Well, 2020 has certainly been exhausting.
From the anxiety that comes with COVID to the always-on mom-mode that accompanied daycare/school closures to the deep exhaustion that comes from truly paying attention to how Black people in our country at treated and confronting the true depths of white privilege… it’s exhausting. Long-overdue and a solid step in the right direction, but exhausting.
So, how do we manage our energy to show up in the way that we want to in our homes, at work, to better our country, and for ourselves – when the work and the context in which we’re doing it (hey, COVID) are so heavy?
There are no right or wrong strategies here, but here are some of mine.
1. Pace Yourself for the Long Haul.
Many of us want to push for action right now to improve our country in so many ways. This may include calling politicians, reading books, taking classes, watching films, researching petitions and places to donate to, and more.
This is all so necessary. And while it’s critical to capitalize on the momentum, it’s also important to realize this revolution to shake up the very foundations of our country will be a marathon.
Don’t burn yourself out.
My weird approach to get there: use your calendar.
First, plot out when you’ll do the work. For example, when exactly will you read the books, make the calls, and research organizations you can support and politicians you can elect?
Plotting out when you’ll do these things will help you be consistent and work over the long term. You can always adapt your plan – but have a plan.
Then, plot out time to do things that fill your cup up. Working out. Reading fun books. Spending time with friends and family. Watching a dumb tv show. Sleep.
While it, candidly, can feel privileged to look away for periods of time, as with anything in life, if you want true and lasting progress, you’ve got to do consistent work – and also give yourself space to nourish the other parts of your life so you don’t burn out.
Plus, giving yourself space to think will help you formulate clear steps about how you want to contribute – versus just consuming content and walking away feeling exhausted. So, while it can seem counterintuitive, embrace mental and energy breaks.
2. Protect your sleep (here’re some practical strategies to get you there)
A huge obstacle to sleep right now is social media – both in terms of the rabbit hole it can take us down right before bed and the feelings it leaves in its wake.
Scrolling for an hour right before bed leads us feeling wide-eyed and tossing and turning with all the emotions we encountered in those squares.
And it doesn’t set us up well energy-wise for tomorrow. As Julie Morgenstern said, our mornings begin the night before.
So, what to do? Consider using your calendar and the accompanying phone alert to remind you of when you want to get off social media every evening. This will help your brain start slowing down before bed. For example, get off social media and any news source at 7pm for a 9pm bedtime.
Small tip: it helps to title the entry not just in the negative (e.g., “get off social media”), but also with a positive to help direct you toward how you want to spend your time (e.g., “get off social media; read XYZ book or listen to XYZ podcast or music”).
In addition, and this has been huge for me over the last couple days to improve my sleep – meditation.
<- actual photo of me listening to people talk about meditation 5 years ago.
Throughout childhood and through years of practicing law, I’d always been a pretty type A, not-the-meditating-type person. I’d wanted to be a lawyer since 6th grade if that tells you anything.
But then, in my attorney days, I went through a phase where work really stressed me. A lot.
Desperate for anything to calm my brain so I could sleep and feel at peace during awake hours (and maybe because by then I was living in California), I gave meditation a shot.
I realized meditation didn’t have to be just deep breathing in silence, but that there were tons of guided meditations on apps that help you quiet down your brain and relax.
And some of them are 3-5 minutes long, so it doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal.
I became a convert.
After I left law, I ended up slowly drifting away from meditation.
But when COVID hit and I realized my jaw actually hurt from being clenched all day long, I decided to pick it back up.
And now, I’m trying to get more consistent. When I do it, I sleep better and my brain feels calmer. It’s that simple.
If you’re curious, I highly recommend listening to a 5-20 min guided meditation on the free Insight Timer app (download it on your phone) right before bed. I put in my AirPods and listen with the lights off. This lets me just take the headphones out with my eyes still closed and fall right to sleep.
4. Working out
I’m not a huge fan of working out, but I’m doing it for 5-20 minutes most days right now.
The anxiety I feel about all the things gets pent up throughout the day, making me feel distracted and scattered.
Working out helps me release the anxious energy and gives me calmer, clearer energy.
Even a 5-minute arm workout that doesn’t require a shower after can make a huge difference.
I schedule a 30-minute “workout” block at noon and then move it around to a time that makes sense depending on client meetings, childcare, etc. that day.
Right now, I particularly love the Peloton app – I’m still using their free 3-month trial. If you’re not into that, I also love Popsugar Fitness on YouTube.
I lovvvvve my coffee.
But when I’m stressed and sleep-deprived, I tend to pound it – and then am left feeling more on edge and kinda curmudgeon-y.
If you’re similar, consider limiting yourself to just two mugs in the morning with loads of water drinking, too. Then switch to water for the rest of the day.
For some people, coffee can exacerbate feelings of anxiety (restlessness, racing-mind, antsy-ness), so it’s worth exploring whether substituting water for coffee to a degree helps you feel more calm.
Alright, my friend. That wraps up my strategies to help protect your energy in this wild and heavy time.
Let me know if you have any other handy tricks (I can always use more help!) and/or if you’re going to try a strategy out.
Take care of yourself so you can get out there and make our country a better place and enjoy your life at the same time. It’ll be a long road, but one I can’t wait to help build and to see where it goes.
In addition, I work with busy professionals to help them manage how they get it all done in their personal, family and career roles so that they can enjoy each part of their day and feel more calm clarity about managing all those to-do’s. If you want more information, visit me at www.kellynolan.com, and download my free guide on why your to-do list is actually causing your overwhelmed state of mind.