“There is nothing in nature that blooms all year long, so don’t expect yourself to do so either.” ~Unknown
Recently I’ve been spread incredibly thin, and, at times, I’ve felt stressed to the max.
In addition to being at the tail end of a high-risk pregnancy, with complications, I’ve been working toward various new projects—not just for fulfillment but also because I’ve allowed the business side of running this site to slide for years. And I have a baby coming soon. It’s crucial that I revive what I’ve allowed to deflate because I’ll have a whole new life to provide for.
There’s a lot I need to do over the next six weeks, before my scheduled C-section, and a lot I’ve failed to do over the previous weeks, largely because I’ve had many days when I’ve felt physically and emotionally incapable of rising to the challenge.
To be fair, there’s also been a lot to enjoy and appreciate, and I know I am incredibly fortunate to be pregnant at all, and to have the opportunity to do so much professionally. But life has felt somewhat pressure-filled as of late, and along with many small wins have come many hours and days when I’ve felt drained and defeated.
I recently realized that my best days all have certain things in common—little things I choose to do for my well-being, and a number of unhelpful habits I resist the urge to indulge. If you’re also struggling, personally or professionally, and feeling drained, perhaps my lessons will be helpful to you too.
5 Things to Stop Doing When You’re Struggling and Feeling Drained
1. Stop comparing your struggle to anyone else’s.
Over a year ago an old friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s the same age as I am, and she’s someone I’ve long admired, even though we’ve fallen out of touch beyond occasional interactions on social media.
She’s left unfulfilling jobs, despite the financial risk involved; walked away from relationships that weren’t right for her, even while engaged, when it would have been easier to stay; and jumped out of more than 100 planes, each leap representative of the courage that guides her every inspiring, bold life choice.
She’s faced cancer with the type of bravery I’ve come to expect from her, coupled with an honesty and vulnerability about her fears that, to me, displays even more strength. But still, I know it’s been grueling.
As I sit here in my own very fortunate circumstances—at the same as age as her—I often tell myself I have no reason to be struggling. My current experience couldn’t even be termed a struggle compared to what she’s been through. I should just suck it up when I’m having a hard day and push myself through any tiredness or discomfort. Because I’m lucky.
But the reality is, I still have hard days. I am still going through a high-risk pregnancy, juggling a lot, and dealing with a host of fears and physical symptoms that require my compassion.
I wouldn’t compare my hard days to her devastating year—there’s clearly no comparison—but the point is, I don’t have to.
I’m allowed to experience the feelings and struggles associated with my current life circumstances even if someone else’s are far more tragic. And so are you.
Many may have it “worse,” but why compare and judge? If it helps alleviate self-pity so you can find the perspective and strength you need to keep going, then by all means, make comparisons. But if it only serves to minimize your feelings and needs, try to remember that two people can have completely different situations, and both can need and deserve compassion equally.
2. Stop focusing on things that aren’t priorities.
When we’re going through a tough time, we need to get extra-discriminating about what truly matters and what doesn’t. If we exhaust ourselves with the non-essential, we’ll have little energy for the things that can actually move the dial in the areas of our life that most need our attention.
I remember when I had surgery to remove uterine fibroids seven years back. I knew I needed to take it easy or else I’d prolong my healing, but I also felt the overwhelming urge to maintain order in my environment. I’m a control freak. It’s what I do.
I remember there was a pair of shoes next to the door, where shoes didn’t usually go, and not only that, they were askew. The horror!
I was one day out of surgery, my lower stomach stitched together after being sliced across the middle, yet I still felt the need to slowly lower myself so I could put those shoes in the closet—even though it was painful to do so. My mother, who was visiting to help me, pointed out the insanity, and I knew she was right.
I now think of those shoes whenever I am struggling physically or emotionally, and I ask myself, what else really doesn’t need to be immediately done, or do I not actually have to do myself?
Can the dishes wait till the morning? Or can I get someone else to do them? Does every email in my inbox need a response—and immediately? Can I say no to some requests? Can I simplify my daily routine? What do I really need to do for myself, physically, emotionally, and professionally? And what do I just want to do because I think I should, to feel ahead of the curve, or on top of things, or good about how much I’m checking off my to-do list?
Scaling back can feel like failure, especially if you’re Type A, like me, but sometimes we have to prioritize so we can use the limited energy we have wisely. If we don’t, we risk busting open our “stitches,” whether that means physical burnout or an emotional breakdown, and then we set ourselves back even further.
3. Stop expecting yourself to do what you could do before.
Maybe you were far more physically active or productive before (I know I was). Or you were the person anyone could call any time, any day, whenever they needed an ear or a hand. Or you were everyone’s go-to person for a night out when they needed to blow off some steam.
It’s easy to cling to our sense of identity when we feel it slipping away. Not only do we mourn who we used to be, fearing this change may be permanent, we worry other people may not like this new version of ourselves—this person who’s far less fun or far more needy.
But the thing is, we’re not who we were before. We’re in a new chapter, facing new circumstances and challenges, and our evolving needs won’t go away just because we ignore or neglect them.
I’m not going to sugar coat this: It just plain sucks when you can’t do the things you once enjoyed. My boyfriend has had multiple knee surgeries and ongoing knee problems, and my heart breaks for him knowing he may never be able to do certain things he loves again, like playing basketball.
But he’s accepted his limitations and found new things to do that check off some of the same boxes. He works out on an elliptical to stay in shape and rehab his knee. He throws himself into fantasy football to scratch his competitive itch. And he sweats it out in the sauna to help blow off some steam.
As for me, I’m not going to yoga classes at the moment because I don’t have the time or energy, and I’m also not getting as much done as I once did on a daily basis. But I count my lucky stars that I’ll someday be able to do these things again, even if not for a while after the baby comes.
It’s natural to grieve losses, temporary or permanent, big or small, but eventually we need to accept reality and then ask ourselves, “How can I work with the way things are instead of resisting them?” Otherwise, we cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary stress—and it doesn’t help or change anything.
4. Stop pushing yourself when you need to take it easy.
We all do it, or at least I suspect we do: We minimize our physical and emotional needs because we judge ourselves for having them. We think we should be able to do more. Maybe because other people in similar situations are doing more. Or because we just plain expect a lot from ourselves.
But the thing is, telling yourself you shouldn’t be exhausted doesn’t make you better able to function through your tiredness. Demeaning yourself for needing a break doesn’t make you any more productive or effective. And belittling yourself for feeling whatever you feel doesn’t immediately transform your emotions.
If you’re tired, you need rest. If you’re drained, you need a break. If you’re hurting, you need your own compassion. And nothing will change for the better until you give yourself what you need.
I get that we can’t always instantly drop everything to take good care of ourselves, especially when other people are depending on us. But we can usually create small pockets of time for self-care by alleviating our self-imposed pressure and prioritizing our needs.
Recently I’ve been embracing the idea of mini-self-care practices. It’s not easy for me, because I have a tendency to be very all-or-nothing. But sometimes, small things can make a big difference.
I might not have time for an hour nap, but I can rest my eyes for fifteen minutes. I might not be able to clock in 10,000 steps, but I can take a walk around the block. I may not have the time to journal about my feelings for an hour, but I can jot down three worries and three potential solutions to help calm my mind.
And sometimes, I just need to find a way to do more for my own well-being, whether that means cancelling a commitment or asking someone for help.
It’s tempting to push ourselves, especially if this has been our pattern. But some days aren’t for moving forward. They’re just for honoring where we are.
5. Stop reminding yourself of how you’re “falling behind.”
I think it all boils down to this. When we minimize our struggle, try to do too much, and push ourselves despite our desperate need for self-care, it’s generally because we’re afraid we’re somehow falling behind.
We think about everything we want to accomplish, everything we believe we need to do in order to become who we think we should be, and we panic at the thought of losing momentum.
Most of us are accustomed to living life like a race to some point in the future when we imagine we’ll be good enough—and our lives will be good enough. Any threat to our sense of progress can feel like a threat to our self-esteem and hope.
We also live in this constant bubble of comparison, as if we need to keep up with everyone else in order to make the most of our lives.
But none of this is true. While we may want growth and change, we don’t need it in order to be worthy or happy, and certainly not on a pre-determined timeline. We also don’t need to keep up with anyone else because we’re never behind; we’re simply on our own path.
What’s more, wherever we are right now, this is a valid piece of our life experience, and perhaps even a valuable part. We don’t need to rush through it to catch up to everyone else or to where we thought we’d be.
Most people would agree that some of their most immense growth came from their greatest challenges, and in some cases, even their sense of purpose.
I would never have guessed, during the ten-plus years I struggled with depression and bulimia, that that period of my life would be the catalyst for this site.
I could never have imagined how profoundly my pain would shape the trajectory of my life, and how this chapter would lead to new chapters that were equally as exciting and fulfilling.
Wherever you are right now, be there fully. Accept it. Open up to it. It’s only when we accept the lows that we’re able to grow through them and rise to the highs.
Yesterday was a tough day for me. I was tired. I hurt. I did little, got down on myself, and cried. But today was better. Today I was kind to myself, I did what I could, and I gave myself what I needed.
Whatever you’re going through, I wish the same for you: self-compassion to help alleviate your pain, permission to do only what you reasonably can, and space to take good care of yourself.