Part of my job as a psychologist is to observe — observe patterns of behavior, be attune to my own thoughts and feelings, and to derive some potentially helpful information form patterns I see. In recent months and weeks, I have observed some factors in life that really wear people down — they are not really hidden but are often subtle. Sometimes they are obvious and plain, but people (both the person experiencing the aspect of life as well as those around them) tend to minimize the impact of the issue on their life.
So let me share some of my observations (remember, psychologists are often ‘masters of the obvious’!)
- Health issues and Chronic pain. Individuals who struggle with chronic pain are well aware of how even persistent low levels of pain can wear a person down. But those of us who are blessed not to have this struggle can experience this intermittently. Not too long ago my right ankle started bothering me — it was sore and swollen after I ran (using the term “run” loosely). I ignored it for a while but it persisted, so I finally decided to go have it checked out. After seeing my doc and then getting some tests, it turns out I have partially torn a tendon in my ankle. What has amazed me, however, is how this small injury and relatively mild level of pain can take a toll of my energy.
- Financial stress. Obviously, many in our country are experiencing significant stress in their lives due to a number of economic factors — loss of their job, reduction of hours and pay, foreclosure on their home. And the impact of these events on people’s lives is huge. But many, many other Americans are experiencing a lower level of financial stress that is more under the surface — wondering if they will continue to have a job in the coming months; lower cash flow that leads to deficiencies in their plans to pay for childcare, private school or college; or the family budget just being tighter on a month to month basis.
- Loneliness or Lack of Emotional Support. A chronic complaint I hear from many people is that they don’t feel connected to anyone. Yes, they may be married and have children — and they may even have a decent marriage relationship. But most people need more than one person with whom to connect, feel cared for, and have a sense of community. Teenagers, single young adults, stay-at-home moms with preschoolers, successful business people, older adults — all talk to me about their frustration in building meaningful, lasting relationships with others in their lives.
- Significant Life Changes. Late summer is one of the most transient times of the year — children are going to new schools, young adults are entering or returning to college, individuals who work in educational settings are staring new positions, graduates from last spring are still to figure out where they are going to work and live. Parents of college freshman may experience sending their first child to college — or their last (our situation) and looking at the issues related to being “empty- nesters”. Life change can be stimulating and exciting, and at the same time anxiety-producing.
- Relational Conflicts. All of us who have experienced (or are experiencing) relational stress understand both the emotional and physical toll living in conflictual relationships take. Physical symptoms can include sleep disturbance, headaches, fatigue, upset stomach, or back and shoulder tension. Recently, I had a professional relationship that created tension and turmoil in my life — and it just wore me out. It wasn’t even a major conflict, but an issue that took a while to address, and I could sense its impact on me daily.
- Lack of Purpose or Direction. When people don’t know “where they are going”, or if they don’t see a larger purpose for their life and what they are doing, not only can they become discouraged, but they also seem to become fatigued emotionally. They just drag throughout the day, and run out of energy doing regular daily life tasks. Seeing how today relates to the “big picture” of life seems to be important.
So what should we do with these non-surprising observations? I think there are at least two practical action steps that flow from the points.
First, take a self-inventory. How many of these factors are in your life currently? Does their presence help make some sense of your recent lack of energy and tiredness? If so, acknowledge these stressors present in your life. Give yourself some slack. Regroup and assess what steps you need to take to either address the stressors or to manage your life better while they are present.
Secondly, be aware of those around you. See if the people in your life (family members, friends, co-workers, classmates) have these issues going on in their lives. Be gracious and supportive to them. Be a friend. Be patient with them if they aren’t “performing” up to their normal functioning (whether it’s at home, work or elsewhere).
Life is tough; sometimes more than other times. Hang in there. We are all in this together (we really are). If you are doing ok, help somebody else out. It will be your turn eventually.