218. Am I Tired Or Afraid? I Can't Always Tell!

The Anxious Morning

Dec 9 2022 • 5 mins

When I talk about the need to be honest with ourselves when it comes to fatigue and taking breaks, I’m often asked what to do when you’re not sure if you’re tired or afraid.

Doesn’t it seem odd to not be able to identify what you’re feeling? I get it though. I had this issue. Many many people in our community have this issue. Anxiety and fear can get so cloudy and confusing that sometimes you just don’t know if want to crawl under the covers because you’re really tired, or because you’re just afraid or anxious.

If you find yourself facing this dilemma, know that you’re not alone. Let’s spend a few minutes to address this and to look for some basic strategies we can use when we’re in that “grey zone”. Please keep in mind that recovery is imperfect. We make mistakes. Sometimes what we do is more impactful, sometimes it is not. This is OK. Do not get caught in the “doing it right” trap. Before we can talk about what to do when you’re not sure what you’re feeling, you’ll have to accept that sometimes you might get it “wrong”, but that it’s totally OK to get it wrong. It’s how we learn.

This really speaks to the topic of self-compassion, which I think I will talk about next week, so stay tuned for that.

If my voice is in your head asking you if you’re really tired or just making an excuse to avoid … I’m sorry. I never plan to be a voice in anyone’s head, but evidently I am. Forgetting how annoying I can be at times, kudos to you for confronting that issue with or without me. When you start to see your avoidance more clearly (nobody sees it early on), you’re making progress. As crazy as this might sound, when you find yourself scratching your head because you can’t tell if you’re tired or afraid, pat yourself on the back. Think of the days when this was not a question because you’d already be on the sofa binging Netflix. Here you are NOT automatically doing that. Winning!

Now that you’ve pumped yourself up a bit, what next? You still don’t know if you’re tired and should rest, or afraid and trying to justify avoiding. What should you do? What I learned to do in those situations was to scale back and go from there. When I wanted to go lay on the sofa and fire up my TiVo (yes, that was a thing back then), I would go over a short list of little things I could do instead. They were often VERY little. Getting dressed. Showering. Making something to eat. Running the vacuum over the carpet in the living room. Walking around the block once. Sitting outside in the sun for 15 minutes. Maybe taking a 10 minute drive around the neighborhood. See how small these are?

I would pick one of those things and do it. Often this would clarify things for me. When I finished vacuuming (for example), I often found that I was actually not as “tired” as I thought I was. This often turned into doing a few more things on my short list. In some cases, this turned into a full day where I wasn’t on the sofa at all because I saw that I didn’t need to be. I had uncovered sneaky avoidance masquerading as fatigue. On other days, I would take a short walk around the block and discover that I really was pretty tired so I would take a break. Sometimes that break was an hour or two, sometimes I might actually fall asleep and it turned into almost a full day off (I had always done my driving exposure in the morning).

On some days I wound up on the sofa for two hours only to discover that I really wasn’t all that tired. Did I beat myself up for getting it wrong? Nope. That’s not usually an issue for me, so please don’t make that mistake. You’re gonna get it wrong sometimes like everyone else. This is not a crime and you did not just ruin your recovery. I promise, you didn’t. When I got it wrong, I’d get up and get on with my day as best I could. Those days counted too because I learned something in those moments and took those lessons with me.

I think the summary here is that especially in the early days of recovery when avoidance habits are still strong, we try to err on the side of not automatically running for the comforter and the fuzzy slippers. Might you wind up pushing yourself a bit this way? You might, but that’s why I say to use a short list of small things to do in these situations. If you find that you are pushing into exhaustion or really tired territory, you can stop and go rest.

It’s OK to not be sure if you’re tired or anxious. Days like that help to teach us what we need to learn. They give us experiences that we need to have. When in your life did you ever think you’d have to work on identifying a basic state like “tired”? I bet never, right? So give yourself a break (no pun intended). Disordered anxiety throws all kinds of monkey wrenches and complications into the mix. Working through those is part of the process, so just do the best you can.

Have a good weekend. I’ll see you on Monday.

“But you might as well bid a man struggling in the water, rest within arm's length of the shore! I must reach it first, and then I'll rest.” - Emily Brontë, “Wuthering Heights”

Every Friday I’ll share one of my favorite quotes. They’ll often have direct application in recovery, but sometimes they’re just generally funny, inspiring, or thought-provoking.  I hope you enjoy them.



This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit theanxiousmorning.substack.com

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