation, mostly via the app Headspace
Yoga, a couple times a week, but definitely including a restorative yoga practice which is more about rest and healing than about long lean bodies and stuff like that
Exercise, regular, first walking and then running 3x/week, as well as being sure I get between 10K and 20K steps/day
Downtime - intentional - as in, having an evening routine of stopping all productive activities, drinking tea and doing something quiet
Reading for pleasure
Bullet journaling to keep productivity in its place - the journaling style means I don't forget anything but also allows for creative uses that help make sure that productivity doesn't take life over
Time off - with intentional enjoyment: as in, scheduling no-schedule days, making it out-of-bounds to make plans or do practical things on given days
Time with friends and loved ones - always seems like just another appointment, but always nourishes so much more than time spent any other way
Time in nature - even just an hour or two in a park or at the waterside
posted by Miko at 9:19 PM on November 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

I went through a period like this myself not long ago, and found it very helpful to give myself one weekend day completely "off," i.e. no plans, no obligations, nothing except going with the flow. In my case, I chose Saturdays, because I like to get my good stuff up front, and I found when I tried to do it on Sundays, it was too easy to talk myself out of it.

Initially, the plan was to keep Saturdays free for two months, but it was so restorative that I've kept up the practice, to the point that some of the friends I've made over the past year think it's a religious thing. And added bonus is that, with the pressure off, I have tons more energy to see friends and do fun stuff on Sundays.
posted by rpfields at 2:57 PM on November 7, 2016

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