Here are 4 ways to combat the exhaustion of prolonged stress
Resiliency, the ability to bounce back from adversity, obstacles, and challenges, is an admirable trait. But if you are trying to stay motivated or positive under sustained stress — like two years of COVID-19 shut-downs and restrictions, or any difficult situation that has caused you to deal with long-term hardships — even the most resilient soul can feel exhausted.
That’s why so many people are now grappling with resiliency fatigue, where you’ve tried to roll with the punches and stay strong but end up feeling completely depleted as a result.
You know what I’m talking about — that sensation of feeling less connected, engaged, or motivated over time. Sure you’ve always been an “A” student, but now the temptation could be present to just give up and let go of hope.
As noted in this Wall Street Journal article called “Still Feeling Pandemic Miserable? There Are Ways to Dig Out,” more individuals feel depleted and unable to complete their daily routines because of the sustained nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. It can feel like a bad dream that never ends.
“On mile 18, everyone questions whether they can finish the marathon,” says Brad Kennedy, chief operating officer of addiction treatment center Driftwood Recovery, in that article. “But now, imagine the finish line is moving.”
However, you can do something about it. Here are four ways to combat resiliency fatigue:
Give yourself a break.
We all need some mental rest, and that is true more than ever when dealing with prolonged stress. Your drive to be resilient may stem from trying to keep yourself going or to care more effectively for others. But you can just let yourself “be” rather than “do” in order to replenish your energy and well-being. Take regular mental breaks to re-center yourself.
“We all want to deliver good work, take care of our family, and be the best mother, father, son, daughter we can be,” Brenda Bence, global executive leadership coach and author of The Forgotten Choice: Shift Your Inner Mindset, Shape Your Outer World, told me. “But if your cup is empty, you’ll have nothing left to pour into other people’s cups. So, you need to really pause and replenish, fill up your own cup so that you can offer more to others.”
Reinforce your belief in yourself.
Yes, flexibility is an important part of becoming resilient, but it is also comprised of your attitude and belief in yourself. Leaning deeper into trusting your competence can help you overcome resilience fatigue.
Researchers Kathryn Connor and Jonathan Davidson, who developed the Connor-Davidson Resilience scale (CD-RISC) to assess resilience in individuals, found that certain characteristics like commitment and self-efficacy can help you become more resilient over the long-haul.
I recommend a simple exercise to recognize what you have accomplished over a specific time period — perhaps the past year, five years or more. List everything that comes to your mind, whether it is personal or professional.
When I think back over the past year, my list includes completing my book project, moving into a “new” old home and undertaking a massive renovation, learning how to define healthier boundaries with work and making Pilates a regular habit. No matter what challenges I face, owning those four accomplishments makes me feel proud and capable.
Notice Good Things.
Feel like you’ve become less positive over time? You can regain a sense of optimism by noticing what’s going right. Each day before going to sleep, record what went well in your world.
Commit to finding at least three good things daily, but feel free to write down as many items as possible on a smart device or paper — a good check-up with your dentist, you were running late but the bus waited for you, you found an unexpected $20 bill in a jacket pocket, your boss praised you at a company meeting, etc. Do this every day for a month and see how things change.
It may feel like there’s more positive in your life even if the same things were taking place all along and you are just noticing them for the first time. Noticing good things will increase your optimism and bolster your resilience as a result.
Alison Earl, the author of Tripowerment: The Why, the Will, and the Way of Breakthrough Change, recommends using empathy to help overcome resilience fatigue, especially those whose views you don’t share or agree with. Because when you experience empathy, it can diminish your sense of anger or loss.
In this blog article, she writes, “Empathy is the precursor to compassion, which is needed if we are to find new solutions and our way out of this situation. It’s critical to acknowledge the individual hardship, loss, and trauma that we have each experienced during this time. Allow space for these emotions and the truth of the situation. This is not the time to be Pollyanna and only see the bright side.”
“Then, it’s critical we bring it back to the common human experience,” continued Earl. “When we feel alone and isolated in our suffering every negative emotion is intensified. We are more likely to experience anxiety and depression and other negative health consequences. We need to remember that other people, just like us, know this pain, suffering and hardship.”
Have you ever dealt with resiliency fatigue? If so, what helped you break out of it?