What to Do When You Feel You’re Running on Empty and Whatever You Do Is Not Enough
Where did the summer go? This is the question I asked myself last week.
All I can think of is the unexpected stuff that I dealt with. It started with a furnace breakdown in June, a water leak in July, then ants in the basement, and toilet repair. All of these were not minor interruptions; they were projects that took time and energy. In between, I was busy with routine.
Now I feel exhausted and without much energy left.
Everything from homes, to cars, to electronics is getting more complex, requiring more care and maintenance … and specialization.
Add to it all the daily demands and expectations and we get stuck putting out fires.
This is something I continue to struggle with. And I have a feeling I’m not the only one.
I’m not complaining about the blessings of modern life. I’m trying to make peace with its demands, and find a way to replenish the depleted energy—and feel that what I’m doing matters (to me).
Do you feel the same?
If you feel you’re running out of steam without much to show for it, stay with me.
Let me start with a few thoughts about what happens when we feel drained and empty.
When we feel tired
It’s the norm now for people to feel exhausted from being constantly on the move and scrambling to catch up.
The unpleasant feelings of empty tiredness lead to one or more of the following coping tactics.
Escape and avoidance
When I feel drained I either want to surf the net, or watch TV. I avoid anything remotely engaging or stimulating. Escaping and numbing usually leads to more of the same.
If I spend an hour doing something demanding, I’ll spend at least double or triple that time in unfocused numbing activities.
Escaping and tiredness push the important things to the back burner. This creates another form of struggle—more emptiness as a result of unfulfilled desires.
Resistance is at the root of all suffering. We resist the urgent situation, so we fight and complain. Then we feel worse and create another layer of resistance by fighting our own feelings, and judging ourselves.
Avoidance compounds the pain with more resistance because we feel we’re wasting time and not focusing on the important stuff. It goes like this:
Urgency » resistance » forced action » resistance » feeling tired » avoidance » not doing what’s important » judgment » resistance » more pain and tiredness » avoidance » resistance
This is a vicious cycle that continues to perpetuate itself till it becomes a mental program that runs all the time.
The question then is how to step out of the cycle and do things differently. The answer is by breaking the cycle, with one basic—but difficult—step.
How to break the cycle of exhaustion and replenish your energy
If you can only do one thing, please let it be this:
Allow the reactive feelings to be, till they let go of you
The first thing that we usually face when we feel tired (or any other unpleasant feeling) is our own reaction to the feeling.
Most of the time we fight by forcing ourselves to do something, or we try to push the feeling away.
The expectation that we should feel strong and energized, deal with anything, and then feel good is just an expectation.
Reality is how we instinctively react when we face a situation, or an emotion. The emotional reaction is probably on autopilot that’s beyond our conscious awareness.
The conscious part of the mind usually argues with a much stronger reactive part. We feel crappy about something and then we feel worse when we reject it.
If you feel tired, drained, or you’re not doing enough, try this process.
A meditation on reaction
Be okay with the reactive feeling (for example feeling angry or worried that you’re tired).
From my experience, this is one of the hardest things to do. We won’t be okay with feeling tired and empty right away. It’s a life long practice.
1- Be still and perform a body scan. Where do you feel the discomfort in the body? You might notice mental numbness or fogginess, achy muscles, or a knot in the stomach. Whatever comes up, just notice it, without judgment, as much as you can.
2- Breathe. Deep and calm breaths can be soothing and rejuvenating at the same time.
3- Notice. Pay attention to any resistant sensations that come up as you breathe. Keep your attention on the sensations till they ease.
4- Notice more. Focus your attention on whatever comes up (thoughts and sensations). Repeat till you can’t feel any uncomfortable sensations.
5- Let go. The feelings will eventually let go. This could take from a few minutes to an hour or more, depending on the situation and the intensity of the reaction. Do the best you can. Start with a few minutes, and repeat whenever the feelings come up again.
It may feel like you’re wasting your time by meditating on your reaction instead of doing something productive. But the truth is when you’re in a reactive state you’re not going to do anything productive. You’re more likely to escape, or resist, than rationally do something useful.
Plus, getting in touch with your reactions and feeling whatever you need to feel in the moment can be a life changing practice. The time you spend on yourself is an investment, not a waste of time.
There are other steps that you can take. These are common actions that can be helpful in any stressful situation.
Relax mentally and physically. Listen to music, take a bath, meditate, rest, or sleep.
Have an intimate conversation with a loved one. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone you trust about how you feel and what you expect from yourself and others. They might have useful insight as to how they perceive your reactions.
Do something physical. Go for a walk, do some yoga, or stretch your body. Gentle movement awakens the body slowly and calms the mind.
Do something you love. Read a book, work on a hobby, spend time with loved ones, or enjoy a movie.
I don’t recommend physical exertion, or doing anything that’s overly demanding. The goal is to slowly renew your energy and clear your reactive mental and emotional programming, not add to the stress.
The demands of life can deplete our energy and leave us feeling empty and aimless—especially when we don’t act (or react) the way we think we should.
With every challenge there is a blessing and an opportunity to grow by stepping out of old patterns and being kinder to ourselves, and life in general.
Things eventually work out. So instead of fighting and struggling, we can choose to let our feelings be, let ourselves be, and let life be.