The Best (and Worst) Things You Can Do When You Feel Tired


It’s almost 11 and I haven’t done anything. I’ve been up since 5:45. And I feel crappy. I have so much to do and I don’t feel like doing anything.

This was my state of being last week when I tried to force myself to write. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I decided to write about being tired.

But I still wasn’t feeling it. Everyone gets tired and then gets over it. That’s life. What am I going to say that hasn’t been said before?

I don’t have much to say about being tired but I’d like to rethink the way I deal with the feeling. The following three ideas are the opposite of what I normally (and automatically) do. I hope you find them useful.

Love and celebrate tiredness (not resist and fight)

The programmed reaction to feeling tired is resistance. If I feel tired, the first thought that comes to mind is: No! Not another tired day. I’m so sick of this feeling.

Going to war with the feeling

In our effort to push the fatigue away, we fight and continue to push through. After all we’re not weak. We just need to toughen up and get to work. We will win this war on tiredness.

Going to war with our minds and bodies is not a smart option.

We may get some things done—but not without adding more stress.

We can’t do our best work when we’re mentally and physically exhausted.

Last week I went to war with feeling tired … and I lost. I fought and fought till there was no more fight left in me. Trying to push through only aggravated my pain. So I decided to quit resisting and embrace tiredness.

From foe to friend

What if the moment we feel tired we stop and smile and celebrate?

I feel tired. Yes! I get to take a break and rest.

Instead of tiredness being an enemy, imagine that it’s a close friend telling you to take it easy and not be too hard on yourself.

A good friend is someone who cares about us. And we owe it to him or her to at least listen.

Tiredness is your friend telling you to take it easy for whatever reason.

Don’t fight the feeling, celebrate it instead. It’s a permission slip to take a break.

How to celebrate? Listen to your body and do things that are energizing or relaxing: take a long bath, nap, read, watch a movie, or sit and do absolutely nothing.

Do your best to celebrate guilt free. The fact that you’re tired means you deserve a break.

Awaken (not escape and numb)

The other option that comes naturally when we’re not feeling well is avoidance. Instead of fighting and pushing through, we escape and numb.

And it’s fairly easy to choose this route when our willpower is almost nonexistent.

Escaping: easy but painful

Think of these examples (and I’ve done them all): unhealthy snacking, mindless TV channel surfing, online browsing, and social media snooping. It’s not the action itself that’s harmful, but our tendency to overdo it—especially when we’re not feeling good.

We all know too well that these activities are not motivating or calming. They sap whatever energy we have left and we feel worse. Yet we do them because we don’t feel like doing anything else.

Waking up: not easy but effective

Instead of escaping, we can wake up to feeling tired.

Give the feeling your full attention—even for a few moments. It sounds vague, but only because we’re not used to paying attention to unwanted feelings.

We can start by feeling the numbness, or weakness. The outer physical sensations are a manifestation of our inner state.

Just sit still and scan your body. You may not feel anything. That’s okay. Feel the blah and let go of wanting to control how you feel. This is my favorite form of meditation.

Breathe slowly and deeply, if you can. Follow the breath as it enters and leaves your body. When you focus on your breathing, you’ll step out of reactive avoidance and connect with the present moment.

If you need to do something, move at a slower and gentler pace. You may not get everything done. But it’s better to do one thing right than attempt ten things half-assed.

And, more importantly, you won’t feel stressed or rushed when you do things slowly.

Accept (not compare and judge)

It’s easy to judge yourself harshly, especially when you see others feeling upbeat and ready to work, and you can barely keep your eyes open. You start thinking: What’s wrong with me? Why am I so weak?

Comparison is only skin deep

Judging ourselves based on how others appear to be doing is one of the worst things we can do.

We don’t know how others are really feeling. We only have a glimpse of an outer impression that may, or may not, be true. And whatever we think we saw becomes the expectation of what we should be doing.

We place more pressure on ourselves, and when we don’t measure up, we judge ourselves and feel worse.

Deeper acceptance

Comparing ourselves to others is always shallow and unhelpful. Why compare when we know we’ll end up beating ourselves up?

Nothing good ever comes out of thinking badly of yourself. So let’s do the opposite.

Accept yourself, as you are in this moment.

Acceptance frees up all the energy that’s stuck in expectations, resistance, and avoidance.

When we accept feeling tired, we lean into reality. We give the mind and body a much needed break from the cycle of suffering.

How do we accept ourselves?

By simply refusing to judge ourselves badly and allowing ourselves to be okay with what we choose to do, or not do.

If you feel you have to work, you do it calmly and slowly. You do your best at this moment, one tiny conscious step at a time.

When we focus on our own situation, we eliminate the noise of appearances and expectations. We can then work and rest with clarity and ease. And that’s the best way to do anything.

There are days when you’ll be off your game. You’re not a robot. Even machines need downtime for maintenance.

Feeling tired doesn’t have to be a dreadful experience. It can be an opportunity to examine our common reactions and choose to think and act with awareness and kindness.

It’s in moments of weakness that we get to wake up and learn to embrace the life we’re given.