A step-by-step guide to making it through the stresses of Novemberitis, and beyond. 

By Mandy Collins

Every year as November rolls around, I steel myself. I am about to face down the busiest six weeks of my working year – six weeks in which I have to earn enough to get me through not just November and December, but the dry white season of January and February.

To add insult to injury, I have Novemberitis. What’s Novemberitis, you ask?

Well, it’s that feeling when you’re exhausted from the rest of the year, the holidays aren’t quite in sight, you want them to arrive as soon as possible, but you also know that if they do, you won’t finish everything you need to do at work and home.

It’s a weariness that settles over me, and somehow I have to push through. Here’s how I summon the necessary stamina.

1) Make lists

My brain is so full at this time of year that I struggle to remember my own name, let alone anything else. The dog and my daughters know to respond to any name I throw out – if they’re nearby, I probably mean them.

So I keep lists. And lists of lists. I am ruthless about writing everything down in one place. A bullet journal is great for this, as is a magnetic whiteboard on the fridge.

I also do mind dumps when I feel too many things are racing around in my brain. Capture those thoughts in random order on one page, preferably in the place you’ve designated for your lists.

Once you can see those thoughts, whether they’re anxieties or tasks, you can figure out how you’re going to handle them.

2) Pare back

I only do things I absolutely have to or want to do, especially socially. That’s been made a little easier this year, but for future reference, if you’re invited to attend a social event and it makes your shoulders slump, that’s a sure sign that you need to decline. And don’t explain. “No” is a full sentence.

If you must say anything more, say, “So sorry, I can’t make it, but I hope you have a lovely time!”

Pare back your responsibilities too. Not everything is your responsibility to fix. I ran Brownies and Girl Guides for several years, but it got to the point where I needed to step away, because I was so burnt out in general.

“But there are kids who really need to be there,” I said to my life coach. “I feel like I’m abandoning them.”

She gently pointed out that it was not my responsibility to provide extramurals for the children of other parents. That those other parents would figure out other extramurals for their children.

And they did, the world kept turning, and I was able to recover with time.

3) Put yourself first

I’ve learnt the hard way that if I keep the things I do for joy till I’ve done all the “have-tos”, they never happen. If I want to exercise, it has to happen before work.

The same goes for practising the piano or working on a sewing project or going for a walk.

There are a million people making demands on all of us – partners, children, siblings, parents, bosses, colleagues. You will never get through the list, so you might as well put yourself at the top.

Even if you do get through the “have-tos”, you’ll probably be too exhausted to do anything else. What better way to start the day than with something that brings you joy?

If you think it’s going to cut down on your ability to do the things on your to-do list, I’m here to tell you that, paradoxically, it helps you get more done, because you start the day on a positive note, with a small refilling of your personal well. It’s truly energising.

4) Take Turtle Steps

When tasks or the quantity of tasks feel overwhelming, I use Martha Beck’s idea of turtle steps – breaking down onerous jobs into the smallest increments possible and doing one small step at a time.

Each step, however small, makes you feel you’ve accomplished something and gives you impetus for the next and the next and the next.

You can only do one thing at a time, and even if the step you take is tiny, it’s progress.

5) Schedule rest

You schedule everything else in your life, so why not build in some rest? Even Olympic athletes take rest days, because they know it improves their training and performance.

I like the idea of a Sabbath – whether you’re religious or not, one day a week that you set aside to rest in whatever way works for you.

I remember fondly how quiet Sundays were when I was a kid. The shops were closed, we enjoyed Sunday lunch or a braai as a family, and then a hush descended over the neighbourhood as everyone retired to their rooms for a long nap.

We could do with more of that quiet in our lives, giving our bodies and brains time to restore, reset, rejuvenate.

It’s been a tough year and we’ve had a lot of change thrust upon us. Most of us are worn out from trying to juggle a million things and keep body and soul together.

Give yourself credit for making it this far, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Soon we’ll be toasting the new year, and hoping for better things to come.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.

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