You know those people who seem to be able to do everything? They work 12 hours a day, study towards a PhD in the evening, have eight kids who all play a different sport that they take them to after school, bake cookies for the old lady next door, run marathons, volunteer for three charities and still have time to knit a blanket for a king size bed in the weekends? Yeah that's not me.
I wish I had that level of energy, but I don't. Like many people, I've had a brush with chronic fatigue syndrome. Years ago I had a rough time with it and had to just do what I could to get through it. Fortunately today I'm largely on top of it, I work full-time, hang out with friends, write this blog, write a column for Fitness Journal and still have energy to do other fun things.
I learnt some valuable lessons from experiencing chronic fatigue. These are things I didn't want to learn in my early twenties while everyone else was out partying and building their careers, but you can't choose what life throws at you.
I was talking to a friend yesterday who was feeling really burnt out from work, and I wished that she would not have to feel like she does at the moment. Feeling burnt out is the worst. And I think most people experience it at some time in their lives.
But it's not just the burnt out and the fatigued who need to take a look at how they're spending their energy. The practice of self-care is important for everyone. Life is short, and all of us have a limited well of energy to call on. Spend your energy where it matters, take care of yourself and life is so much better.
Here are my tips for looking after yourself:
Don't be afraid to say no
This has got to be one of the hardest things to put into practice. But if you say yes to everything you won't have any energy left over for the things that really matter to you. One way to deal with the guilt of saying no is to think about how you'd treat your best mate if they said no to something they didn't have time or energy for. You wouldn't want them to feel guilty for looking after themselves, so why should you feel guilty for saying no? It's not selfish to say no, it's healthy.
Spend time with people that matter
Some people are vacuums for energy. It's normal to have friendships that are give and take, but if your friend is always sucking up your energy and never giving back then maybe it's time to rethink why you're spending your time on them.
Convenience food is convenient. But it's not all that nutritious. Putting your time into eating good food fuels your body and your spirit. You can't possibly have good health (and energy) if you're living on crap food and caffeine.
Get enough sleep
"I just want to read one more chapter." <---- that is totally my life. My mum used to have to steal my books away every night to make sure I got some sleep or I would have been up till the early hours reading. Discipline yourself to go to bed at the same time every night and make sure it's not too late, because you know you'll pay for your lack of sleep in the morning.
Listen to your body
Are you feeling exhausted and ill? Stay home and go to bed. Occasionally you have to push on and do something important. But be honest with yourself, do your workmates really want you in the office spreading your germs? You'll get better faster if you do what your body is trying to tell you.
I get it, you love your job, and there's lots to do. But overtime is for emergencies, not for every day. There will always be more work than time. You owe it to yourself to get enough down-time so that you can come into work every day with a good level of energy, able to do a good job. You can't possibly be doing your best job if you're working 50+ hours a week every week.
Do things that give you energy
Does painting give you energy? Do you get energy from hanging out with your best friend or playing fetch with your dog? Do that thing at least once a week. I get cranky if I don't get enough time for my creative projects. So I make time for it every weekend.
Take time out
Everyone needs time alone. Even extroverts need time for reflection and rest. Schedule it into your week so you get the time you need. This can be a real challenge for parents of small children - but if you can get time for a half hour walk by yourself, or a soak in the bath while your partner watches the kids, this is a good start.
Look after yourself out there guys. Make the time to enjoy the good things in life.