Staying Apart, Together: We're emotionally exhausted. But we can get through it.

Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY
·4 min read

Well, last week was both a good and bad week to take a "vacation."

While spending some time off at home (mostly playing board games, watching "Frasier" and cuddling with Apollo), I got the news about the riot at the U.S. Capitol through breaking news alerts, on TV and in text messages from friends and family. Since I wasn't working, I wasn't consumed with newsroom chats, editorial tasks and writing like I often am during tragic and scary events.

Turns out, I rely on that distraction as a coping skill far more than I realized. Without a long to do list and the buzz of work to keep my mind busy, I had to use other coping strategies to get through the week. I leaned on my support system. I exercised. I let my husband take my phone so I'd stop doom-scrolling. And it helped. Even just a little bit.

It's hard, we're more exhausted than we know (more on that below) and it's a tough and scary time. I hope this newsletter can offer some distraction and some help this week.

Today's mental health tips

There is a term for what a lot of us are feeling right now.

My colleague Alia Dagastir, wrote about "emotional exhaustion," the feeling many of us have right now. Our tanks are empty, as she put it.

"Emotional exhaustion is this sense of overwhelmingness. Overwhelmed to the point where you feel like you don't have the capacity to deal anymore," said Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association. "It's physical tiredness. It's mental tiredness. It's difficulty concentrating. It's all the things that we experience when we're just at our capacity."

And yet, most of us don't have the luxury of stepping away from our responsibilities, especially now. In this era of uncertainty, we can't eliminate some of our biggest stressors nor can we predict which one is coming next.

Here are some tips from mental health experts about dealing with this extreme exhaustion.

  • Set boundaries. "If you've been supporting a friend or family member, maybe it's our turn to say, 'Hey, I don't have the bandwidth to be your emotional support right now. I care for you. I love you. But I really got to hang up the phone and take care of me for a moment,'" said Lynn Bufka, associate executive director for practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association.

  • Don't try to be a superhero. If you're stretched too thin, experts say, ask yourself “What am I taking on that is optional or that I can pull back from?” If your standard has always been a from-scratch meal, maybe consider frozen or canned vegetables instead.

  • Think about what refills you emotionally. When you're emotionally depleted, reach for things that make you feel good. Ask yourself: What kind of music nourishes me? Which friend makes me laugh?

Read more about emotional exhaustion here. And stay well.

Today's reads

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) and goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) are keys to the upcoming season.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) and goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) are keys to the upcoming season.

Today's pet

Meet this little sweetie known as Butterball.

Butterball has a chair just her size.
Butterball has a chair just her size.

"This is my sweet cat Butterball," says Sarah Lyons of Midlothian.Virginia. "She is around 10 years old. I adopted her when she was 8. She chose me when we went to look at cats at the local shelter. Just came right to the front of her cat condo and nuzzled into my hand. She never fails at putting a smile on people’s faces."

When I met Apollo, he walked over to me while I was sitting on the floor at a dog adoption event and slammed into my side. I relate to being chosen.

Bonus furballs: Here is a photo gallery of 57 puppies competing in this year's Puppy Bowl (which will go on safely during the pandemic). You're welcome.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: We're emotionally exhausted. But we can get through it.