Lately, I’ve been hearing a common refrain from people throughout my life - friends, family, students, parents, and even strangers and acquaintances on social media…
“I’m just so tired. Everything is exhausting.”
And when exploring this a little further, I’ve begun to notice a pattern. A very common pattern, in fact, and one that I have fallen into many times.
Does this - or something like it - sound familiar?
Zombie out in front of electronics
Rinse and repeat.
This is a common pattern - and I have absolutely nothing against patterns or routines, I personally thrive off them! But the above doesn’t seem to be leaving much, if any, time for joy.
Now, I’m not talking about carving out big periods of time on a daily basis for “relaxation” or regularly skiving off obligations to instead do something fun. What I’m talking about is finding a way to include just a little bit of joy in your daily life. Just a little bit of sunshine amidst all the necessities.
Walking Proudly In Our Winter Coats
“Michael, why are we talking about this? You’re not a life coach, so what’s the artistic spin here?”
Excellent question as always, dear reader!
Do you ever notice how we sometimes wear our exhaustion as a badge of honor? We may hate how tired we are, but then we’ll compare how run-down we feel to how our friends, enemies, frenemies, and/or strangers feel.
Of course we do, we’ve been conditioned to do that! *Work yourself to death for that money, or die trying!*
But this overworking is a strictly capitalist idea - it’s meant to produce output, not creativity. It’s about the greater machine, not the individual. It’s about achieving what we’ve been told to achieve or what we need to achieve for survival, not about what we are interested in or what we desire.
Therefore, dear reader, it’s relevant to art because creation is something we do to bring us joy in our lives.
For many artists, even though our art is our careers, we are often not getting paid enough by our creative endeavors to work purely in that field on a daily basis. So we must take other jobs as well that may not be as fulfilling (though hopefully they are adjacent to our careers), but at least they make us the money we need to survive and fuel the creative side.
But when there is no time or energy left in our routines - something that tends to be a gradual shift and which we don’t see happening - the art and the joy are left to the wayside. And then the world is a lot less beautiful and interesting.
Exhaustion is not a badge to wear. An inability to be energized is not good. A lack of joy, large or small, is not positive for anyone.
Ultimately, however, it is us who has control.
There are countless things in life that could potentially bring us joy, which means there are a million and a half ways of incorporating those things into our lives.
I can only speak from personal experience and the experiences of those I am close to, but I think the basic principles can be applied to most everyone.
Here are the things that we first need to know:
Was there a time my daily routine made me happier? Have you always felt this way - just tired all the time? Or was there a time when things were better? When was that?
What changed? If there was a less overwhelming time, what is the difference between then and now? Perhaps even write out what your day looked like then and what it looks like now. What’s different? Is there an obvious shift of some sort?
What small things bring you joy? These can be things that, perhaps, you used to have or do that have fallen to the wayside recently. Or these can be things that you like to do, but you only reserve them for specified “relaxation times.” Or perhaps they are changes you’d like to make, but just haven’t figured out how yet.
What in your daily life is exhausting you the most? Sure, most of life is tiring. Everything demands energy from us - work, travel, family, clients, social obligations, unexpected events, emergencies, phone calls, texts, emails…the list goes on. But what are your top, biggest drains? Can anything be shifted to make these less exhausting in any way?
Are there smaller exhaustions you can get rid of? These are things like not answering work emails after 5:00pm. Or, deciding that you don’t have to pick up the phone every time it rings. Can the smaller things be gotten rid of or diminished?
Now, do you see ways to incorporate the small joys into your daily routine? Have you actually created spaces that can be filled? Or do you see any flexibility?
This process is not of my creation, it was recommended to me by a therapist friend of mine several years ago. At the time I was young and stupid and proud, and totally ignored the advice.
I allowed myself to go from feeling tired all the time, to absolutely exhausted and depressed. Again, this is a common pattern that sooooo many of us fall into. But! This process is fantastic and it works.
Allow me to give you an example from my own life.
Sweet Summer Evenings, Hot Wine and Bread
Last year my routine began to feel tiring and stale.
In addition to the tons of work I was doing for my job, I was working like a madman during any and all open times in my schedule to prepare The King’s Legacy and its materials for the upcoming production.
I wasn’t creating. My lists had lists. Anxiety was building into sleeplessness. Exercise became too much of a chore. Food was becoming a struggle. In other words - I was leaning into all of the behaviors that perpetuate exhaustion instead of fighting it.
Super common pattern.
There wasn’t a ton of leeway in my schedule to do anything about it, but I decided to shoehorn some flexibility in there anyway. I couldn’t stand the tiredness any longer. So…
Step 1 - The blog. I began to write this blog on a weekly basis. Perhaps there wasn’t enough time in my schedule to work on a new project or do much in-depth writing, but at the very least I could write a weekly, one-off piece to whet the creative muscles.
Step 2 - Podcasts. I love learning. I’m a huge nerd (surprise!) and I adore information. So I began taking my long commute drives and turning them into educational sessions by listening to podcasts. Instead of feeling tired at the end of my commute, I felt engaged and productive. I gained energy instead of losing it.
Step 3 - Greens. When working on Long Island I often buy a meal while I’m out there - partially for convenience and partially for lack of time. But I was always trying to be super conscious of how much money I was spending, and that was driving my food choices. Therefore, I wasn’t eating as many healthy choices as I could have been. So I decided to suck it up, pay the extra $3/day, and get a big ole salad as my daily LI lunch. Turns out that healthy foods really are that important.
Step 4 - Order the damned coffee. I love coffee and always have. Not for the caffeine necessarily, I just love coffee. I was feeling super guilty about the extra caffeine, cost, and stomach acid that was coming from my afternoon coffees before work, but I also work afternoons into the evenings and needed to remain awake enough to teach. So, I made the decision to just do it. Make it part of the day, no questions asked. It’s no longer a daily choice to get the coffee, it’s routine, and therefore no reason to feel guilt. Apparently, that small amount of daily guilt was draining more pre-work energy than the coffee had been providing.
Step 5 - Socialize. I realized about halfway through last year that I hadn’t been seeing my friends as regularly as I previously had been. Instead, I was choosing to spend all of my time working. As soon as I made the choice to stop working and socialize at least once per week, there was a marked improvement in my happiness level.
And these were just the changes that I made last year. Since returning from the summer, I came prepared with a plan to add even more happiness into my daily life. Here are some other changes I’ve made:
Buying scented candles - They may be expensive, but they make me feel calm and productive. Seems worth it.
New exercise routine - The old one was stale and not giving me the necessary endorphins.
Eating - I’ve stopped being as worried about counting calories, and thinking more about which foods I eat and how they will (positively, I hope) affect my body.
No more double screens - I used to scroll through my phone while watching TV at night and I think it made me overstimulated and anxious. Now, I take care of my social media first when I get home, then watch a little TV. Seems to help.
These little changes are working for me. I feel more energized and more ready to attack the day all day long. They may be tiny alterations, but they do add up.
Why Not Go Ahead?
I know that everyone is different. Peoples’ schedules and struggles and energy levels and physical/mental situations vary greatly.
But this is all I urge you to do:
If you’re one of those people feeling constantly exhausted, I want you to first forgive yourself. It’s okay to feel that way, and it doesn’t have to be a forever problem.
Then, I want you to take the time to evaluate, but do it on your schedule. When you’re able. No pressure. But, as I learned, it really is good advice from the mental health field and it does help.
And lastly, find some simple joys. Whether that be buying all the pumpkin spice you can consume, writing for 15 minutes two days per week, shutting off your phone at night, or planning a little me-time into your week…whatever it is, it will help rebalance your energy levels.
Find a little sunshine and let it in.