Joshua Keel

How to Make Peace with Tiredness, Pain and Irritability (Without Going Crazy)

June 30, 2018

I’m writing this at 7:16am. As I sit outside on my front porch, I notice the tension and stiffness in my shoulder, my neck. My head gently throbs, and my jaw is tight and achey. I often wake up with an irritability brought on by pain and tension. I also have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which means I don’t always sleep well. It’s as if the stars must align in order for me to get a good night’s sleep. I’m a real treat to be around in the morning.

I’m sure you have days where you wake up with a headache, or maybe you suffer from chronic pain, or insomnia, or irritability. After months and years of struggle, I’ve learned that it’s possible to make peace with discomfort. Here’s how to keep your sanity and live your life to the fullest, even when you’re cranky and fatigued:

Let Go of Blame

Whatever you’re going through, whatever is happening, there is no reason to guilt yourself and place blame. If you’re irritable and your relationships are suffering, have patience with yourself. In other words, refuse to jump to conclusions about what a bad person you are, how unkind you are, or how deserving of blame.

I don’t mean do whatever you want, guilt–free. I mean do your best, and let that be enough. There is simply nothing to be gained by heaping negativity on yourself or others. People who irritate you are no more to blame than you are for feeling irritated.

Try to see that we’re all doing the best we can in this moment. We can all be kinder and more gracious, and we should work for that, but without any sense that we are inferior for not living up to arbitrary standards of how we should be.

Pay Attention to Your Senses, Not Your Thoughts

Look into how much you rely on your thoughts about pain to tell you what’s going on, versus simply being with the moment to moment experience. We often want to go over to thought to get information about how things are going.

This is so frustrating!

Why is life so hard?

Oh my god, I’m so tired. I would give anything for a nap right now.

I’m just angry today. I want to destroy something.

She’s so annoying.

Paying attention to (and believing) our thoughts is a good way to take pain and tiredness to the lowest circle of hell. Our thoughts about what we’re going through only compound the problem. We often think we need to problem solve and figure out how to not experience this pain or tiredness or irritability in future, but too often we just play the problem solving track on loop. We’re not problem solving any longer. We’re just ruminating on the problem.

So instead of habitually thinking, explore the sensations that are arising in your consciousness right now, without the need to label them. What does tiredness actually feel like in your body? What are the tiny sensations that make up the overall feeling we label as “tired”? What about pain? What is pain, really? Not what do we think pain is, but what is it actually? Which is more immediate, the heavy, tingling sensation we might call pain, or the idea that “I’m in pain”? Only one is really here right now, so real it can be touched with the senses. The other is a mental construct, and more to the point, a mental construct that causes unnecessary misery.

Seek Solutions, With Patience and Consistency

Take ibuprofen. Go to the doctor. Rest. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Get consistent with what you already know to do. In my case, I know a lot of things that would help me feel better, if I only practiced them consistently instead of haphazardly. Meditation, eating healthy meals, having a consistent sleep and wake time, exercise, and spending time with friends and family will all help reduce your stress and make life easier.

Practice self–care. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with the process of growth and change. Problems don’t get fixed in a day. One doctor appointment probably isn’t going to cure you. Lately I’ve been realizing just how much consistency over time, in small things, builds to massive progress over long periods. For instance, I spend about an hour a day writing these articles. I do it every day. At the end of a week, it doesn’t seem like I’ve accomplished much. But when I get to the end of the month and see I’ve written six articles, I’m surprised with my progress. Those are six articles that wouldn’t have been written otherwise.

Be consistent with your habits of self–care, and patient in your search for solutions.

Don’t Artificially Limit Yourself

Don’t allow your life to be artificially restricted by what you’re going through. Oftentimes we’re our own worst enemy, thinking “I don’t feel good” and deciding not to do something important to us because we believe a thought. We are often capable of much more than we think, even being surprised by our own experience. Imagination and reality are not the same thing. What we imagine an experience will be like and what it will actually be like are two very different things. Don’t assume too much about what your experiences may be.

Let experience teach you, not the other way around. In every moment, focus on what is real and in front of you, rather than your beliefs about what is happening. Which is more real, what you think about what happens, or what actually happens? Our thoughts about our experience are often downright irrelevant. The truth of things is in the immediate, what is so close we can touch and taste it.

So “I don’t feel like going out” or “I can’t handle this right now” or “I’m too tired to talk about that” are not true in any absolute sense. They may be, but they also may not be. The real test would be to go out and see what happens. Or to try handling things and see how that works, or to talk and find out how it goes. There is great wisdom, of course, in knowing our limits and respecting them. That is part of loving and caring for ourselves. But there is also a time to acknowledge that the limits we put on ourselves are not immutable laws of the universe, simply beliefs we have about what we are capable of.

Compassion Will See You Through

If there is one strategy that has helped me get through difficult times with pain and fatigue, it is remembering to be kind to myself and others. We all need support and care. Those closest to you are experiencing your pain or fatigue as well as you, just in a different way. They get an altered version of you that may be difficult for them to understand. Exercise self-compassion. Love yourself back to health. Allow others to help you. Show them the love and support you show yourself. None of this is easy. But each day, each moment, is a new opportunity to mindfully respond to our lives as they are. I hope you will find more peace, love and joy because of it.

Has mindfulness helped you get through difficult experiences? What are you still struggling with?