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How to bounce back even when you’re exhausted


“I made a mistake and I’ve been awake the last two nights worrying about it.”cranky bananas

My friend, Valerie, said this the other night as we talked with a woman we consult with, Mary. Valerie made the mistake on an assignment for Mary.

“Oh, Valerie! I’m sorry you were so worried about it,” Mary responded, concerned. “Mistakes happen and I don’t get upset by them – they’re just a part of life.”

Valerie laughed. “I don’t usually get upset by them, either, Mary. I tend to lead a guilt-free life. It’s just that I was so tired and feeling stress from other things that I wasn’t able to get into my Zen place about this mistake.”

Valerie’s words started me thinking.

There are many aspects that can affect our ability to bounce back in life. Some of them are more esoteric, like defining our values and developing meaning in our lives.

But sometimes they are very obvious. As obvious as being physically and emotionally out of gas.


What is PCWT?

Many times I’ve had clients or readers recite a litany of painful emotions and their inability to bounce back, only to have them tell me shortly afterward, “I was really tired and not managing well when I told you all that. I’m better now.”

I can relate to this experience.

Very well.

In fact, I seem to hold royalty in many areas that people struggle with. You might recall that I have previously proclaimed myself the Queen of Tunnel Vision.

I now also proclaim that I am the Queen of Poor Coping When Tired (PCWT.)

When I’m tired, I can’t even find a Mediocre place or a Tolerable place, let alone a Zen place like my friend Valerie.

When I’m on the royal throne of PCWT, mistakes reduce me to tears, problems seem insurmountable, and I get snippy with those closest to me. Just ask my partner.

No, wait. Don’t ask her.


The thief in the night

There are many things that can make us tired, but the biggest culprit is lack of sleep – that wily thief in the night that robs us of our energy.

And what is it about not enough sleep that causes me to be the Queen of PCWT and you, possibly, to be a member of my court?

Part of the problem, scientists say, is that sleeping problems can interfere with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

According to Angela Epstein of the online Daily Mail (UK,) “REM sleep is thought to help consolidate memory and emotion, as at this point in sleep blood flow rises sharply in several brain areas linked to processing memories and emotional experiences.”

And in general, the American Psychological Association reports, “. . .  irritability, moodiness and disinhibition are some of the first signs a person experiences from lack of sleep. If a sleep-deprived person doesn’t sleep after the initial signs, the person may then start to experience apathy, slowed speech and flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to be novel or multitask.”

You can see that we need to sleep so that our brains can complete processes related to keeping our emotions on an even keel and to help us with problem-solving.


You already know this, but here are some resources anyway

I’m not going to go into how to get a good night’s sleep because I’m sure you’ve been inundated with information about it, especially if you have a chronic problem with sleeping.

However, if you’d like more information, this article on WebMD has some good ideas despite it’s overly-cheerful and unrealistic title, Your Guide to Never Feeling Tired Again.

 And you’ll find some reliable information from the American Psychological Association’s fine article, Why sleep is important and what happens if you don’t get enough.

 The solution about getting more sleep is an obvious one and the primary strategy we should use if we’re struggling with feeling tired frequently.


4 ideas to manage your emotions when you’re exhausted

But what do we do when we are tired?

It’s going to happen.

There will be nights that are difficult and stress that will happen and, because we’re human, we inevitably will go through periods of being tired or even exhausted.

What then? How do we maintain our resilience, our ability to bounce back?


1. Recognize that you’re tired.

This may seem obvious, but how many times have you reacted in a way that was out of character only to realize later how tired you were at the time?


2. Notice what is happening emotionally and physically.

 Part of recognizing that you’re tired is being aware of what being tired feels like.

Do you get snappy when you’re tired? Do you become overly sensitive? Do you get irritable and grumpy?

Do you become clumsy? Does your body feel heavy? Do you lose good posture?

Because we tend to live in a state of non-awareness, it’s helpful to start paying attention to what being tired feels like both emotionally and physically.

Once you understand what your body and mind do when they become tired, you’ll be better able to quickly identify that your energy is lagging and take steps to moderate your behaviors: responses to others, decision-making, thoughts about yourself, and so on.


3. Make an action plan for when you’re tired.

 An action plan sounds kind of tiring, doesn’t it?

Here’s what I mean when I say action plan: Now that you’ve recognized your tired, you need to have a plan in place that will allow you to manage emotionally and behaviorally during that time frame.

So, my action plan looks something like this:


  • Recognize that I’m tired.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that I get overly sensitive, snippy, and have problems making decisions.
  • Put off making important decisions if I can.
  • Pause before responding if I’m feeling a snippy remark coming on. (This is hard and I don’t always accomplish it.)
  • If I feel hurt by another person’s remark, set it aside to reconsider when I have more energy.
  • Apologize when necessary.
  • Take a nap or make a plan to recharge.


4. Apologize when necessary.

 Yes, you already saw this in my plan of action. I’m repeating it because it’s an essential part of bouncing back when you’re tired.

If you make a mistake or hurt someone’s feelings or act out of character when you’re tired, apologize.

Addressing the issue right at the moment it occurs will keep it from expanding out of control and will put you in good stead to bounce back into your Zen place.


Where do you stand in my royal court of Poor Coping When Tired? And what’s your action plan? Let me know in the comments below.

Then . . . go get some sleep.




  1. Sanjay Tripathi says:

    I like all of your articles on theme of bouncing back. Thanks for sharing your thoughts : make me more aware,Thanks a lot.
    Sanjay Tripathi

  2. Doug Toft says:

    Thanks for the reminder of the connection between sleep deprivation, emotions, and behavior. This is the first thing that I forget when I’m tired.

    So much of mental health lies in a good night’s sleep.

    Tom Rath has additional suggestions in his new book “Eat Move Sleep.”

    • Bobbi says:

      Doug, you’re always a wealth of resources! I just checked our Rath’s book and am going to order it! It looks like it’s stuffed with really practical ideas and info. I would ask about his credibility as an author, but your recommendation is by far enough for me!

      Everyone – Doug is a writer and editor and we are completely sympatico on what separates the good self-help books from the bad. So, if you ever see Doug recommend one – grab it! You can also check out Doug’s blog here.

      As a matter of fact, Doug was the one who first got me interested in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT,) so thanks again for that, Doug!

  3. Lori Irwin says:

    Great article Bob!

    I have found that when I’m tired, life seems much more overwhelming, than usual. Things I need to do seem to have less importance, or seem to be “too much” to handle at the moment. I guess it’s more a combination… “I can’t handle this right now. It’s too much and isn’t so important that it can’t wait until after I take a nap.”

    Unfortunately, I often feel this way right before getting INTO bed. The process that I go through to get in bed takes so much time that I often just ‘lean over’ onto a pillow on my bed, “just for a minute.” There are so many times that I wake up, looking at the wall, sideways, momentarily wondering where I am. Getting back into “the groove,” I get into bed, only to lie there wide awake. 🙁 Not very restful but that “just a minute” feels SO GOOD. 🙂

    Sleep is a good thing!!

    • Bobbi says:

      Sleep is a good thing, Lori! I’m sure it must be hard for you to get a good night’s sleep because you still have to turn over every 2 hours, don’t you?

      Of course, I like your philosophy about making things wait until after a nap. Love me some good nap time! It’s amazing how much more capable I feel after a nap.

  4. Excellent information and right on the money as always. Great post, Bobbi.

  5. A timely post…

    My son kept me awake last night because of a cold and today I was showing all the symptoms that I was also an active member of the PCWT.
    I was snappy and on verge of tears over the silliest problems.

    Hmmmmm..I now know what I need to do.
    Thank You Bobbi
    Preethi Venugopal recently posted…Word Power Wednesday Post No. 1My Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Get some sleep, Preethi! Take a nap!

      I’m sure it’s hard for parents to get sleep many times. First it’s staying up with babies all night, then it’s staying up with a sick child, then it’s worrying when the teenager is going to get home . . . that’s a lot of years of staying up!


  6. nirmal says:

    hi bobby,
    nice article ,i jst gone thru it…but i found it not much related to my problems..tiring, sleep disorders have not given much problems to me till now.in case , that sort of problems arises later i will keep a close watch …. and discussed it out.. in fact i am much a sleepy guy…keep posted me always….
    thanks, nirmal

  7. Linda says:

    It’s reassuring to know that I’m not alone in my reactions to being tired, Bobbi!
    I try to go with it and tell myself that few things are so important that they can’t wait for a day.
    I need to renew my passport but every time I thought of doing it yesterday I groaned.. and today… it’s all done 😉
    Linda recently posted…How To Ditch Your Fear Of Change – Once And For AllMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Funny how one day – and a little more rest – can make such a big difference, Linda!

      Now, if only I’d get my passport done . . .


  8. Gary Korisko says:

    Well done, Bobbi… and so true. Especially as I age, I’m noticing how important it is to be fresh and well rested. Thanks for the pep talk – and the great resources.
    Gary Korisko recently posted…Comment on by How To Blast Through Barriers And Get Your Motivation Back « Wire Yourself for WealthMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Hey Gary,

      You’re only getting younger, aren’t you? Especially with that new grandson?

      Glad this was helpful for you.

  9. Gina says:

    What a wonderful reminder to see with awareness our own physical state and to care for ourselves and the possible damage we may have caused. I so needed to hear this today, Thanks Bobbi!

  10. Rochelle says:

    It is an endless cycle – I am stressed and overwhelmed at work so my mind is racing at bedtime, even though I am tired and want to fall asleep. Then the next day I am overly tired so the stress and even little irritations are making me feel even worse because of the lack of sleep. Sometimes when I feel completely at my wits end I think about how good it will feel to rest my head on my pillow and sleep. That helps!

    Great article, thank you!

    • Bobbi says:

      Hey Rochelle,

      I think your comment illustrates why most of us have problems feeling tired: our minds race when we’re trying to sleep. Remember that your mind has evolved to be a problem-solving machine so that’s what it’s doing when you’re lying in bed – it’s trying to help you solve the problems from your day. A great way to combat this is to learn a few mindfulness skills so you can let those thoughts go and focus on something else like your breath or the sounds in your bedroom. Basically, when you focus on one thing, your mind settles down – almost gets bored! – and your sleep cycle will kick in. Good luck!

  11. Dean says:

    Whew, I’m glad I read this. When I first saw the headline, I thought maybe I had inspired you from all my whining in the Masterclass forum about how exhausted I am.

    Guilty as charged. I get maybe six hours a night during the week, then nine on the weekends. Which means on Mondays I’m a complete zombie. I need to change my habits to even it out a bit more. I’m sure it would help my coping skills, and I could sure use it!

    Great stuff. Thanks, Bobbi!
    Dean recently posted…Upright — Outtasight!My Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Thanks, Dean! Remember that I am the Queen of Poor Coping When Tired so I’m sure I’m much more of a whiner than you are 😉

      Yep, I’m pretty sure feeling more rested will help your ability to cope so figure out how to change those habits and get some sleep!

  12. Onder says:

    I have a massive bounce back to achieve in my life as I’ve pretty much been out of work for a year now and seem to have a hard time finding work.

    Sometimes, having a hard time is a blessing in disguise, because it forces you to think outside the box and look for alternatives, which you otherwise wouldn’t do if you had a secure job or life.

    So I would say bouncing back has all to do with your mindset and attitude and less on your situation 🙂

    Though I could be wrong.
    Onder recently posted…Act In Spite Of Fear: How To Build A Connection With StrangersMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Onder,

      So sorry you’re out of work, but I love your mindset about it! I think bouncing back has a lot of different components to it and attitude is one of the essential ones. But I do think we need to pay attention to some of the smaller pieces of the puzzle, too, like how tired we are. Overall, though, I agree with you that mindset is huge!

  13. […] How To Bounce Back Even When You Are Exhausted by Bobbi Emel really makes a LOT of sense to me right now…. and the best part is that the name of the picture she uses on this page is called “cranky bananas”. […]

  14. marianne says:

    I’m really glad I read this today. I’ve been chronically not getting enough sleep my entire life. It’s not that I can’t sleep, I just stay up too late doing “things.”

    I feel like I have so much to do at any given moment that if I go to bed at a reasonable time I won’t have time to get something done or I won’t have my ME time to read or catch up on a favorite show.

    I have struggled with this for years and for some reason didn’t quite put the connection to all the symptoms I’ve been feeling:

    “Do you get snappy when you’re tired? Do you become overly sensitive? Do you get irritable and grumpy? Do you become clumsy? Does your body feel heavy? Do you lose good posture?”

    Um…all the above?!

    I’ve always been a bit scatterbrained and when I do work, it’s not always efficiently, but it’s so hard to trust that if I just put down the book or computer early and get a good night’s rest, I may actually accomplish a lot more the next day than I would have had I stayed up later to finish something up.

    Ok, I am going to take a week now to test this. I’m going to force myself to put the lights out early and see how I do this week. This may just be the start of a new habit…. 🙂
    marianne recently posted…How to Design a Custom Opt-in form without a Plugin // Part 2My Profile

  15. Simon T says:

    Interesting post. Tiredness is certainly an issue that most of us face regularly and you have provided some good tips on how to deal with it.

    Thank you

  16. Well this certainly hits home for me, Bobbi! Working with less sleep seems to be one of the requirements of being a Mom, but I do find I am remarkably more resilient if I make a conscious effort to squeeze in as much sleep as I can – despite the demands.

    Thanks for the reminder to recharge when I can, and take a deep breath when I can’t. 😉
    Kimberley Grabas recently posted…2 Must-Dos to Make Your Book Marketing Infinitely EasierMy Profile

  17. Marianne says:

    ha! i haven’t done it yet. But i realized i had to get my new tutorial done first, so NEXT week i swear! 🙂
    Marianne recently posted…Friday Faves #14: a weekly dose of design inspiration // Cozy + RusticMy Profile

  18. Isa M. says:

    We wish them the best! They now have a job and a place to stay until they get their first paycheck.

  19. Interesting post. All tips are good. Especially about overcoming tiredness.

    smsaravanakumar recently posted…Deed the extra knotMy Profile

  20. C Williams says:

    Everything is harder when you’re tired. Getting appropriate amounts of sleep is ESSENTIAL in living a happy and healthy life.

  21. Noel Rosos says:

    This is a great post Bobbi. Loved it! Especially the part on putting off important decisions and to pause before responding. I’m guilty of these from time to time.

  22. Oh boy, I am probably a good candidate for your right hand wing man in your court! I don’t handle well a lot of the time, and I am tired a lot of the time. This is a great post and helped open my (burning, exhausted) eyes and gave me a few pointers to dealing and handling better.
    Johnny Sawyer recently posted…Can anyone learn to sing?My Profile

  23. Lawrence says:

    This is a great and comprehensive post on the subject of bounce. Allow me to draw also from the Ebook you offered. Thanks for being as practical as possible with the solutions.

    Just finished finished writing my Ebook on the same lines of Bounce, titled, ’21 Commandments to Mastermind Your Comeback’…and am thrilled that we share the same sentiments.

    Am glad I stopped by here.

    Keep writing!
    Lawrence recently posted…ATTITUDE=100%? Give me a break!My Profile

  24. sherill says:

    Hi, loved your article, the action plan you mentioned are great and helpful. Sometimes when we are tired we lost total control of our emotions. Being aware of how we feel is really helpful indeed. Thanks for sharing. Great post!.
    sherill recently posted…The Place I Started My Spiritual Studies – Life Comes Full Circle (Part 4 of 4)My Profile

  25. bmar13 says:

    Thanks for including CVG, appear to be with great company on your list…

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.