When life gets rocky, how do you stay afloat?
You paddle like crazy. You get help. You put everything else on hold and just focus on surviving.
You’ll get through, and THEN you’ll be able to rest.
You’ve got to accept that life will be difficult for a while, but it won’t be like this forever.
That philosophy is how I got through the first year of the pandemic.
Just gotta get through, I told myself. Hunker down, focus on what you can control, and wait it out.
Except that the craziness didn’t end.
Years later, many of us are still living our lives in “crisis mode.”
We’re battered by the news. Our social support network never quite recovered. Work is unpredictable. And some of the people we loved may be gone from our lives for good.
How do you recover when you don’t have any energy left?
Dig Deep to Find Resilience
When I began studying resilience, the conversation centered on why some people were resilient while others weren’t.
There was talk about personality. Some people were on more of an “even keel” than others.
There was talk about mindset. Some people made a practice of being grateful and optimistic.
There was talk about environment. It’s easier to be resilient when you have a strong social network and the financial resources to weather storms.
But what wasn’t discussed was the fact that you can be resilient today and lose it tomorrow.
Many of us showed great resilience in the early days of the pandemic. We rose to the occasion. We adapted to the new norm.
But after years of coping with the unthinkable, we’ve lost that cheerful resilience.
We find it hard to be grateful.
We find it hard to think on the bright side.
We find it hard, PERIOD.
That’s because our adaptation energy has been drained.
Adaptation energy is “a hypothetical measure of an individual’s capacity to resist stress.”
You use up your stores of adaptation energy when you deal with various stressors in your life.
You might spend all day at work putting out fires. Then, when you get home, you have no energy left to deal with fighting kids and a husband who’s sitting on the sofa instead of helping out with dinner.
Or maybe you’re going through a lot of emotional stress in your life. When you stop by the grocery store on the way home to pick up food, you don’t have any energy left to resist the lure of the sweets aisle.
We have a LIMITED capacity to deal with stress.
Once we use that up, our resilience is gone.
We get snappy. Everything frustrates us. We have no energy to try something new.
If we don’t restore our energy, our bodies pay the price.
We get a cold. Fatigue hits. Pre-existing health issues flare up.
If we still don’t listen, we become severely burned out.
It becomes hard to find a reason to get up in the morning, and even harder to put in a productive day’s work.
Resilience Depends on Self-Care
Knowing that you have a limited capacity to deal with stressors can help you make better decisions.
Adding more obligations to your life will tax your adaptation energy. That’s fine if your bucket is full, but deadly if it’s not.
The more stress you have to deal with in general, the less energy you’ll have to deal with family, relationships, and self-care.
No wonder so many people experienced rocky personal lives and health issues over the past few years.
It took everything they had to cope with what was going on in the world and in their lives. There was nothing left in the end for themselves.
If you’ve found yourself struggling to cope with everything on your plate, know that it’s not your fault.
It’s not that you’re not resilient. It’s not that you’re lacking the “right” mindset.
It’s that your adaptation energy is getting drained faster than you can refill it.
You can replenish your stores of adaptation energy through basic self-care:
It’s so much easier to adapt to the changes life throws at you when you’re feeling healthy, strong, and supported.
In the meantime, say no to sources of stress that you don’t need.
Say no to relationships that drain you.
Say no to obligations that other people pressure you into.
Reserve your energy for the relationships and opportunities and experiences that actually matter to you.
Because no one else is going to look after yo as well as YOU.