In the last few weeks I have felt increasingly run down and like I have been surviving (just!) rather than thriving.
To name but a few things that have been going on in my world… The baby has been ill (A&E category ill). My toddler has been going through a growth spurt and waking exceptionally early – throwing out my routine. I’ve started a new role at work which has required extra effort and brain power. And I haven’t been able to shift a cold, which has zapped any energy I did have, for almost a month.
So, I feel constantly tired, lethargic – in need of a holiday! My daughter jumping into bed with me every night has impacted both our sleep patterns – making us both cranky! I have stopped exercising – my strength has drained away; I feel achy and my posture is getting worse by the day. And I’m not eating as well… you get the picture.
But this morning – for the first time in too long I woke up feeling like I had enough energy to get up early and sensed a glimmer of hope that today I could feel inspired and (half) awake again. I knew that this light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel day would arrive eventually – but it feels like it has been a very long time coming. And it got me thinking about behaviours whilst in survival mode – and what I have been doing to keep myself going, albeit slowly, at home and at work.
I’d like to share with you the key behaviours that I feel have worked for me.
1. Feel confident that this too will pass…
Throughout the difficult times, I have always been very clear that life is cyclical. Time and life move on. There will always be change, and none of it is ever wholly good or bad… so whatever you are going through at the moment, try to look for the positives (no matter how spurious!) and know that better times are ahead.
2. Be kind to yourself
When you go into survival mode, you need to accept that this is not the time to focus on new goals. I have always got projects and initiatives and to do lists on the go… I truly believe that you can have everything you want. But, I also am realistic enough to know you cannot have everything, all at the same time – or even, all of the time. You have to pick what is your priority… and sometimes that just has to be getting through the day or the week.
At these times, the most important thing is to be aware of your need for rest whenever you can get it – and to be kind to yourself first. That means that if your neighbour from two doors down asks you to help move a sofa – or someone you vaguely know from school invites you to a party which you aren’t bothered about and will involve a 5 hour drive on your precious weekend… you need to give yourself permission just to say no. Just don’t do it. Stay home instead and try to rest. (As you may have guessed, I’m an introvert. If you’re an extrovert and will be more deeply nourished by going out and being around others – then do that instead… but make sure you get enough home time to sleep and recuperate physically.)
In the same vein, having given yourself permission not to go out and do things which won’t help you recuperate – realise that, in most cases, it really doesn’t matter if you don’t do all of the chores on your list when you are at home. Now – I generally love feeling productive and ticking things off my to do list. But recently, I have simply been too tired. I gave myself permission to rest instead… however, my top tip is to make a to do list of things like changing the fuse in that lamp you never use anyway – or grouting that bathroom tile – so when you do have more energy, you can get on and do everything that has been bugging you about the home – without forgetting half of the items!!
3. Let other people be kind to you
If you are running on fumes, let other people know and ask for help where you need it. Even if that support is just telling a friend that your still feel rough – or things are difficult.
When wading through the pit which is survival mode – it is good to have someone in your corner just to check in with who will graciously let you have a rant when required! When it is their turn for going into survival mode (as yes, it does happen to all of us from time to time) – you can always repay the time and attention then.
4. Then focus on the basics…
Food and Drink:
Don’t beat yourself up about what you eat – but be mindful of what is going to nourish rather than drain your energy. I recommend planing your shopping so you have nutritious options in the house.
Consciously pick a lesser of the evils treat. Something that you will allow yourself which you really enjoy and will let yourself have as much as you want – but which has to go in place of not having something worse. For me – to avoid scoffing cake and biscuits – or defaulting to drinking wine (all of which make me feel dreadful, especially if I am not feeling great generally), I have made-from-scratch hot chocolate in the evening as my soothing treat. I keep a supply of good quality hot chocolate ingredients – and squirty cream at home and that is my go to.
If you take supplements, remember to keep taking them. You need as much support as possible right now!
If you have a slow cooker, I don’t need to tell you that they are great for preparing one meal that can be dipped into by the whole family over a weekend – without resorting to takeaways. This is a lifesaver for me – and I have a fab weekend veggie soup recipe which takes no time to prepare…. you can find the recipe here and I eat it all year round!
As an aside, if you don’t have a slow cooker – seriously, get one. I first saw them in action as an au pair twenty years ago when my host mom showcased the benefits daily – and I was hooked. Twenty years later, my own au pair is equally impressed and will also be buying one pronto when she returns home! I did the research and my favourites are this Tefal 8-in-1 and the Pressure King Pro which I recently decided to try and is both a pressure and slow cooker. The advantage with both over many others options is that they have a setting where you can fry onions etc in the pan before slow cooking your soup, stew or curry etc. This one pot approach is an invaluable time (and mess) saver!
Quite simply, do whatever you need to to get more. My sleep has been massively disrupted by my toddler recently and when in survival mode – sleep is critical. I think the main reason I actually feel more normal today is due to three consecutive nights where I gave myself permission to ignore my to do list – turned off the TV – and went to bed at 8.30pm!
Getting enough sleep is probably the most important thing in this list.
This is survival mode, right? So I don’t actually have the energy to follow my ten minutes of yoga – let alone do a full work out. I feel bad about this – but again, I’m committed to being kind and empathetic to myself when I feel like this. And as I get up earlier to exercise – sleep has genuinely been more important just at the moment.
However, in survival mode – I would still very much recommend getting into the habit at the start of the day of immediately stretching as tall you can, arms in the air. Stretch out your back and check your posture. It will give you a boost throughout the day.
I have been a huge fan of hygge for years – and never more so than when in survival mode. In fact, in my view – it is critical to focus on your hygge when trying to keep your head above water. In recent years, whenever life has been difficult I have set myself a “30 days of Hygge challenge” – and taken a little time everyday to prioritise feeling comforted and content. The great thing about it being a 30 day challenge is that I have invariably found that by the end of the challenge, the passing of a month has invariably meant that life has moved on and I am feeling better anyway. The focus on Hygge in the interim just helped to remind me of all of the good things still in my life!
For me, this often involves getting fresh air and literally smelling the roses, wrapping up in a blanket with a good book, cuddles with my girls or indulging in one of my hobbies such as photography or listening to a good book. (I love Audible – it is my constant companion on my commute and when I’m doing chores around the house! Helps to hygge up my least favourite activities..! If you haven’t tried it – click here to check out a free trial.)
Think about what will be physically comforting for you – both at home and work. For me, I have plenty of blankets and cosy thermal leggings, woolly socks to wear at home (yes, even in the summer. I feel the cold – and for me, feeling cold makes everything worse!!)
Some very basic ideas are about what you wear to work. Is it comfortable? I strongly recommend ensuring that your work clothes are comfortable. And a critical thing for me in survival mode is footwear – if you are wearing either heels or ballet flats all day, you are guaranteed to feel physically tired. I find that making sure I have comfortable and supportive commute shoes – even if what I wear in the office is less supportive – is so important. Otherwise knees, hips and back all start to ache slightly… and that is the last thing anyone needs whilst trying to get through survival mode!
Also, I should note here that one thing Hygge isn’t about is buying things. I have been an emotional spender in my life and know all too well how easy and tempting it is to make yourself feel better during survival mode by buying stuff. Slow cookers aside… from personal experience I know that this stuff won’t help you feel any better during survival mode… it will just make you feel poorer – and more mentally and physically cluttered. Shops – both online and off – are definitely one to avoid when creating your hygge!
6. Look for opportunities to re-set and get back on track
As I mentioned above – whatever you are going through which brought you into survival mode will pass. However, if your usual life rhythm has gone entirely to pot, it can be very difficult to claw things back.
For example, this morning – despite a late night – I woke at 5am without an alarm. For the first time in weeks, my two year old hadn’t clambered into bed with me overnight – so I had the opportunity to get up without waking her.
I had two options… to go back to sleep as it was a Saturday and I had the opportunity. Or get up, do some stretches and get a head start on the day. I went for the latter. At no point today have I regretted that decision!
I had just enough energy to work through a list of overdue chores – and the sense of productivity was regenerating. I felt that I’d had a flat battery which was finally recharging.
Go slowly and be realistic about how long it may take to fully recover and return to your normal state. Continue to focus on your wellbeing and get the support you need.
What comes after Survival Mode?
For me, I know I have tricky times ahead. And – I know I won’t see the light at the end of the tunnel every day… but, I am working on making small incremental changes, to simplify my life so that each day is as easy as possible on me: both mentally and physically.
In the meantime, these six coping strategies will help me make it through this difficult chapter – and support me as I get back to thriving! And I know for sure I will get there…
What do you do differently when in survival mode? I would love to hear your thoughts – do drop me a line here!
Never miss a CareerMom post! Subscribe here!