More Guilt – and Some Practical Tips for Dealing With Exhaustion at Work

It’s lunchtime and I’m under my desk having a snooze. Well not really, but that’s where I’d love to be right now, as I scribble these notes and drink my third cappuccino. My baby was up all night, and I’m beyond exhausted.
OK he’s not technically a baby anymore, and it wasn’t quite all night, just 1am till I-don’t-even-know o’clock, but it was starting to get bright when I finally got him to sleep.

My brain is fuzzy, my eyes are hot and itchy, my head is pounding and I feel like I was out till the wee hours drinking Mojitos. All I want to do is crawl under that desk. And all I feel is guilt. More guilt.

how I look today 
It’s not my employer’s fault that I am exhausted and less capable today. I feel guilty that the meetings I’m going to are less productive than they should be, that it’s taking me twice as long as usual to look at a spreadsheet or type an e-mail, that overall, this is a less than perfect gold-star-employee day. Far less.
But it’s not my fault either, so I need to find a way to stop letting guilt eat away at me. There is enough of it there all day every day; the permanent domain of many working mothers, who feel anxious about going out to work and leaving their children in childcare. Adding to it by feeling guilty about work too can’t be healthy.
I try to keep two important points in mind to reduce the work-guilt:
  •  All the extra hours I’ve worked over the years;  evening work, weekend work and business travel add up to a lot more in value  than the slightly less productive day I’m having today
  • I’m effectively sick, but I’m here – I turned up.
And I know there are working parents everywhere today who are just as sleepy as I am – hordes of zombies quietly getting the job done as best they can in offices and schools and hospitals all over the country.
So here are some tips for getting through a day like this:

1.       Wear something you love – you will feel better all day. Not your favourite pyjamas though, tempting as that may be.

2.       Wear makeup if it helps, or if you already do, wear more. Especially under-eye concealer. And a splash of blusher will make you look less ghostly.

just a dab of concealer, and you’re Jennifer Aniston – right?

3.       Drink coffee – I know, I know, this isn’t strictly the healthiest suggestion, but today is not the day for being a paragon of virtue. Be good to yourself, and if that means three cappuccinos, go for it.

4.       Eat food – healthy food will give you more energy and make you feel better in the long run, but if you need a Danish today, don’t beat yourself up about it. You can be good again tomorrow when you have the energy for it.

5.       Berocca, magnesium, vitamin B, juices, smoothies – these are all energy boosters that were recommended to me by kind sympathisers today; other working mums who have been there, dissolved the Berocca.

6.       Do work that is really interesting, and will perhaps suck you in enough to forget about the tiredness. Or if you’re completely beyond concentrating on anything, get all that admin out of the way – the stuff that you’ve been putting on your To-Do list since 2010. And tidy your desk – you’ll never have a chance like this again (until the next bad night)

7.       Take breaks during the day – go for walks if you can, get fresh air, have tea, chat to colleagues.

8.      Plan an early night, think about your early night all day and how good it’s going to feel. Then really do it – don’t be on Facebook at 11pm tonight!

9.       Fake it till you make it: decide to put on an Oscar-winning performance as the person you would have been today if you’d had a full night’s sleep. Putting energy into pretending to be bubbly and bright might just help you forget how you really feel.

And remember, somebody somewhere is lying in bed right now because they had too many Mojitos last night and just didn’t bother going into work this morning; in comparison you’re already a gold-star employee.

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9 thoughts on “More Guilt – and Some Practical Tips for Dealing With Exhaustion at Work”

  1. I love this post! I have been this soldier so many times, for the first three months after I went back to work my 10 month old woke every night to be handed a bottle at 3am. I went to bed at 11, got up at 6 and drove for 90 mins and wasn’t worth tuppence!

    I love your tips- I’d add to definitely try to get fresh air (I work about 10 mins walk from the sea) and drink plenty of water, to try not to do work that you can easily get distracted from or make a mistake, to get fresh air. Do you know that sometimes I wear less makeup on those days so people will realise that I am off rather than hiding it! Always a great day to catch up on my filing or to archive emails and sort out my precedent files!

    I bring my perfume to work too to cheer me up.

    Also, if you are exhausted and genuinely not fit to drive yet, ring work, (as long as you’re not cancelling meetings) say that you’ll be an hour late and catch up on the time again. I’ve done this once and didn’t regret it and my boss was great about it.

    1. I don’t know how you did it – it’s so hard, I think we’ll all look back on these days and wonder how we functioned at all! Great tips, you’re so right about the fresh air and avoiding distractable work.

  2. I know there’s an end in sight, and normally I don’t wish the time away, they are small for such a short time, but on the really bad days I do!

    1. The days are long but the years are short….
      I think you just get used to a lower base level of sleep.
      Also, OH did every second night and we eventually did CC and the first night went back into him after 5 and 10 mins and then he went asleep and the second night only after 5 (he was asleep at 10) and the third he didn’t wake, and didn’t wake every again. My only regret was not having done it months earlier! The funny thing is that the same child slept through from 2.5 weeks old from 12 to 6!
      Struggle on, I’m on maternity leave now so I have a while before I have to think about this again, although today I struggled to keep my eyes open at home!

  3. If you can, get under the desk, literally!, for a 10 minute catnap at lunchtime. It will stand to you later on. I have done this on many occasions and can highly recommend it!

  4. Love it! I used to have a power nap in the toilet when I couldn’t fight it anymore. I would close my eyes for 5 minutes and it was just enough to plough on through the afternoon. My colleagues must have thought I had amazing regular bowels 🙂

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