by Joni Shankles
To be a mother is to be tired.
From late night feedings to late night curfews, the seasons of motherhood are often punctuated by long days and short nights.
But tired isn’t measured only in number of hours slept. Illness, grief, or emotional distress can leave us feeling exhausted even on a full night’s sleep. Our energy can also be drained in hidden ways throughout the most ordinary day.
Think about it this way: When your phone’s overnight charge doesn’t last through the day, you can check your phone’s settings to see which apps might be draining the battery (I see you, Facebook). With this diagnostic information, you can search ways to change app settings in order to help your battery last longer.
In the same way, when our own energy reserves are routinely depleted before it’s time to sleep again, we can ask some diagnostic questions to identify what might be draining our battery and consider if changes are needed.
Ask God to help you as you evaluate where your energy goes during the day. We need God’s wisdom to know how to order our days and invest our energies. You can pray this prayer of Moses: Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts. Psalm 90:12 CSB
Is it my schedule?
This question is an obvious place to start. Making wise choices about our schedules can help prevent unnecessary fatigue.
If you suspect overcommitment might be a source of fatigue, stop, drop, and roll to put out burn out before your energy reserves are consumed.
Stop – Evaluate your time commitments. Be honest about what you can reasonably do and still devote your best energies to your family.
Drop – Eliminate non-essentials. Change your default response from “Yes” to “Let me get back to you”. This gives you time to pray and talk to your family before accepting a new time or energy commitment.
Roll – Accept the season you are in. Whether it’s welcoming a new baby to your family, juggling multiple sports schedules, navigating the non-stop events leading up to a graduation or wedding, or caring for a loved one during an unexpected illness, some seasons are busier and more exhausting than others. Roll with it. Until your schedule can change, do what you can to address other hidden energy drains.
Consider your personality.
Are you more energized by people and activity (extrovert) or solitude and stillness (introvert)? An introvert whose schedule is filled with wall to wall people activities will feel drained quicker than her extroverted friend with the same schedule. Likewise, an extrovert who spends long stretches of time without interacting with others can see her energy deplete more quickly. Extroverts need to schedule time to connect with others, while introverts need to schedule time for solitude.
Build in time to recharge.
We all need time each day to fellowship with God, to allow Him to strengthen our spirits and renew our minds as we pray and read His Word.
We all need time to think. Sometimes the most productive thing we can do is to take a break. It might be sitting down with snack or a cup of tea or getting up from the desk to take a walk or gaze out the window. This allows our brain a chance to sort through the happenings of the day so far, to anticipate what’s up next, and to reset its focus.
We all need time to rest. Just like our kids, we need routines to help us shut down at night. At the end of the day, our minds tend to rehearse our unfinished tasks, seek distraction, and resist sleep. Writing down unfinished tasks and turning off screens at least 30 minutes before bed can help our minds stop rehearsing and give in to sleep faster. And when you wake up, give thanks for the hours you did sleep instead of focusing on the ones you might have missed.
Is it my phone?
This question may surprise you. For all of its conveniences and connectivity, the smart phone can also drain our energy in hidden ways. It helps to know some basics about how our brains work to understand how this happens and how to help.
The brain loves novelty.
We are designed to learn. The human brain is attuned to sense changes and seek new things. Our phones put a source of unlimited new information in our hands. New posts on social media, new pins on Pinterest, new headlines, new facts – our phones give us instant access to what we crave. Because of this, our phones can become a powerful distraction.
The brain doesn’t multitask.
Research shows that the brain can only think about or focus on one thing at a time. What we think of as multitasking is really just switching from one focus to another. The cells that make up the brain require energy just like muscle cells. The more switching we do, the more energy our brains use, and the more tired we become. Every interruption, distraction, or shift in our attention depletes our energy reserves. Our phones do all three well.
The brain needs energy to make decisions.
The brain doesn’t distinguish between big decisions and small ones when it comes to energy use. And it seems the brain has a limit to how many decisions it can make in a day. Decision fatigue is real. Our phones add to our decision load, whether we realize it or not.
Now, think about the notifications on your phone (or other electronic devices). Every visual notification on a social media app, text or e-mail is like a red flag to your brain screaming, “I’m new! Notice me!” Every electronic chirp from your phone interrupts your attention and diverts your focus.
And every notification you see or hear requires a series of decisions: Do I answer or check it now? If I can’t check it now, when will I check it? How important is it? Will the comments be positive or negative? What should I do next?
This takes more energy than you might think. So, what can you do about it?
It helps to realize that some people are better task switchers than others. Their brains are like sports cars, nimbly changing directions, sipping fuel, and speeding to its destination. Others are like me. I’m a terrible switcher. My brain is like a school bus, needing lots of space for wide turns, guzzling fuel, and stopping every few hundred feet along the way.
If you are a good switcher, you might need just a few tweaks to your phone habits to plug any energy leaks. If you are a terrible switcher like me, you might need more of a phone overhaul.
Here are a few things I’m trying to help prevent my energy from being drained by how I use my phone.
I changed my notifications to decrease interruptions. I only hear notifications for texts or calls. I turned off notifications from social media and all banners so that I don’t see alerts when I use my phone to check the time.
I moved my most distracting apps to the second screen. Just that little extra swipe to the second screen is enough to remind me that I’m seeking distraction instead of needed information. It’s helping me resist distraction.
I’m trying to control when I focus on my phone, instead of letting my phone control my focus. Instead of taking small breaks from using my phone, I’m scheduling short breaks to use my phone (and its fun distractions). P.S. It’s hard!
Our phones are powerful tools. They can be a lifeline to our families and friends. Or they can distract us from them. Keep asking how your phone affects your focus and energy.
To be a mom is to be tired.
It’s true. You might not be able to change the number of hours you sleep during this season. But stopping to ask these simple diagnostic questions from time to time – Is it my schedule? Is it my phone? – can help you to identify hidden energy drains. Keep asking God to give you His wisdom to help you to make changes that maximize the energies He has given you to invest in each day.