I’m sitting in a super cool “Student Center” at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) in Savannah, GA. I came to pick up my son for the summer. He’s turning in his last assignment for his freshman year before we drive back home to Tennessee. (BTW, click here to check out his animation/ illustration/ visual effects website.)
It’s pleasant here. Most kids have already left, so it’s quiet except for the soundtrack of a video game that’s set to loop on the main floor. This is where students work, and it’s where they come to play.
I love the convergence of the old building and the cutting edge of the computer centre, all located in the heart of one of America’s most romantic cities. I can feel the power of the creativity that happens here – with kids who have amazing tools at their fingertips and the fearlessness to break through the ceilings of what’s considered possible.
Students work hard here. They invest themselves not only mentally and physically, but also emotionally. On our way to grab a cup of coffee, we passed a couple hugging goodbye for the summer. The way they held each other emanated a wave of intense emotions that come with the sense of separation.
None of us want to feel that pain of separating, of saying goodbye, of having to leave a part of you behind, I thought… and yet, we do that every day.
Each day we are all a little older; each day we grow a little, and we have to let go of something that no longer fits us or who we were yesterday.
And it can be exhausting!
I remember when my three sons were toddlers; each new growth spurt meant the phase they were just in was over.
During those years, I felt like I was on a crazy-fast, emotional roller coaster – the joy of moments such as watching my toddler take off running was mixed with sadness that they would never again sit still in the baby sling I had carried them in. The relief that they were sleeping through the night was replaced with anxiety that they were sleeping too much.
On top of those intense emotions – which come with letting go of the old and embracing the new – there are always life’s stresses: financial uncertainty, lack of sleep, chaos happening in the world around us, disagreements with people we love… it’s no wonder we get emotionally exhausted.
It seems we can’t catch a break and get a chance to pause, take a breath and recover from experiencing the intense emotions. They mold one into another until we crash.
Coupled with the unprocessed grief from our past, the emotional exhaustion can contribute to developing depression and anxiety.
Such crash became a hard stop for me that, with professional help, I turned into a reset button.
Through my healing process, I learned that one way to avoid emotional exhaustion is to take the emotions one at a time and make sure I recover from each before I take the next step – and not to avoid feeling all the emotions or numbing or ignoring them.
What might that look like?
When I was growing up in Croatia, my mom would recognize emotional pain, or mental exhaustion just as easily as she could spot a physical injury or illness. If I had an especially emotional concert (intense, pleasant emotions) or a huge disappointment (intense, unpleasant emotions), she would encourage me to sleep in the next morning. She would pamper me and hold me, as if allowing some of the energy to flow through her and out of my body. She provided the reset time for me, by giving me permission to pause all activity and recover.
Of course that was a huge luxury that most of us can not afford. But what we can do is learn to be mindful of what we are feeling and how we are processing it. With a few intentional breaths, we can breathe through the emotion we are experiencing and allow it to pass. When we sit still with our emotions, even for just a moment (before rushing into the next one), we become more present, which then brings us peace and calm. Contemplative prayer or meditation often work much like my mother’s embrace.
This way, perhaps we can avoid reaching the point of exhaustion and crashing.
So, here are some tips for managing emotional exhaustion:
- Sleep. Eat a nutritious diet. Go for walks (exercise).
- Take one moment at a time, and focus only on the next right step – avoid being overwhelmed by looking too far into the future – or into the past.
- Sit in silence. Meditate. Pray a centering or contemplative prayer.
- Eat chocolate or any comfort junk food. It will only add to your exhaustion.
- Play Candy Crush or binge watch something for days! Yes, playing a game or watching something relaxing is good, but only if it allows you to relax. Eventually, you have to work through the emotion – not numb it!
I hope this is helpful to you…
I’m going to spend the weekend enjoying having all three of my sons at home, singing my heart out at a gig tonight and on Sunday, watching my youngest son perform in “Chorus Line – High School Version.” I will cry and laugh and be an emotional mess, but I’ll also sit still and eat some good homemade food.