Every now and then a recurring theme emerges when I’m talking to the people I’m helping. I take that as a prompt to write a blog on the topic, in the hope that it helps others too. After all, if some people are struggling with something then it’s very likely others are as well.
The latest example of this is something I’ve touched on in other blogs but I want to focus on it a bit more fully here. It’s around the question:
“Is it safe for me to do things that I know bring me joy, even if I know they can easily tip into being too much for me?”.
I’m pleased to say that the quick answer to this is that yes, it most certainly is! …But you have to *make* it safe.
Unless the activity that brings you joy is something like rock climbing or extreme weight lifting (!) then the activity itself probably isn’t too much, it’s letting yourself have too much of it that can tip it into hindering rather than helping.
For example, if you have a real passion for gardening then you'll very probably find it hugely helpful to your emotional and mental health to spend time outside tending to your flower beds or pottering in the greenhouse. But you need to recognise that there’s a comfortable limit to how much of this you can commit to right now, and stick to it. And, at first, that limit might be only a few minutes every day.
You see, when it comes to pacing, you CAN have too much of a good thing.
But like many things relating to managing your fatigue, it isn’t quite that black and white. And at the other end of the scale, I see people who are so wary of inadvertently overdoing it that they cut out the fun stuff completely. And that’s not helpful either.
Let me bring this to life with an example. Suzy came to me a little while ago because she wanted me to help her crack pacing so that she could build a clearer idea of when she might be ready to return to work. After our initial chat, it became clear that she’d been pushing herself a little too much, lurching from good day to bad day and then back again. Something I often see people doing when they first come to me for help.
So, we worked together for a few sessions, and I explained my pacing method and how it would help her make the right decisions every day, and she quickly started to experience the benefits. At this stage, our sessions became much further apart (as I often suggest) and when I next saw her I was surprised to hear that things had stalled a bit. She assured me that she’d still been doing all of the right things, but after some careful probing I realised she was taking things a bit *too* seriously!
She’d stripped out all joy from her life. She was focussing primarily on the important priority tasks every day and had removed the majority of the ‘nice to do’ activities that I encourage everyone to incorporate into their days when possible. Suzy lived on her own and still wasn’t back at work, and so the hobbies and social interactions she’d thrived on before had been a much-needed source of joy. But she’d thrown herself into her recovery journey to such an extreme that she’d cut these things out completely. And this had started to affect her mindset, which in turn had hit her energy levels. When I explained this to her, it felt to her as though she couldn’t win either way!
The good news is that we caught this fairly quickly, and once I’d coached her around how to approach these joyful activities in a safe way, she realised that it is possible to embrace fun activities without them being detrimental. And that being careful about finding the right balance now would help her achieve the improvements she wanted in the future - which would then mean she could gradually spend more and more time on the things she loves. An upward spiral, so to speak.
So what did she do? She realised that she’d previously mixed with quite a variety of friends over the course of a month. And that this had meant having to repeat the same conversations and updates several times, and just meant that her social interactions were more complex and varied (and tiring) than was perhaps useful for her right now. So she decided to focus for now on spending time with two particularly close friends, which immediately made the idea of socialising seem less demanding. She also became very diligent about setting a time limit for these social catch-ups, and sticking to it. And because these two friends started to get a much better understanding of what was important to her, she no longer had to worry about explaining herself over and over. Which, again, can get very tiring! Over time she was able to increase the length and frequency of these catch ups, as her energy started to return and she felt stronger.
What I love about this is that Suzy realised that her recovery journey was likely to continue for a little while yet, and so it was important to find a way to feel that life was as enjoyable as it could be along the way. While still being disciplined about not pushing herself more than was helpful. The key is to manage and plan things so that they are enriching and uplifting, rather than having too much of a good thing and risking it triggering a flare-up of symptoms.
An important final point from me - please please be aware that it’s these enjoyable joyful activities that can easily make you lose track of time. I’m sure very few people would ‘accidentally’ spend three hours doing their tax return! But they might find that they can very easily realise they’ve spent far longer chatting to a treasured friend than they’d intended to. So, if you know you’re prone to this, set a timer or similar to help you keep that discipline.
Can you think of any joyful things that you’ve cut out of your life because you’re worried that they might do more harm than good? What can you do to reintroduce them in a way that means you can take the uplifting benefits from them, while avoiding any potential pitfalls? If you’re stuck, feel free to message me and I’d love to help you work it through.
Helping you cope with fatigue to regain a life worth living again