My brain was mush; it was hard to think. I couldn’t focus. Motivation felt like a long lost friend I hadn’t seen in ages. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. A month or more had passed since I slept through the night. I would wake up at 3 am as if I had an alarm set. Some nights I was awake for the next hour or more tossing and turning. Even if I could get back to sleep within a few minutes, in the morning I was exhausted and couldn’t drag myself out of bed. In work meetings and in any social setting, I couldn’t come up with a thing to say. I was becoming irritable, had a quick fuse, and uptight—none of which defined me.
If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Mental health has taken a nosedive during the pandemic for many people. One in five Americans has taken prescription medication the past year to treat a mental health condition.
Thankfully, I recognized what was happening. I’ve been here before. The last time I had a serious clash with burn out, it caused a career crisis and depression that took me 3 years from which to recover.
I figured meditation would help. I used to meditate regularly, but like many good habits during the pandemic, I had stopped doing it. I had also stopped working out daily. I stopped writing altogether. I no longer did these and other key activities that recharged me mentally and emotionally.
So I did a meditation on the Calm app at work over a lunch break. I was so disoriented afterward I stumbled down the hallway and fell into the wall twice. I would have collapsed into a heap on the floor if the wall hadn’t been there to break my fall. I was wound so tight and was so on edge that I fell apart when I finally took a moment to relax. That was the moment I knew I had a problem.
Stress is always present in our lives. We can’t escape it and we can’t make it go away. You have to find ways to cope with it and manage it. Instead, I ignored it and hoped it would go away.
Like any obstacle or challenge, this is an opportunity for me to do things better. It’s a reason for me to reset, reprioritize, and examine my behaviors. I immediately took a couple of days off from work. I went fly fishing (first time in two years), got a massage (first time in a year and a half), and spent several hours working on writing projects—some files I hadn’t opened since March of 2020. I sat in my hot tub in the rain. I stared at a backyard campfire for hours. I bought a book of Hemingway short stories. And I started doing meditations during the day and at night before bed. I’m now sleeping through the night more often than not. I’m continuing to reconnect myself with the activities and pursuits that bring me joy and recharge me mentally and emotionally.
I hope you do the same. These activities provide balance in our lives. Even if you love the work you do, it is still work. It can be something you’re passionate about and still be a source of stress in your life. You will still need pursuits that help you manage that stress. With all 2020 threw at us, and the encore 2021 has been so far, this has been the most stressful 15 months many of us have ever experienced. Don’t neglect yourself and don’t stop doing the things that recharge your batteries and clear your mind.
Take care of yourself. Adventure On.