Do you ever wake up tired? I did this morning, which really makes very little sense. I just spent four leisurely (as in “lazy”) days in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I hiked. I slept. I read. I watched TV. I worked a bit, if you could call it that – but at such a slow pace and in such occasional fashion that “work” is no doubt a misnomer. I ate too much. And last night, having returned home from the hills, I went to bed before 11:00 pm. So, why on earth did I wake up tired?
There are reasons that occur for most of us, and rarely are they physical. Sometimes we experience something I call “anticipatory fatigue.” I returned yesterday to the home stretch of this academic semester: distribute online exams to distance learners, prepare in-class exams for students who reside on campus, set up a grading-and-reporting system for graduating seniors (as their info has to be turned in earlier than others), make arrangements for special needs and situations involving a handful of students, etc. All of that applies to one campus where I teach. Meanwhile, I teach at a second school where I am in the process of grading submissions from some of those students. Then there is life – making preps for my summer work which stretches across seventeen weeks, doing all the paper work to try and re-finance our house since interest rates are favorable, paying taxes (which turns out to be a lot more painful than I had anticipated for this year), taking care of my aging car (which includes a lot of brake work and [gulp!] a new transmission). There is a lot on my platter as I look ahead, just as there is on yours. So, as I crawled out of bed this morning I was aware that my brief break in the mountains was over, and it was time to go back to work. Anticipatory fatigue.
Sometimes, of course, our tiredness has nothing to do with what is about to come. Instead, it has to do with what we have just been through. Looking back makes us weary. How many people have only recently lost loved ones or professional positions or marriages or even homes? And, how many of them struggled for who knows how long trying to keep those ships afloat before they finally went under? They are weary from what they have been through.
Many are tired simply because of what they are going through at the moment. I have several friends who are recuperating from surgeries, some rather serious. Some are dealing with pain management and physical rehab. Those experiences, though necessary for long-term health, can become exhausting. I know other folks who are trying to reinvent their businesses post-Covid. That can be almost as difficult as was the process of starting the business to begin with. I have a friend who said to me recently: “I wake up in the morning and go to bed at night worried about my son who, despite all I can do, continues to make alarming choices in his life.” Talk about carrying around a weight that can completely wear a person out! Of course, even in the best of circumstances any hands-on mom or dad will confess to a certain level of fatigue, no matter how deeply they love their children. The daily march of life itself can wear on us, regardless of how grateful we are for the gift of simply being alive.
So, how do we deal with fatigue? Everyone who thinks seriously about that question has his or her own list of answers. They are just as valid as my own. But, let me share with you in random fashion just a handful of things that work for me:
Immerse yourself in nature. I just did that with my quick getaway. There I paused again in wonder before the magnificent beauties of the Appalachian Mountains. Doing so, I breathed in a sense of peace. Whether that occurs for you in the hills, at the shore, on the desert, in the forest or the garden, or wherever else, nature is a great healer for us and a wonderful antidote for fatigue.
Allow yourself a brief escape. My quick jaunt to the mountains was restorative. But restoring your soul doesn’t require a four-day escape. Sometimes merely walking away from your routine of chores and placing yourself in a different environment for a couple hours can be healing. Going to a movie or a museum can be medicinal. So can playing golf or planting flowers, adding to or merely leafing through a scrapbook, listening to music or walking on a treadmill, reading a book or phoning a friend. From time to time, however briefly, we simply need to change the scenery in our lives.
Re-define the tasks at hand. I woke up weary today thinking of the work I have to do because of my students. As I write this, I am intentionally seeking to re-focus so that mentally it’s not about what I “have to do because of my students” but rather about “what I am given the opportunity to do for my students.” Young futures, to a certain extent at least, are in my hands. I have the privilege of passing along to them ideas that matter and have the potential to be transformational. How wonderful is that! Yes, it requires work, but properly understood “work” becomes “opportunity.”
Celebrate. “Celebrate?,” someone replies. “Celebrate taxes and wayward kids and a demanding business and a car that needs a new transmission and physical rehab and this and that and the other?” Yeah, celebrate … not those challenges, of course, but the fact that you are alive to meet those challenges. Clovis Chappell many years ago told of a man who visited a friend who worked in a morgue. The mortician remarked to the visitor, “You’ve got a nasty cough,” to which the visitor replied, “True, but every one of your clients stretched out here would love to have it!” It’s a silly story, but it makes a good point. You are alive. Today, this day like no other day before or any that will come again, is at your disposal! Things may come your way today that bring light and love and joy. Big things. Small things. Who knows? This much we can be certain of, today is woven with the fabric of potential. And whatever may or may not occur, if you are reading this that means you are alive. Alive! Aware! Able to breathe in the fresh air of existence! So, celebrate the fact that you are here. That is a consistently effective way to do battle with fatigue.
Emotional exhaustion is far more wearing than physical. But, there are things we can do about it. Responses. Antidotes. I’ve named a few that work for me. Now, take a moment and compile your own list of things that can perhaps work for you. Give it some thought.