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6 Tips for What to Do When You Feel Exhausted by Life

3. Avoid the "I just need to work harder" trap.

Key points

  • Seeing friends or doing mindfulness meditations can focus one's attention elsewhere and later lead to simple, problem-solving actions.
  • Developing regular routines of sleeping, eating, socializing, and working regulates one's mood and energy.
  • To be able to think straight, it's critical to use physiological strategies to calm the nervous system.
Pink Sherbet Photography
Source: Pink Sherbet Photography

Here are six tips to help you feel better when you feel overwhelmed by stress and exhausted by life.

1. Avoid the "belief in a just world" trap.

"Belief in a just world" is a type of cognitive bias that has been studied by social psychologists. For example, people often hold an attitude that if certain people are poor, it must be because they deserve to be poor.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking, "If I'm struggling, I must deserve to be struggling. I must be struggling because I'm useless." The playing field of life isn't level. A lot of smart, talented people are dealing with very tough situations—large medication bills and no insurance, for example. All of us have made some poor decisions in life. Sometimes there are few consequences, and other times people spend their whole lives recovering from the consequences of earlier decisions.

2. Remind yourself you're doing the best you can.

Dr. Fran Vertue offers this fantastic advice for when you're feeling tired of life: "Remind yourself that you’re doing what you can right now given the circumstances and your resources. Practice flexibility so that you can take advantage of opportunities for change."

3. Avoid the "I just need to work harder" trap.

If you tend to react to stress, struggling, or exhaustion by attempting to just work harder, try slowing down instead. As mentioned above, you're likely already trying your best. Telling yourself that the answer to solving your problems is "just working harder" isn't likely to be an accurate thought.

The trap here is that by telling yourself the problem is not working hard enough, you're likely to close yourself off to trying new ways of coping. An example I see in my practice all the time is people who respond to overeating by telling themselves they just need to try harder to stick to their diet next time. By attributing the problem to not trying hard enough, they try to solve it through willpower rather than seeking other strategies.

4. When you're tired of life, recognize rumination.

People often try to think their way out of their problems. While this obviously can be adaptive, it's important to understand that overthinking while in a depressed mood actually impairs the quality of problem-solving solutions people generate.

If you've already thought a lot about your problems or situation, recognize that the answer to your problems probably does not lie in doing more thinking about how to solve your problems. Instead, taking a break from thinking about your problems is more likely to lead to you taking action on simple things you could do to improve your situation or mood rather than continued thinking.

Taking a break from thinking about your problems can be achieved through activities like seeing friends, or by using mindfulness meditations to practice focusing your attention elsewhere.

5. Regulate your rhythms.

A core part of treatment for bipolar disorder is encouraging the person to develop regular routines of sleeping, eating, socializing, and working. Regulating these rhythms helps regulate mood and energy. This basic principle is true for people generally.

If you're prone to boom and bust cycles of sleeping, eating, socializing, and/or working, try some consistent routines.

6. Use physiological self-soothing strategies.

If you're feeling paralyzed by fear and exhausted by life, you're probably experiencing the freeze aspect of the "fight-flight-freeze" response.

To be able to think straight, it's absolutely critical you learn to use simple physiological strategies to calm your nervous system. Try rolling up your sleeve and stroking your arm (releases oxytocin), gently rubbing your lips with one or two fingers, or the hand rubbing technique listed here. Use one or more of these strategies to develop a personalized plan for simple things you can do when your anxiety is high or your mood is low.

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