‘Good, just busy and stressed’ feels like the default response for most of us lately. Whether we’re faced with never-ending to-do lists or trying to keep up appearances of our ‘hectic but fun’ lifestyles on Instagram, there’s no denying that our world moves at a pace far faster than we’re capable of.
Whilst some speed is unavoidable, and the energy of the whirlwind can often be enjoyable, there’s no denying that it’s unsustainable without an equal amount of rest. And that’s before we’ve even factored in the role that fatigue plays in all of this – a common and heavy symptom for a lot of IBD sufferers.
But what can we do? Other than moan about how tired we are all the time (guilty, sorry). Here’s my 5 top tips for dealing with fatigue on top of everything else, whilst living with Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
Improve your sleep hygiene
I’ve always found the term ‘sleep hygiene’ a funny one, but when I’ve come to write this blog post, I’m now noticing that ‘hygiene’ is the perfect word for it. Some of us fall into dirty habits in the bedroom (get your mind out the gutter, sir) which is why it’s so important to clean up our sleeping space. Consider your bedroom as a sacred space, for sleeping only. During a lockdown, many of us have had to turn bedrooms and kitchens into offices, and last year my ‘desk’ was my dressing table. Simultaneously, I was noticing that my insomnia had come back, which, when you’re waking up naturally exhausted anyway, was quite unbearable.
Now, I’ve always been a light sleeper. I’ve always had trouble with falling asleep. And for the last 6 years that I’ve had Crohn’s disease, I’ve always struggled with the side effect of fatigue. However, in the last few months I decided to put my efforts into creating a more ‘simple’ and dedicated sleeping space in my bedroom and set myself some boundaries too – such as no phones after a certain time, keeping the space clutter free, journaling first thing in the morning and last thing at night, wearing an eye mask every night and earplugs when needed. I also turn my lamp on as soon as my alarm goes off, which really helps the very painful and difficult process of ‘waking up’ in the morning. Look, it’s not perfect. I’m not free of fatigue. But these small things mean that I’m optimising my ‘sleep’ time, which can only be a positive thing in trying to minimise the impact of my fatigue.
Learn to say no
This is a big one. And quite an important lesson that you can apply to all walks of your life. Learn to say no. I’ve spent the last 28 years of my life being a total people pleaser. Always saying ‘yes’ to everything, even when I know from the first second that I absolutely do not want to say yes to it. You think that being this positive, ‘yes’ girl makes you a joy to be around, a real great friend and more embracing of life, but actually it does the complete opposite. You reduce your own boundaries, you engage in activities that you just think are shit and therefore waste far too much energy dreading things or thinking of excuses.
Saying ‘no’ to things is not only great training for living a happier life for yourself, but for respecting your health too. How many times have you agreed to go to a party, for example, when you feel totally flat out? How many times have you pushed yourself to do something, even though your IBD is well and truly screaming at you to rest? If you’re anything like me, you’ve done both of the above far too many times. So it’s time to start creating some boundaries for yourself and respecting them.
Move through tiredness
To be totally honest, the word ‘exercise’ actually makes me shudder. I’ve never been into fitness. Just ask anyone who knows me from school about how bad I was during P.E. I’d even go as far as to saying something controversial that I’m not a huge fan of ‘the great outdoors’ – although lockdown has absolutely shifted my perspective on that. And yet, despite not enjoying all these things, I crave the motivation and energy to move my body. I literally yearn to ‘be that person’ who wants to go for a jog at 6am or do bedtime pilates with a peppermint tea.
Alas, we’re not perfect. And so we start small, and we do our best – and that’s enough. Last week, I challenged myself to start each morning with some sunrise yoga. How this looked for me is: asking my boyfriend to turn on the bedroom light when he gets up at 6:30am and then to bring me a cup of tea in bed. Whilst that’s happening, I’ll (reluctantly) force myself to sit up in bed and write in my Five Minute Journal, and once I’ve done this, I’m usually just about awake enough to drag my tired-arse out of bed and into something resembling ‘activewear’. I move to the living room and whack on Yoga With Adrienne (because come on, who else) and do 20-30mins of yoga. Let’s get something straight: I’m shit at yoga. It’s not my go-to hobby. But after moving my body, even gently, even just a little bit, I find that I have more energy, no matter how tired I’m feeling.
Finish your showers cold
I have to give big credit to Rikki for this one – she was posting about this on her Instagram and I basically copied her and it’s been quite life changing. Or as life changing as a shower can be anyway. We all know that Wim Hof etc. rave about the benefits of ‘cold’ for the body, and if you’re like me, the thought of that will send shivers down your spine and greeted with a very firm ‘hell no’. Stay with me here though. I’m not suggesting you run naked into an icy lake, but I have been trying to add a cold burst at the end of my showers to wake up my mind, body and soul. Whilst it’s quite horrible and I can’t pretend that you ‘get used to it’ (although you do a little) it genuinely does make me feel much more energised.
So if the mornings are as difficult for you as they are for me, and you find yourself yawning more than you feel engaged, then maybe give this one a go. I don’t have the full shower cold, as I’m not a hero, but have my usual temperature shower and then turn it right down to cold (or cold-ish, depends how I feel) at the end for about 30 seconds. Try it.
Listen to your body
Last but not least, is listening to your body. Did you know that not everyone has a voice in their head? It’s not really relevant to this point, but I recently read that and found it fascinating. And then wondered: do I have a voice in my head? Or do I just think my thoughts? Honestly, that will send you down a rabbit hole for hours and hours.
Look, I’m not saying anything revolutionary by saying: listen to your body. In fact, it’s pretty much up there with Live, Laugh, Love. And yet so many of us don’t do it – myself included. We push ourselves when we don’t want to be pushed, and neglect the rest and downtime that we might be crying out for! Whilst I totally support and endorse challenging ourselves and smashing your goals, I also advocate for looking after yourself properly. Not just having one candle-lit bath and thinking that you’re the master of #selfcare but actually putting things in place to make sure that your health is at the forefront of your mind. Whilst there isn’t a magic pill to get rid of fatigue (although I do hear that Iron and Vit C are a pretty good combo if you need a supplement boost) there are small and simple things you can do to help ease yourself through the days when it’s getting the better of you.
So there you are. My round-up of tips. Think I’ve missed anything? Let me know below 👇 and if you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to share it with a friend who might just need it x