I once complained to my doctor that I felt tired all the time and wondered if there was something wrong with me. He just looked at me and laughed, and said "you and every other woman on this earth." Obviously, he did not think being tired was unusual for a mom of three and he was no help whatsoever. I really just wanted to know if it was normal to wake up looking forward to a nap. Do you ever feel that way?
I recently asked one of our Company Girls, Heather from Quiet Rest, for some of her fatigue-fighting strategies. Heather is an amazing woman who lives with non-alcoholic liver disease. As she puts it, "it's common when your liver is not functioning to have about as much energy as a rock." Despite this, Heather manages to accomplish more in a day than most people dream of, and allows God's grace and strength to shine in her weakness. She was so gracious to share her wisdom with me, and I know you'll benefit from it too!
Today's Small Thing is to take one of Heather's fatigue-fighting strategies, (whether you're feeling tired or not,) and put it into practice.
1. Be genuinely thankful during times of fatigue. It’s a reminder that He alone is the source of my strength. I would love to be the energetic Mum, able to leap tall laundry piles in a single bound, fill our freezer with delicious home cooked meals with a flick of my wrist, clean the house like a white tornado, and teach our children like a pro. That’s just not who I am, but I choose to be thankful anyway!
2. Work daily to cultivate contentment – it’s an ongoing battle! Whatever the source of your discontent – whither it is physical limitations or chronic illness, job frustration, financial pressure, unfinished home projects, bad hair, singleness, infertility, unforgiveness, difficult family relationships, a high-maintenance child, or jealousy of a friend who ‘has it all’. Whatever it is that robs you of contentment today is insignificant in light of eternity. That’s a perspective I strive for. While we will never be completely content until we reach heaven, we can fill up on the truth of the Word of God and His love and peace. Combat discontent with a heart of thanksgiving – every time I am tempted to complain about my lack of energy, I try to find something to be thankful for instead.
3. Go to the Source of your strength. I don’t know how to live without a vital personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ because of His death, burial and resurrection. The Word of God is the source of my strength. I have encouraging Scripture verses underlined in my Bible that bless my heart every day. I used to have many verses memorized, but sometimes they just don’t come readily to mind – that’s when I sing hymns or listen to praise music to lift my spirits. My most often prayed prayer is simply ‘Lord, grant me Your strength for today, for this hour, for this minute.’
4. Try to look better than you feel. I’m not trying to be deceptive in any way, and believe me I am no beauty, but I always try to present my best each day. I get up every day and do Minimum Maintenance on myself! A quick shower, make-up and blow-dry takes about 20 minutes total, unless I’m having a really bad morning and need to bow more often at the porcelain throne (that’s common – it’s like morning sickness without the promise of a precious bundle of joy, or an end in sight). I get dressed – every day, clean fresh smelling clothes. Nothing fancy – I wear long comfy skirts and soft t-shirts or sweaters. When I am suffering with jaundice I avoid yellow and green clothes because I know they’ll just emphasize my off-color. I usually try to put on a scarf, pretty flower pin, or a broach just to pull my simple look together. If I don’t get dressed or I put on my track pants, it’s probably a really bad ‘homeschool from the couch day’. The kids know it and we just carry on as best we can.
I try to look my best for two reasons – for myself first of all. I just feel better when I look presentable. I don’t think my family needs to look at Heather the Horrible Hag any more then necessary! It also helps avoid those well meaning comments from friends. ‘You look so tired today’ can be a real discouragement when I’ve made the supreme effort to combat my fatigue and attend an event. If I look tired, I often feel more tired. There is a LOT of power in a tiny tube of concealer my friend – don’t underestimate it!
5. Eat right – avoid sugar, caffeine, excessive salt and overly processed foods. I pay dearly for any significant indulgences in the unhealthy food and beverage category and the price is always the same – extra fatigue. Occasional treats don’t fatigue me as long as I am drinking my water allotment and eating mainly whole natural healthy foods. I know this is just common sense for many of you, but for others of us our mindset about ‘forbidden foods’ is faulty. ‘I’m tired so I’ll eat a treat to get energized. I’m tired so I’ll grab fast food rather than prepare something. I’m tired and I’m tired of being tired so I deserve a treat. I’m tired so I won’t bother taking care of myself.’ All of these are self-defeating.
6. Get to bed on time – and wake up on time. I either hit the bed and am out in a minute or I lay awake for hours praying away the pain that keeps me from my longed for slumber. Overall when I keep to a set routine, I have less fatigue during the daytime and I sleep better at night. I have times when I need 14 – 16 hours of sleep in a row and I give in to it because I know my body is either fighting a virus or catching up. My family understands this and has been trained to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ when Mama goes AWOL. They have their assigned duties, and my sweet husband often takes them out of the house to do something fun and to allow me quiet.
7. Don’t feel guilty about napping – enjoy it! I need to nap. Just 30 minutes of closing my eyes can re-energize me for the rest of the day, or at least get me through until dinner. I used to feel like I was lazy and wasting time, but now I know that I am not letting my family down by just taking a needed break. I don’t take a break until I absolutely must though – I try to get one more little thing done, and then one more, and one more again – and than I give in, set the timer and rest.
8. Give to others. Fatigue can be very depressing. Chronic fatigue can be chronically depressing. Knowing that I am depressed is the first step in making a positive change in my attitude. I always start with thankfulness because it cures self-pity like nothing else I know. Then I give myself a good talking to – sometimes I even have to use my ‘Mama’s NOT Happy’ tone on myself! If I’m still blue, the best way to hurdle over depression is to reach out to someone else in need. In our home everyone knows that when the going gets tough, the tough get cooking – my way of reaching out is to bring a meal, drop of a sweet treat or bless someone in need with a bag of groceries from my well stocked pantry. There is always someone who can use an unexpected blessing!
9. Leaving room in the schedule for exhaustion is a key element to coping well. I never purposely plan back-to-back activities because I know that I will need a day or even two to re-group and re-energize. This means padding our week with days when I have no time pressures, no commitments and will choose to just stay home and be content. This means saying ‘no’ to so many things that I would love to do and saying ‘yes’ only to the things that pass the Philippians 4:8 test. Sometimes my husband has to help me say no – but I’m getting better at it after 5 years of fatigue.
10. Plan on sweet moments of joy. Taking time for the things that make my heart sing is vital. If I don’t plan for it, it doesn’t happen, so I carve out time for the things that bring me joy – like sewing, crafting, spending time with friends, inviting families for a meal, decorating our home for the seasons, thrift store treasure hunting, reading blogs and throwing a post together for my own blog, and reading. This means everything else I do has to be done efficiently – and I’ve had to eliminate things like reading all of the sale flyers and watching TV and anything else that robs me of time but gives me nothing in return.
11. Tackle the necessary tasks first – when I’m at my best (which is somewhere around mid-morning) is the smartest time for me to do the more physically demanding chores. I don’t tackle big projects very often, but I break them down into small things that I can do work them into the daily schedule.
12. Push past fatigue. That’s right. There are days when like it or not I have to just push past my fatigue and get it done. When this is necessary I just send up prayers for strength with every breath. If I can go an hour longer, I praise the Lord for that hour. If it’s only ten minutes, I praise Him for those precious minutes. Sometimes fatigue is just so brain numbing that you feel like every thought has to plow through cold molasses to register. Usually this means I’m overwhelmed by stress or the long to-do list, or I haven’t taken time to feed my spirit with the Word or my body with wholesome food. If I am nourished and still feel numb, I rest, because obviously my body needs it.
13. Walk despite fatigue. I am not the gal who gets an extra burst of energy from physical exertion. I use my energy and it’s gone, and nothing but a good meal and good long rest restores my body, but I do love a walk, so I walk when I can. It clears my mind, helps me sleep and gives me an opportunity to pray for my neighbors. I don’t power walk, but I try to get my heart rate up and sustain it for at least 15 minutes by swinging my arms and taking long strides. When I am tired often the last thing I want is to move, but a nice brisk walk is a blessing and I am thankful to be able to do it!
14. Guard your time. People often say that they don’t know how I get so much done as though I have somehow been granted a longer day than the rest of the women in the world. I think that God has given us each the same amount of time, but that we forget that it is something to spend wisely, and not something to ‘kill, fill or waste’. He gives us our days and expects us to use them for His glory – to grow in our faith, walk in His Word and be a walking testament to His faithfulness. While Scripture is full of references to the benefit of diligent work, I see nothing about the filling of our day with frantic activity and fatiguing stress. Does it honor God for a woman to be so busy and involved that she has no time, energy or interest in hearing the still small voice of her Savior? I certainly don’t always use my days wisely, but I am learning to guard the short time I have been allotted and make it count.
15. Have a plan of attack, a back up plan, and an emergency plan, but be ready to abandon all plans for simply coping. I plan weekly menus, house keeping schedules, school schedules, home maintenance chores, church schedules, family time and my personal upkeep. I don’t always get to follow my plan, but it’s there to guide me and keep me somewhat on track. If there is anything our family has learned it’s that we make plans, but everything is as God allows. We have to be flexible and available to change our plans for His greater plan. Maybe flat out on the couch doesn’t look like a ‘greater plan’ to us, but He is using it to mold godly characters, grow strong faith muscles, deepen compassion, mature prayer skills and develop a hunger and thirst for righteousness that may never have emerged in our children’s character if not for the struggle we face together.