Did you really do nothing today or did you do loads of housework, provide emotional and/or practical support for your friends, partner or family, make the dinner and ensure everyone around you had everything they needed only to discount all of that because you didn’t run a 5k?
Once you have ruled out any medical concerns or have received a diagnosis of a chronic condition that cannot be medically treated, it can be helpful to explore the areas of your life that can be draining your energy. It can be tempting to look back at all the things we used to be able to do without any ill effects but often we are not noticing the long term impact this can have on us until we reach a tipping point of developing a chronic physical or mental health difficulty. Some of us may catch ourselves just before that point when we notice burnout creeping in but it isn’t as easy to change it as it may sound on paper. This is usually because we are doing huge amounts of unpaid labour that isn’t valued appropriately by society. And because we often don’t see any other way of approaching our lives than what we are already doing, it can be hard to reduce the energy we spend in this area except to cut back on obvious energy drainers, such as exercise or socialising. But this can leave us feeling out of balance and stuck looking for ways to “fix” our energy problems. I’m going to discuss a few other areas of your life that you may be able to chip away at to regain small amounts of energy so that you can use it on things that matter to you. None of this is easy and only you can decide if is worth it.
Let’s talk responsibilities
If you identify with the issue of unpaid labour contributing to your low energy, you may be screaming “but I can’t drop all my responsibilities” at me. And I agree. You can’t, e.g. stop feeding your kids. But what you can start to do is to question how much of these things are truly your responsibility and how much can be delegated to other people, outsourced where finances permit, or done in a different way. Let’s take each of these in turn:
- Delegating responsibilities, i.e. asking for help! If you’re used to being a very independent person and place considerable value on being reliable and helpful to others, as is common for highly sensitive people, you are going to struggle with this one. So many issues can come up, such as knowing how to ask for help, not wanting to ask for help because it seems so obvious to you that these things need doing and believing everyone else “should know” too, as well as not wanting others to take some tasks off your hands because they might not do as good a job as you or have some challenges of their own so you don’t want to burden them. It’s tough to think that some kind of compromise will need to be made but I would encourage you to question whether continuing to do it all yourself is worth the consequences and if those consequences are better or worse than the often short term consequences of embracing a different approach. We are designed to be interdependent as human beings. This means we need each other, not that we should do everything for everyone else and never need any support from others. If this is a really challenging area for you, it may be worth considering a psychological therapy for support with making these changes and to work towards looking after your own needs.
- Outsourcing. This is definitely not going to be an option for everyone but unless you are struggling with paying bills and buying food, take stock of where your money goes in the first instance before deciding if this is an option or not. Some people I have supported who have a chronic illness or chronic stress have benefited from hiring a cleaner for their home. It can seem like a frightening idea to let go of the control of how your home is cleaned. Take a moment to consider how much energy this would free up for you, even if it were done on occasion. Again, the issue of it not being done to your very exacting standards may be coming up for you, and I would encourage you to question how important these standards are, which brings us to the third area for change.
- Doing things differently, i.e. checking your unrelenting standards! Many factors, such as cultural and generational norms, as well as our family beliefs and the role we played in our families growing up, can affect what we see as essential when it comes to our responsibilities. But when this is affecting our health and wellbeing it is worth re-examining the importance of these standards in the context of what matters most to us now and what is sustainable. Do you really need to clean the shower every day or to cook every meal from scratch? Could you reduce the frequency of some of the housework or allow yourself to keep some extra portions of cooked meals in the freezer for days you know you are likely to have less energy? It can be hard to see where you might be able to reduce the demands you place on yourself without saying it out loud or seeing it on paper sometimes. Try listing everything you have done in a day (and I mean all the tiny extras that you might think of as nothing too, including screen time) to see what your “I’ve done nothing” would really look like if someone were watching you. If you know your cleaning habits are excessive but you feel you just “have to” do it that way and it causes you considerable distress, speaking to your GP and/or exploring the option of psychological therapy may also be helpful for you.
The above is just a sample of where our energy goes, and when we start comparing what we can do to what we think others are managing just fine, that can further add to our stress. And if you have a chronic condition or mental health difficulty, you’re going to be using up extra energy just exisiting so please go easy on yourself. Learning to be self-compassionate and respecting your own needs is rarely a straight-forward process so don’t expect it to change overnight. It almost always brings up uncomfortable feelings when we are holding back and not reacting to our urges to act in our habitual ways. That’s why it can be really useful to practise working with small amounts of discomfort in ways that feel safe for you. Asking for help from a GP or therapist can also be uncomfortable. Sometimes, practising with the physical sensations of discomfort without there being a high interpersonal risk involved can be a good place to start, especially for highly sensitive introverts. That’s one of the reasons I practise and teach yin yoga. For me, I’m not risking anything interpersonal in those moments but I am learning to relax around discomfort and to question whether I am pushing myself too far and need to hold back or whether it works for me to go a bit further, which I then apply to other areas of my life.
UK only: If you found this post helpful and are considering exploring private yin yoga sessions as a step towards making these kinds of changes, at the time of writing, I have some easy booking online 1:1s available on Mondays and Fridays at 17:30 and can also be contacted for other time slots on those days. If you are wanting to see what my yoga style is like first, you may wish to try a class on a Saturday morning: http://www.yinyogadavina.com/classes. If you can’t afford classes at the moment, there are loads of free classes on YouTube that you could try.