This post is an excerpt from my book, Too Tired. The book is designed to help you recognize the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that accompany fatigue–and will give you strategies to cope, before it gets worse.
Our reactions tend to fall into a groove. When we’re tempted to think wrong thoughts, we need to make new “grooves,” which takes time and practice.
If you carry a heavy suitcase with your right arm, after a while your muscles will start to hurt on that side of your body. You know you need to set the suitcase down, but sometimes it’s difficult to even bend over. It just hurts too much to do anything different, so you continue to struggle along with the heavy suitcase on your right arm.
But if you divert the energy to your left arm, switching the weight to another group of muscles, your right arm starts to feel better.
Just the same way, when we realize we’re in a bad mental or emotional groove, we need to divert thoughts to a new groove by replacing old thoughts with new ones.
The Bible mentions five specific ways to divert thoughts from old grooves to new ones:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Prayer contains three parts:
- Perspective – This is learning to see things from God’s perspective rather than my own, then agreeing with Him.
- Petition – This is learning to see my need for God’s help, then asking for it.
- Praise – This is learning to see that God can bring good out of any situation, then thanking Him for it.
Can you see how this is a “system” that you can begin implementing today in your life, but that it will take “practice” over time to continue?
2. Memorizing and Reciting Scripture
Since anger and fear are the primary responses to stressful situations, it is very helpful to begin replacing these thought patterns with Bible verses.
Before you react in anger, you could practice reciting this verse each day:
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Before you react in fear, you could practice reciting this verse each day:
“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (Proverbs 12:25).
Memorizing and reciting these verses not only gives you the “correct answer” of how to respond to fear or anger, but if you recite them often enough, you’ll even be able to remember them when you experience the mind-numbing fog of adrenaline and stress.
You’ll remember to give a gentle answer rather than “flying off the handle.”
You’ll remember to be cheerful even when fearful.
There are many, many more verses about fear and anxiety in the Bible. Can you see how you might need a “system” to find verses to memorize, and that it will take “practice” over time to continue?
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20).
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:15-16).
Music has been traditionally used for centuries to calm fatigue and stress, in every culture around the world.
These Bible verses specifically mention music that is directed toward God, music that is filled with “the Word of Christ” (quotations from the Bible), music that teaches us about God, and music that is filled with thanksgiving toward God. The music should be performed “in your heart” as well as with others.
A “system” I’ve used is to have an mp3 player and a pair of earphones in my apron pocket, in my purse, and next to my bed. I have music set up on my computer and CD’s ready in my living room. There is virtually no place I can go in my house that doesn’t have the capability for music.
I prepare ahead of time with playlists and CD collections, then when I feel the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of fatigue hitting, I can get the music started immediately.
4. Actions before Feelings
When we react, we are responding to physical, mental, and emotional feelings. However, we can often reverse those feelings by choosing a different physical action. When our bodies sense a physical movement, they react with a different hormonal secretion.
So we can trick our feelings by changing our actions, regardless of how we feel.
Stress Researcher Dr. Selye writes,
“I was first introduced to these truths at the age of six by my grandmother, when she found me desperately crying, I no longer recall about what. She looked at me with that particularly benevolent and protective look that I still remember and said, ‘Anytime you feel that low, just try to smile with your face, and you’ll see… soon your whole being will be smiling.’ I tried it. It works.” (Hans Selye, The Stress of Life, pp. 409).
Smiling and laughter are extremely effective tools against the ravages of fatigue. In fact, heading to a private place with a mirror (such as a bathroom) and smiling at yourself in the mirror can break up an episode of crying or a panic attack. It might feel fake, but forcing yourself to give a good belly laugh when with someone else, even if you feel irritated or annoyed inside, can help you snap out of that bad feeling.
Can you control the muscles of your face that make it look like you are smiling? Yes, even your eyes! Practice smiling at odd times until your muscles feel comfortable with it again.
Practice “ha, ha, ha” and “ho, ho, ho.” Do you know someone with a contagious laugh? Try making yours sound like hers. Belly laughing is what you’re going for, by the way.
Action before feeling. Schedule it into your day. Practice, practice, practice…
5. Total Rest
When all else fails, get some rest. This is most needful when the stressors are hitting your entire body at once. Local stressors, such as small injuries, probably won’t need this drastic of a response, unless your reserves are almost completely exhausted. However, large stressors to your body, mind, or emotions might require a little “down time.”
- Hide and get horizontal.
- Lie flat.
- Minimize stimulus from light and sound.
- Get some prolonged sleep.
- Get help from others.
If your mind is in such a rut that you can’t sleep or rest, even though your body is crying for it, bring paper and pen into bed with you. Write down every thought that is causing you stress, so you won’t forget it and can deal with it later. Sometimes your mind is struggling so hard to remember new facts, new plans, and new ideas, that it can’t think of anything else. You can get all new thoughts out of the way and onto paper, notifying your brain that it can rest now.
Learn to depend on others. My children know that if I start to cry and cannot stop, they are to call a family friend to our home right away, in addition to asking me to “stress dose” with cortisol immediately. We keep this friend’s phone number on our refrigerator where anyone can find it. I have also learned that if my husband or children tell me to go to bed, I should not take it personally. I must tell myself that they are only concerned about me, love me, and want me to feel better. I must not feel guilty or lonely or neglected. I must simply take a nap and trust that everything will be better in a few hours.
When you need to ask for help from others, practice saying “thank you” and meaning it. You won’t want help. You’ll feel guilty. You’ll be sure you’re imposing.
You’re not, but you’ve been caring for others so long that you have made this way of thinking a rut.
So practice saying “thank you.” Let someone else tuck the covers in around you, paste on a little smile, say “thanks,” close your eyes, and take a deep breath. It’s okay. You’ll be easier to care for, even when you don’t really feel that way on the inside. When you wake up, you’ll be much easier to live with.