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How to bounce back even when you’re exhausted

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“I made a mistake and I’ve been awake the last two nights worrying about it.”cranky bananas

My friend, Valerie, said this the other night as we talked with a woman we consult with, Mary. Valerie made the mistake on an assignment for Mary.

“Oh, Valerie! I’m sorry you were so worried about it,” Mary responded, concerned. “Mistakes happen and I don’t get upset by them – they’re just a part of life.”

Valerie laughed. “I don’t usually get upset by them, either, Mary. I tend to lead a guilt-free life. It’s just that I was so tired and feeling stress from other things that I wasn’t able to get into my Zen place about this mistake.”

Valerie’s words started me thinking.

There are many aspects that can affect our ability to bounce back in life. Some of them are more esoteric, like defining our values and developing meaning in our lives.

But sometimes they are very obvious. As obvious as being physically and emotionally out of gas.


What is PCWT?

Many times I’ve had clients or readers recite a litany of painful emotions and their inability to bounce back, only to have them tell me shortly afterward, “I was really tired and not managing well when I told you all that. I’m better now.”

I can relate to this experience.

Very well.

In fact, I seem to hold royalty in many areas that people struggle with. You might recall that I have previously proclaimed myself the Queen of Tunnel Vision.

I now also proclaim that I am the Queen of Poor Coping When Tired (PCWT.)

When I’m tired, I can’t even find a Mediocre place or a Tolerable place, let alone a Zen place like my friend Valerie.

When I’m on the royal throne of PCWT, mistakes reduce me to tears, problems seem insurmountable, and I get snippy with those closest to me. Just ask my partner.

No, wait. Don’t ask her.


The thief in the night

There are many things that can make us tired, but the biggest culprit is lack of sleep – that wily thief in the night that robs us of our energy.

And what is it about not enough sleep that causes me to be the Queen of PCWT and you, possibly, to be a member of my court?

Part of the problem, scientists say, is that sleeping problems can interfere with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

According to Angela Epstein of the online Daily Mail (UK,) “REM sleep is thought to help consolidate memory and emotion, as at this point in sleep blood flow rises sharply in several brain areas linked to processing memories and emotional experiences.”

And in general, the American Psychological Association reports, “. . .  irritability, moodiness and disinhibition are some of the first signs a person experiences from lack of sleep. If a sleep-deprived person doesn’t sleep after the initial signs, the person may then start to experience apathy, slowed speech and flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to be novel or multitask.”

You can see that we need to sleep so that our brains can complete processes related to keeping our emotions on an even keel and to help us with problem-solving.


You already know this, but here are some resources anyway

I’m not going to go into how to get a good night’s sleep because I’m sure you’ve been inundated with information about it, especially if you have a chronic problem with sleeping.

However, if you’d like more information, this article on WebMD has some good ideas despite it’s overly-cheerful and unrealistic title, Your Guide to Never Feeling Tired Again.

 And you’ll find some reliable information from the American Psychological Association’s fine article, Why sleep is important and what happens if you don’t get enough.

 The solution about getting more sleep is an obvious one and the primary strategy we should use if we’re struggling with feeling tired frequently.


4 ideas to manage your emotions when you’re exhausted

But what do we do when we are tired?

It’s going to happen.

There will be nights that are difficult and stress that will happen and, because we’re human, we inevitably will go through periods of being tired or even exhausted.

What then? How do we maintain our resilience, our ability to bounce back?


1. Recognize that you’re tired.

This may seem obvious, but how many times have you reacted in a way that was out of character only to realize later how tired you were at the time?


2. Notice what is happening emotionally and physically.

 Part of recognizing that you’re tired is being aware of what being tired feels like.

Do you get snappy when you’re tired? Do you become overly sensitive? Do you get irritable and grumpy?

Do you become clumsy? Does your body feel heavy? Do you lose good posture?

Because we tend to live in a state of non-awareness, it’s helpful to start paying attention to what being tired feels like both emotionally and physically.

Once you understand what your body and mind do when they become tired, you’ll be better able to quickly identify that your energy is lagging and take steps to moderate your behaviors: responses to others, decision-making, thoughts about yourself, and so on.


3. Make an action plan for when you’re tired.

 An action plan sounds kind of tiring, doesn’t it?

Here’s what I mean when I say action plan: Now that you’ve recognized your tired, you need to have a plan in place that will allow you to manage emotionally and behaviorally during that time frame.

So, my action plan looks something like this:


  • Recognize that I’m tired.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that I get overly sensitive, snippy, and have problems making decisions.
  • Put off making important decisions if I can.
  • Pause before responding if I’m feeling a snippy remark coming on. (This is hard and I don’t always accomplish it.)
  • If I feel hurt by another person’s remark, set it aside to reconsider when I have more energy.
  • Apologize when necessary.
  • Take a nap or make a plan to recharge.


4. Apologize when necessary.

 Yes, you already saw this in my plan of action. I’m repeating it because it’s an essential part of bouncing back when you’re tired.

If you make a mistake or hurt someone’s feelings or act out of character when you’re tired, apologize.

Addressing the issue right at the moment it occurs will keep it from expanding out of control and will put you in good stead to bounce back into your Zen place.


Where do you stand in my royal court of Poor Coping When Tired? And what’s your action plan? Let me know in the comments below.

Then . . . go get some sleep.



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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.