Imagine if feeling rested was as simple as getting a good night’s sleep.

I know it’s not just me. Coronasomnia aside (yes, that’s a real phenomenon), I’ve often found myself bone-tired regardless of how many hours I’ve slept, or the fact that I spent all day sitting at my desk.

My “aha moment” came during a conversation with a client. My client is a businesswoman, mother, and wife—much like myself—which means that she is constantly collaborating and negotiating with the people in her life. She’s always on, in every sense of the word, whether that be physically, mentally, or emotionally. (Parents don’t get to sleep in, never mind take a sick day.)

So, when she told me how tired she felt, it struck me that she didn’t necessarily mean she had been sleeping poorly, or had recently gone for a run. I think that when we talk about being tired, we default to assuming there’s a physical reason behind it, and then we’re surprised that two extra hours of sleep didn’t help. Naturally, I turned to Google, and discovered this incredible article that talks about rest beyond sleep, and approaching how we recharge with flexibility, depending on the type of tired we are.

Imagine if we talked more openly about the different kinds of tiredness. Perhaps, then, we’d be better equipped to recharge our batteries.

The Types of Tired

1. Physical

When it comes to lack of sleep or feeling tired after a workout, we know the drill: We might try going to bed a little earlier, using earplugs or a sleep mask, or taking it easy the rest of the day, in order to get the rest our bodies need.

But the answer isn’t as straightforward when it comes to the other ways we experience physical fatigue. After all, many of us can’t simply take the day off from our responsibilities. So when you can’t press the pause button, how do you recharge?

Luckily, we’re far from alone in experiencing the physical strain of working too hard—even if it looks like all we’re doing is sitting at a computer all day long. To combat eye strain and screen fatigue, experts recommend taking occasional breaks, where you actually look away from the screen. I go by the 20-20-20 rule, and even set an alarm so I don’t forget. Because this can actually become a medical issue, also consider talking to your doctor, as they might recommend eye drops or blue light glasses to relieve symptoms.

When it comes to sitting all day, most of us don’t have the luxury of splurging on a chair-free office (nor do we want to), but there are some quick-and-easy fixes. Try adjusting the angle of your monitor, or a midday stretch routine, to make sitting all day less of a literal pain in the neck.

2. Mental

Here’s another one that’s widely applicable: If you’re someone who needs to be creative, is juggling multiple deadlines, or makes many decisions in a short period of time, then mental exhaustion is probably a very real problem in your life.

My red flag usually comes in the form of creative exhaustion. I’m naturally a very creative person, but while writing my book, Too Busy to Be Happy, I’d sometimes struggle to put words to paper, and then quickly lose momentum. This was a big signal that I probably needed a mental recharge in order to refocus.

You hear people talk about being mindful, but sometimes, you need to be mindless. Mindlessness is A-OK in my book, as long as it’s intentional. For me, that means spending the evening with a bowl of popcorn and reality TV. For others, it might be listening to an audiobook or scrolling through Instagram.

3. Emotional

This one really hit close to home this past month. It seems like much of the world is getting vaccinated and returning to some sort of normal life. But here in Ontario, we’re back to lockdown with our schools set to resume virtual learning after “March Break.”

It’s safe to say I’m emotionally pooped.

Recent events (and my resulting crummy mood) have really shed a light on where and how I’m spending my emotional energy. For example, scrolling social media may be relaxing for some, but I’ve found it can be really emotionally taxing. The same goes for turning on the TV: It’s one thing to watch the Great Canadian Bake-Off, but another thing entirely to get sucked into CNN.

Here’s what to do when you’re feeling emotionally drained: try taking a walk through nature. I like to call a friend and indulge in a conversation about our latest food and wine obsessions or impressive yard work—I just had a conversation with my best friend about bird feeders yesterday. Yes, bird feeders! I keep a journal of my feelings and thoughts, without judgment toward myself. Maybe draw a bubble bath after putting the kids to bed, and luxuriate in a couple peaceful hours of not being someone else’s caretaker. Focus on taking care of you.

4. Social

This might sound crazy, but I think I’m more socially exhausted now than I was pre-pandemic. This is one of the things I think of when I hear people talk about Zoom fatigue—that maybe we’re overcompensating for our lack of in-person socialization with too many virtual meetings, get-togethers, and phone calls.

Jimmy Fallon hit the nail on the head when he sang about Zooming all his third cousins. I, too, am starting to crack.

I also find my experience with social exhaustion to be more complex than the traditional introvert versus extrovert dichotomy, since I would consider myself to lean more toward the extroverted side. And yet, after a day full of meetings and phone calls, I just don’t have the energy to engage my husband in conversation (when I usually do love his company!).

I love the outdoors and being physically active. Those are what I turn to when I simply can’t listen to other people talk anymore. An hour walking through nature (just me, myself, and I) usually does the trick. I recommend the same for anyone feeling socially burnt out: The birds might chitter at you as you pass, but they usually don’t expect you to talk back.

As for recognizing the kind of rest you need, I encourage you to ask yourself what you feel too tired to do. (Another way of thinking about it might be to ask, what type of tired am I?) You might think you’re too exhausted to exercise after a long day of meetings, but that tiredness probably isn’t physical. In fact, a little physical exertion may actually alleviate your mental exhaustion.

The past year has really stretched us all to our limits. Next time you’re feeling wrung out, I challenge you to peel back the layers and ask yourself what kind of tired you are. The answer might surprise you.

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