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When Anxiety Makes You Tired – but Sleep Isn't the Answer

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I used to think that everything could be solved with a good night’s sleep. Or a bubble bath and a pedicure. Tired at the end of a long day? Go to bed early. Feeling stressed, angry or sad? I must be tired; go to bed early. Brain dead and unable to think? Take a hot bath and go to bed early.

While some of these did work, I never felt truly rested. Until I started seeing “rest” in a different light, one that doesn’t involve a bed.

Our bodies and minds can become tired in many different ways, and each one asks for a specific kind of rest, so we can fully return to our optimal state.

Physical Rest

That’s the most obvious one. Tiredness due to lack of sleep or physical exertion is relatively simple to solve. Lying on the couch, a good night’s sleep and maybe a few days going a little slower are usually enough to bring the body back to normal function.

What to do? First, don’t wait too long. Extreme or chronic lack of sleep can make you “too tired to sleep.” You may fall asleep eventually, but not without difficulty, and likely not long before your alarm goes off.

Chronic physical fatigue also impacts your brain and may make you less resistant to mental fatigue, ensuring a vicious cycle.

A regular sleep routine — going to bed at the same time every day including on the weekend — and getting enough sleep are the simplest and best solutions to physical fatigue. If a good night’s sleep is not an option, try and fit as many naps during the day as possible. We’re talking power naps here, not a full two-hour cycle. Twenty to 30 minutes of sleep or relaxation (dozing, deep breathing with your eyes closed) is enough to re-energize your body and get you through the day.

What I do: I love to take naps on the couch with a blanket and my cat.

Emotional Rest

Although our minds are extremely adaptive and resilient, there is such a thing as emotional overload. This happens when we suppress emotions in the hope that they will just go away. Over time, unexpressed emotions pile up, like water behind a dam — and guess what? At some point the dam breaks. That’s when you may witness someone who is usually level-headed burst into tears, or have a meltdown over something minor.

What to do? Watch for signs before the dam breaks — short temper, newfound frustration at what usually doesn’t bother you, rising and permanent anger — and take action.

The solution to pent-up emotions is to Let. Them. Go. How does this work? First acknowledge: I feel angry at what my coworker did, I feel sad because my sister changed our plan for the weekend, I feel upset that my child got in trouble at school, etc. Then let these emotions go: they are here, they exist, but they do not define you, nor dictate everything you do. Your life goes on.

If there’s someone in your life who is a good listener, talk to them about these emotions. Chances are they will appreciate the trust you’re placing in them and feel valued (that’s partly why they’re a good listener, not just because they let you rant without interrupting!).

The pressure these emotions exert on your mind will then reduce, and sometimes disappear completely, allowing you to experience them without negatively impacting your life.

Mental Rest

Mental load is different from emotional load. It is more logical and practical. The load comes from all we are asking our brains to do every day: think, calculate, anticipate, reflect, process etc…

Our lives today are very different from life a hundred, or even just 50 years ago. With the evolution of technology, everything goes faster; mental stimulation are more constant and intense. Our brains are “on” and we’re mentally active 24/7. Working, watching TV, scrolling social media feeds and planning the next day can leave us “fried.” We’re less efficient, more forgetful, less creative and feel mentally numb.

Examples of welcome brain pauses are:

  • Doing chores or physical work that doesn’t require intense thinking.
  • Gardening or going out for a walk and just enjoying nature and being in the moment.
  • Getting in “the zone” by practicing something you love — be it knitting, reading, or playing the piano — and forget about time.

Social Rest

“Social” here can cover both face-to-face interactions with others and interactions online, the (in)famous social media circle.

Sometimes, our social life and obligations are in overdrive. And as much as we like our friends and family, colleagues and neighbors, there comes a moment when we just want to crawl under a rock and be alone.

Although extroverts can definitely experience social over-stimulation, the problem is exacerbated in introverts who simply become drained by social interactions. It doesn’t mean that they do not like people. I’m a deep introvert and I love people, I love being with others. But it quickly drains my energy. I need to take regular breaks, and some days I just can’t stand to see another face.

So regardless if you’re extro or intro, taking regular breaks from social interactions is a good idea. It will not hurt anyone if you (nicely) decline an invitation, or clear out your schedule for an entire day. Re-center on yourself, appease your mind or recharge your battery during that time, and you will come back more open to others.

On the digital side of things, as much as social media helps us keep in touch with far away friends and family, it is well-known that too much of it can actually be detrimental. If you have to check your phone every waking hour and cannot do anything without taking and posting a picture of it, it’s time to take a break.

First, our lives on social media are not reflective of reality. Scroll your own account and see what’s there: photos of happy moments, perfect selfie smiles, you on your best day. No one lives a perfect life without bad days, frustration or pain. Comparing yourself to others online is a recipe for depression and anxiety.

Other downsides of too much social media include wasted time and mental energy, disconnection from your own life and the people in it, and a sense of lost boundaries.

Some easy steps to reclaim all of this and take a social media break:

  • Do not take your phone with you everywhere you go. You can live without it and
    actually enjoy the moment you’re living.
  • Set time limits when you’re scrolling or posting.
  • Make a point of connecting with friends and family in real life: call, video chat, visit and send cards.

And when needed, take a complete break. Go a day or a week without social media. Yes, you heard me: an entire week!

You’ll find that not only you do have plenty of free time and are more creative, you’ll also reconnect with your imperfect beautiful life and live it more deeply.

Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash

Originally published: February 11, 2020
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