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Are you tired? Understanding and Dealing with Different Types of Tiredness


29Jun 2008

Partly in reflecting on my own life this past week, I have become aware of different types of tiredness we may experience from time to time.

First, obviously, there is physical weariness, which can either come from hard physical labor (or exercise) or, more likely, from not sleeping enough. Some research suggests up to 40% of Americans are severely sleep deprived (and the percentage is higher for high school & college students). If you consistently wake up tired, become sleepy during the day, or fall asleep when you sit down for a few minutes, you probably need to get more sleep. What is the practical impact of not getting enough sleep? You will be less efficient in getting tasks done, you are more at risk for having an accident while driving, your immune system is weakened and you are more likely to become ill.

Secondly, there is emotional tiredness — just not having the emotional energy to do the things you need to. At its more extreme form, this is what we usually call burnout — your emotional gas tank is empty and you “don’t have any more to give”. Here are some common symptoms:

  • you are easily irritated
  • you work long hours but get less done
  • you have difficulty focusing
  • you are apathetic about getting things done
  • you just generally don’t like your life
  • you don’t want to be around people

Emotional tiredness is common after you have been pushing toward completing a big project, and you get it done. The emotional drain is greater when you are done but not pleased with the outcome, or the results weren’t what you were hoping for. Or burnout comes when you have been “giving” (in whatever form) over a long period of time, with more emotional resources going out than are coming in or being replenished. The well is dry and you don’t have anymore to give to anyone, potentially even yourself.

The third type of tiredness I think is important to mention is spiritual tiredness. We are spiritual beings and life is more than our bodies, more than work, and more than relating to others. There is a spiritual side to life that gives us purpose and meaning, and which helps us “make sense” of our lives and the world around us. We become spiritually tired, I think, when we don’t pay attention to the spiritual side of our life and we ignore it. We don’t take time to reflect or ponder; we are not living life with a sense of gratitude. We also become spiritually weary when we lose the sense of how our daily life activities relate to the bigger purpose of our life. We go through the motions of life, but don’t feel connected and have lost of sense of direction.

So what should we do if we are tired?

First, it would be wise to try to discern and identify the type(s) of tiredness you are experiencing.

Second, and this is difficult for those of us who are achievement-oriented (or a bit driven), is to acknowledge and accept that you are tired. It is one thing to generally identify the issue; it is another to accept the reality of one’s tiredness.

Finally, we need to take some actual action steps to deal with the issue. Perseverance is good, but obviously to continue to “keep going” when you are significantly tired can lead to exhaustion (physical, emotional, spiritual), and lots of negative consequences in our lives. Learn how to rest, take a vacation, or do tasks that are restorative.

After working through the weekend last week, and sort of “dragging” myself through this past week, I have had to do some things to help me “rest up” this weekend: I went to the pool and hung out with my wife and daughter; I caught a movie with one of my sons; I went for a couple of runs and a walk in nature; I allowed myself to just sit and enjoy a soccer game on TV; and I hung out with some friends. I almost feel back to “normal” (whatever that is).

As you look toward this holiday weekend, I would encourage you to stop and think beforehand — do you need some rest? what kind? And what would you like to do about it this weekend?

Have a great 4th of July!

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