Sometimes you just hit a wall. It happens to all of us, even if especially if you’re an overly ambitious, mile-a-minute hustler used to tackling everything in her path with hysterical vim.
Shit piles up. Things go wrong. Things break. You start to chip around the edges. You keep pushing, but it wears on you. And finally, you reach that point where you’ve got 117 unread messages in your inbox, a dozen overdue tasks on your to-do list, and You’re Just So Freakin’ Tired the idea of sitting down to write a Post-It note, let alone a blog post, seems completely and utterly beyond the realm of possibility.
I get it. I’m in it currently. Which is why if you’re one of the 117 unread message-senders in my inbox, I sincerely apologize, but you’re gonna stay that way a little longer.
Because times like this—when the idea of curling up on your couch with a blanket over your head and spending the day defense-napping seems like the most inexplicably beautiful-slash-psychologically necessary thing in the world—are also the times when you need to treat yourself with the utmost gentleness, because the tiniest things have the potential to break you into a million messy little pieces.
And those are just the tiny things.
As for all your normal heroics when it comes to taking names, kicking ass and carpeing diems? They’re for the together you—you in your normal state of operations.
This is not your normal state of operations.
This is crisis mode.
And you need to treat it as such.
Handle with Care
Under normal circumstances, little things like running out of TP or a spontaneous call from your super-chipper friend are dealable. You make a quick run to the store. You chat for a few mock-enthusiastic minutes, then gracefully find a way to disengage yourself. Life moves on.
But when you’re in a state of brittleness—physically, mentally and emotionally—little things like this can have you diving for the covers so hard you’ll have to call in “unable to emerge for work” the next day. You can’t deal. You won’t deal. (How did you ever deal to begin with?)
Tackling the million-and-one other things on your daily tackling list? Forget it.
No, seriously, forget it. It’s time to do things differently.
The trick to getting through slumps like this is to be extra, mind-the-eggshells careful with yourself so you don’t go from burnt out to 100% broken. Whatever your normal modus operandi is, you’re gonna to have to modify things for a bit.
You’re gonna to have to go into energy saver mode, both to prevent further breakdown and to keep your life running as close to normal as possible while you lovingly reboot yourself. And you will reboot yourself. But you’ve gotta follow some ground rules to do so.
How to Activate Energy Saver Mode
1. Critical Tasks Only
When your computer goes into energy saver mode, it only runs the programs absolutely necessary for the system to stay operational. When you are in energy saver mode, your priorities are the same.
Do only the things absolutely necessary to keep your world up and running, and let everything else slide for the time being. (And I don’t mean “slide while secretly wondering how you’ll make it up later.” I mean “slide and then totally forget they ever existed, because you’ve got bigger things to focus on, like getting yourself up and running again.”)
Going to work, feeding yourself and keeping the house from falling to pieces are things that fall into the “necessary” category. Things that fall into the “everything else” category include giving a shit about office politics, feeling bad about a week of takeout food instead of your normal vegan regime, or making sure every last dust mite is removed from your premises.
All that nonsense is off the table for now. It’s survival focus only.
You’ve only got so much energy to run on at the moment. Don’t waste it on anything that isn’t system-critical, or you’ll find that soon enough, even the critical things can’t get done.
2. Let Yourself Lull
Computers keep themselves from overheating by not running at full capacity 24/7. They go into sleep mode in between usage. If too many programs are running at once, the whole thing slows down to let you know you’re taxing the system too much.
We could learn a thing or two from them.
We live in a go-go-go, more-better-faster world where multitasking is our default setting and being constantly overwhelmed is a badge of honor. Personally, I think we should fight against that even when we’re operating at full capacity, but when you’re in energy saver mode? Screw that mentality, twice.
Do your work one task at a time. Take breaks. Watch TV. Live slowly. Understand that you’re in a state of repair right now, and that repair won’t happen if you keep trying to overwork the system. Call off your marathon exercise schedule for a night. Take a nap. Take a breath. Give all that buzzing and static in your brain a chance to dissipate.
Not because you’re lazy or weak or an awful human being, but because you need this right now.
3. Put on Your Screen Saver
Screen savers are fantastic little things. They tell your boss and coworkers that you are at work that day; you’ve just stepped away for a minute. If your screen is flashing kittens in adorable situations, your colleagues can assume you’ve just gone to grab a coffee and will be back momentarily. If your screen has gone dark (and all the little monitor and keyboard buttons aren’t even on), they can assume you’ve skipped out for the day.
Your job in energy saver mode is to keep your screen active enough that it doesn’t go completely blank. Just that, and no more.
No matter how drawn out your are, you still need to do things like show up to work, engage with other human beings and be there for your friends. But you don’t always have to be on your A-game, and the best way to make sure the world allows you some slack for that is by making a good faith effort to be present while admitting you need a little leeway.
Maybe this week you only focus on hitting your work targets instead of exceeding them. (Maybe for once you even ask for help from a colleague instead of trying to be a do-it-all leviathan.) Maybe when you’re cornered by that chatty coworker you can’t ignore because she’s the boss’s favorite, you confess that you’re beat and politely excuse yourself. Maybe if your workout buddy calls to make sure you’ll be meeting her at the gym, you tell her you’re not feeling well and you’re going to have to take a rare miss.
It’s o.k. so let people know you’re not in top form. It’s actually much better than pretending to be in top form (see: further burnout) or ignoring them altogether and turning your temporary slump into a sullen, antisocial season.
You don’t have to be a jerk, but you also don’t need to be a superhero. (Tweet!) Just be an adequate simulation of yourself that lets people know, “I’m with you, just going through some maintenance. Bear with me, and I’ll be back in a bit.”
You’re allowed to do that. Let yourself do that.
4. Don’t Get Mad at the Machine
In my former life as an office worker, I was endlessly fascinated by how pissed off people got at inanimate objects. Copiers that jammed. Fax machines that sent half a document and then timed out. Computers that froze. These things are annoying, but they’re just things, and occasionally they go wonky. Taking it as a personal affront is just ridiculous (and a sad commentary on your frustration with other aspects of your life, which you are taking out on said inanimate objects).
But it’s no more ridiculous than getting mad at yourself when your body goes into shutdown mode. Bodies (and brains) will do that when under extreme duress. They will also occasionally go glitchy when faced with too much input. Feeling weak or inadequate or beating yourself up for hitting a wall is just stupid. It’s just the nature of the machine. It will happen on occasion. It doesn’t make you any less of an awesomepants.
So instead of mourning or resenting the wasted days you’re in energy saver mode, just let yourself be. Take care of yourself (which is what this mode is for, remember?) without placing too much importance on the fact that you’re currently not at your best. It happens. You’re dealing. That’s all. No judgments allowed.
Eventually you will emerge, just as strong and kickass as you were before your body-meet-wall incident. Be as understanding with yourself as you would be with your BFF, give yourself a mulligan (or several), and ride it out until that time comes again.
You’re o.k. It’s o.k. I promise.
How do you cope when you’ve hit a wall?
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