If you are feeling really tired right now, you are not alone.
I’m currently talking to people in workplaces who are saying that many of their staff are starting the year un-refreshed.
They put this down to all demands that COVID-19 created last year: not just the extra workload but the anxiety as well that simply chews up energy and dumps a person exhausted afterwards. Some say they didn’t have a long enough holiday.
These are all contributing factors, but I don’t believe our weariness is simply due to COVID-19. There is evidence of a pipeline of tired workers in the system at least a decade before COIVD struck. For example a 2010 representative Australian survey found that 1 in 3 workers weren’t just tired but extremely tired or completely exhausted, just about all of the time. That rose to almost one in two amongst full time working mums.
Then the pandemic struck, putting our wellbeing under a massive stress test, exposing flaws in our approaches to managing our personal energy.
I believe there are some universal patterns of behaviours that have been leading to depletion of energy for a long time now. They have contributed to the earth’s energy depletion, and they also erode human energy stores. Here are four pathways to energy depletion that I observe– can you relate to any of them?
1 Ignoring the early warning signs.
When it comes to global warming, how many decades has it taken to heed climate change scientists’ warnings? And in the case of human burnout, all the sufferers I have worked with or interviewed, say without a doubt, that they over-rode those early warning signs of feeling overwhelmed, increasing tiredness, loss of joy and narrow, reactive thinking.
2 Over-relying on non-renewable energy sources of energy.
The first most traded commodity in the world is oil. Do you know what the second is? It’s the coffee bean. You could argue that humans are running on non-renewable sources of energy, that is, the short-lived adrenaline burst we get from caffeine. It seems that the more tired we become, the more we reach for the non-renewables: a coffee to get us going in the morning, a sugar hit to get us through the afternoon and good dose of stress that keeps us wired. These are sure ways to over-ride tiredness and get us through the days, months and even years, but ultimately, they borrow from the future.
3 Disregarding our physical limitations.
There is only so much oil in the world. And we only have so much capacity for work before we need to rest. That’s due to the fact our body rhythms are designed to oscillate between activity and rest, in synchrony with the 24-hour natural cycles of light and dark each day. So as long we are grounded in this human body we all have legitimate limits that warrant respect: eat when hungry, rest when tired, say ‘no’ when too busy.
Unfortunately, acknowledging and accepting our limits can be seen as a sign of weakness, especially in a culture that says, ‘never say never’ and that you can be and do anything you want.
However, when we work within our limits, we are practising self-responsibility, setting ourselves up for a sustainable way of working, rather than exhaustion where someone else will need to pick up the pieces.
The good news about these three tendencies is that we do have some personal choice over them, irrespective of our working conditions. Simply exercising control over the areas of our lives that we can influence, no matter how small, is proven to enhance wellbeing.
The true design of the world, and we human beings, is that we are inter-connected, in quite profound ways. As a species, we can’t work out an energy solution for the globe, state by state, nation by nation, because everything I do in my backyard, affects people across the other side of the world. This has been powerfully demonstrated during the pandemic as well – we can only find a true solution that works, as a unified whole.
Then at a personal level, it’s very energy inefficient to operate as if I am an island, a single unit, rather than tap into our connectedness. You know that feeling of continually having to do things on your own? It’s exhausting and depleting.
Isolation is literally a killer. Importantly, you can still feel isolated in a busy organisation surrounded by lots of people if you feel you don’t have genuine connections with others or don’t receive sufficient support.
Out of these 4 pathways fall my 4 Personal Sustainability Principles.
Take a look below, and ask, where are you are doing well, and what could you improve? What do you need to prioritise for 2021 to avoid a personal energy crisis?
1 Listen to your body when it’s talking to you rather than wait until it yells and screams. (Here’s a simple five-minute body scan to help you practise connecting with your body)
2 Reduce reliance on non-renewable energy (especially caffeine and sugar) and increase reliance on renewable sources of energy for the human body, such as movement, meditation, good food, healthy breathing patterns, sleep and powernaps. (Changing habits can be hard! Get help if you are struggling)
3 Respect your limits and integrate regular rhythms of renewal into your day and life. Learning how to say ‘no’, push back (ever so politely) or push pause, is a critical professional skill to develop to protect your sustainability.
4 Connect – cultivate supportive relationships characterised by giving and receiving.