Exhaustion: When You Can’t Go On
It’s 8 am and the exhaustion has already set in. Who are you kidding, it’s been there for days. You’ve managed to drag yourself out of bed and maybe squeeze in a shower (only because you’re starting to feel grimy). That’s it; you’re spent. You’re pretty sure you’ve used every ounce of energy you have for the day. The only problem is… it’s only 8 am, you’ve got a whole day ahead of you, and a house full of little people who can’t take care of themselves. Have you been there?
I know I can’t be the only one who has hit this point of exhaustion. So, what’s a mom to do?
Yes, pray. I know you see this as #1 in all of my advice posts, but there is a reason for that. There is POWER in prayer. In James 5:16 it says, “….The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” What’s more, God wants us to come to him and leave our burdens and pains at his feet. Matthew 1:28 says, ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Clearly, our struggles are not trivial to God. He WANTS to hear from us. He WANTS us to ask for help. He WANTS to help us, should we just ASK!
This past week of my life inspired today’s post. I hit the point last Friday morning where the exhausted was so severe that i just felt like I couldn’t go on. I was in tears because even brushing my hair after showering was more than I could handle. In a moment of pure desperation I cried out ot a friend for prayer. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I had forgotten to pray myself (oh how often I find myself in this position) and stopped to pray, too. An hour later I had the energy to cook a real breakfast for my kids and I. Something other than just the granola bar I’d palnned to give them previously. Now, I’m not saying that if you pray you automatically won’t feel tired anymore and will be full of energy for the rest of time. Sometimes there are specific physical needs that we need to address in addition to prayer. Even for me, after my burst of energy to cook and get school done, I was totally worn out again. BUT, God carried me through those necessary tasks to meet my family’s needs. Praying for strength and endurance never hurts and can only help.
Figure Out the Cause of Your Exhaustion
What is causing your exhaustion? Is it something new and probably temporary, or something chronic you’ve dealt with for a while? Do you have a baby keeping you up at night? Have you been burning the midnight oil trying to get things done around the house? Are you dealing with a sleep disorder or a thyroid condition? Whatever the case may be, you won’t be able to address the root cause (and hopefully put an end to or lessen your exhaustion) until you figure out what it is. WHY are you so worn out?
For me right now it is a complex combination of things (as it probably is for many of you as well). Our toddler is getting in four new teeth at once. Yes, you read that right, FOUR. I’m pretty sure this is some sort of cruel joke. At 6 months pregnant, hormone-induced insomnia has already started to kick in (actually if you read my post on having a fit pregnancy you know that it kicked in MONTHS ago). I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia many years ago in middle school. While it is in remission now, an extended period of interrupted sleep (like I’ve experienced over the last week) can create a flare-up, causing me to have even more highly interrupted sleep, triggering a rather ugly cycle of sleeplessness and exhaustion. Knowing those root causes I can figure out a strategy for getting back to my normal self. While I can’t magically make teething be done, I can address the other sleep problems so that when Elizabeth’s teeth are in, I have energy again. What can you do to combat the root causes of your exhaustion?
**There are some cases when it is time to seek medical attention. If you are experiencing sudden and severe exhaustion without any obvious causes (a fussy baby, dealing with a time change, a nasty virus, etc.) it would be wise to check in with your doctor. Also, if you are experiencing a very extended period of exhaustion, something that just won’t quit no matter what you try, check in with your doctor. There are any number of medical conditions that have severe fatigue as a symptom and it’s best to seek your doctor’s help in ruling them in or out.**
Get Some Extra Sleep
When you are so far beyond exhausted that it’s not even an accurate word to describe you anymore, try getting some extra sleep in your day or night. I know, I know, this is far easier said than done, but it really helps. This doesn’t have to mean going to bed at 6:00 pm or taking a 4 hour nap during the day, either. Think baby steps here. If you’re staying up late to catch up on your favorite shows, cut back on how much time you spend doing that. If you’re waking up at 4:30 so you can make an elaborate breakfast, simplify the meal for a bit so you can sleep later. Are you lucky enough to have all of your kids take a nap at the same time each day? Or kids who are old enough to safely and responsibly occupy themselves for a bit? If so, take a short nap during the day. A 20 minute cat-nap can do wonders for your energy level? For me, this last week, I recognized that getting a bit of extra sleep was a higher priority than working out, so I cut that out for the week. Some may say that exercise is far more important, but I know my body well enough to know that exercise isn’t what I need to pull me out of this pit of exhaustion. Sleep is. So, I temporarily prioritized sleep over workouts, which allowed me to stay in bed for an extra 20 or 30 minutes each morning. I shudder to think what I would have been like without it. However you can make it work in your own personal life, find a way to slip in some extra sleep somewhere.
When you are in the throws of deep exhaustion, it is time to take some things off of your plate. You can’t do it all and have the strength to go on. This is the time to prioritize the activities in your life and figure out what things you can cut out. Here are your priorities, in order, during this time.
- Activities that are necessary for keeping the family alive. These include things like eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, and sleeping. Basically, if skipping it wouldn’t cause physical immediate or short-term physical damage, it’s not priority #1. Put it off until you have made sure that you have completely fulfilled all life-preserving needs.
- Activities that are necessary for staying sane. Unlike your first priority (keeping everyone alive), what falls into this category will vary some from one person to another. For some, exercising is what keeps them sane. For others, it may be getting schoolwork completely done. Some moms may find that unlimited screen time makes you a bit crazy, so it’s important to you to enforce limits in spite of the added work, while others find that having some ‘quiet time’ to themselves during the day is what keeps them from going batty, so they prioritize that. Whatever fits here for you, don’t fall prey to the temptation to include EVERYTHING in this category. Keep it to 1 thing, 2 at most.
- Activities that are necessary to feel ‘caught up’. This is another place where your answers will vary. Some moms need laundry to be done and put away to feel ‘caught up’ with their household responsibilities. I’d like to say that’s me, but Mt. St. Laundry in my bedroom says otherwise. Some of us feel that sticking to the school/homework plans is the sign of staying ‘caught up’ with our role. Perhaps it is making sure your normal type of eating is maintained, or keeping the sink free of dishes (small hint, paper plates/cups and plasticware help a lot here, and using them to get you through a rough patch isn’t the end of the world). There will be a number of things that fall under the ‘caught up’ umbrella, so be sure to figure out which things are MOST important for you to do, and which things aren’t that big of a deal. If it isn’t that big of a deal, put it at the bottom of the pile and save it for when you have extra energy.
- Every other thing in the world. Seriously, if it doesn’t fit into the first 3 priorities, push it to here. This is the first category to get the ax on hard days/weeks. Spring cleaning? Yeah, that’s a category 4 priority. Writing the great American novel? Category 4 all the way. Trying out fancy new recipes from Pinterest? Save that for when you have energy again and stick to the basics. Category 4 has those things that are ‘nice’, but not necessary. Think of them like party favors. It’s fun if you can have them, but if your budget is tight, forget it.
However life’s activities and responsibilities fall into your priority categories, cut things off of the list. The more exhausted you are, the more liberal you need to be with clearing things from your plate. Shush that voice of mom guilt and stick to the bare-bones basics on the hard days.
Ask For Help
Okay, ladies, it’s time to shove your mommy-pride to the side. I know none of us like admitting weakness and imperfection, but asking for help doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good mom/wife/daughter/Christian. It means you are human. Yep, that’s it. It jsut means you are human and incapable of doing everything on your own. Guess what, you’re not meant to, either! If we could do everything completely on our own, what need would we have for God? He wants us to rely on him. John 5:5 says, “5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Did you catch that? If we remain in God’s presence, relying on Him, that’s when we can make it through. Without that, nothing. What’s more, God designed us to live in community with others. We were never designed to be fully independent creatures (which is what you’ll be reading about next week). He created us to help each other, to serve each other, and to do acts of love and giving for each other. The New Testament repeatedly speaks of The Church being a community of believers who love and serve each other (Romans 12: 4-5, Acts 4:32, Acts 2: 46). If it is good for us to do these things for those around us, isn’t it food for them to do the same for us?
As much as many in our circles may want to help us, they are not psychics. They won’t magically know when you are in need of help. You have to ASK. Go to your loved ones in your time of need. Ask a friend or family member to hang with the kids for a few hours while you rest. Have your husband take over some of your normal responsibilities for a bit. One thing my husband has heard many times during this pregnancy is, “Do you mind if I go lay down for a bit?” Does it temporarily put a bit more on his plate? yep, but that’s marriage. Just like there are times that his needs temporarily add a bit more to my plate. You are NOT being a burden when you ask for help, no matter what lies Satan is whispering in your ear. When you are beyond exhausted, cut yourself some slack and give a loved one the blessing of serving others. Ask for help!
Life is great, but sometimes it is also plain old HARD. You are going to hit seasons that are particularly trying for any number of reasons. In this moment, it is exhaustion that is making it hard to get through the day. If you are dealing iwth exhaustion in your life, follow these steps to get you through. If you know someone dealing with exhaustion (like a new parent, a single mom to little ones, or someone with chronic health problems), share this post with them with an extra note that you want to know what you can do for them right now. Even if they insist that they need nothing, do something. Send them chocolates, a gift certificate to their favorite take-out place, or even just a note in the mail. Those little gestures will go a long way to lifting their weary spirits.