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The Invisible Fatigue

TIGNUM Thoughts

February 6th, 2021

Insights from the author

By Scott Peltin

Fatigue is a funny thing. Sometimes you know exactly where it comes from, like when you've been sick, sleep-deprived, or moved furniture all day, but other times it seems to come out of nowhere. The human body is complex, and many of the forces working on the human body are invisible. Things like changes in the seasons (weather and light cycles), your immune system fighting a bug, quarantine, or even the impact of the suffering and tragedy that is covered in the news.

At the same time, as many of you have probably experienced before, there is also fatigue lag. One night you get 8 hours of perfect sleep, yet you feel tired the next day. Another night you get 4 hours of sleep, and you feel great the next day. How could this be? One reason is that the way you feel today is actually the product of your last 3 to 7 days. Muscle tightness and soreness may be due to physical activity you did 3 days ago. That lack of energy you feel today is often due to your cumulative sleep over the past 5 to 7 days.

Even more mysterious is the impact that emotional fatigue has on your energy levels and your ability to self-regulate your response to your emotions. Like all fatigue, the cause, symptoms, and remedies of emotional fatigue can be very individual. This is why it is so critical that you constantly increase your awareness and proactively build your toolbox with recovery strategies. One key thing to remember when it comes to emotional fatigue is that it isn’t the event or trigger that causes the body’s response to fatigue. It's actually your perception, your current capacity and condition, your emotional history, and even your self-image that dictate the emotional cost of that event.

Common causes of emotional fatigue can include: fear, change, hard work on a project without progress or impact, negative people, drama, the achievement of something you have worked long and hard on, a lack of team support, emotional roller-coaster experiences, losing someone close to you, situations out of your control, caregiver responsibilities (elderly parent, sick kids, friends, etc.), and many other situations. Interestingly enough, almost every person is dealing with at least one of these situations at any given moment. The problem is, in today’s highly competitive and complex world, you may be so focused on winning or driving results that you don’t even see these things around you.

While there are a variety of symptoms of emotional fatigue, the most common ones we see are apathy, emotional outbursts (inability to control reaction to emotions), insomnia, negative ruminating thoughts, unexplained anxiety, emotional flatness, and an excessive desire to sleep. The problem is that by the time you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or an array of other symptoms you may experience, you are already late to the game. Your emotional fatigue has not only been draining your energy, but it's also been destroying your performance.

Many people today report that they are experiencing burnout. Incorrectly, they often attribute their burnout purely to a work overload. Our experience at TIGNUM has shown us that burnout is often just the accumulation of the effects of emotional fatigue and work overload is just the final straw that breaks the camel's back.

There are many strategies (too many to cover in one blog post) to help repay your emotional debt and be better in your future performances, but here are a few that we have found to be particularly powerful:

.01 Reconnect with your purpose. Why are you doing what you do? How do you and others benefit from you doing what you do? How do you add meaning to other people’s lives? Who are you a role model to?

.02 Serve others. Nothing rebuilds your emotional bank account more than giving to others. This not only helps you gain perspective, but it also fills you with positive emotions like kindness, gratitude, helpfulness, and love.

.03 Reflect on your successes. When you are emotionally fatigued, it is too easy to see the pain and miss the progress. When you reflect on the behaviors, actions, and choices you are making that create your success, you stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (recovery system), you rewire your brain to the key behaviors you want to do more of, and you energize yourself to keep going.

.04 Plan for fun. In today’s busy world, we forget that most of what we do is not life or death. We also forget that, without fun, life can quickly feel like a grind. Pull out your calendar and start planning at least one thing to do each week just for pure fun. When you get this down, try planning something daily.

.05 Listen to music. Have you ever noticed, when you watch a movie, how the music can completely alter your emotional state? The producer can bring you up, take you down, make you laugh, or make you cry almost exclusively by selecting the right music. Many of our clients have found that creating several playlists of the music that creates the emotional state they seek can be a very powerful emotional recovery tool.

Emotional fatigue can often be overlooked and invisible. If you wait until you are suffering, it's too late because your performance is already compromised and you are already losing impact. Sustainable High Performers front-load their performance by building recovery strategies into every day, every week, and every month.

As you reframe your strategic performance planning and build emotional recovery strategies into your calendar, we would love to hear what you think.

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