So tired you could cry? Mindfulness can help.

July 12, 2023 0 Comments

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You know how it is when you’re tired: any little thing sends your emotions from zero to 100 in seconds. Your child’s joyful laughter on the playground becomes shrill. You are offended by the way the cashier hands you the receipt. Your partner’s breathing makes you want to suffocate him. The Olive Garden ad makes me cry.

Of course, you should probably get more sleep. But recent research suggests that mindfulness meditation can combat the effects of fatigue and help you better manage your emotional responses.

Meditation for your mood

We know that mindfulness can help improve emotional regulation and mood. If you are already relaxed and rested, it stands to reason that meditation will help you feel even better. But is it effective when you’re just tired and your emotional resources are low?

A recent study found that mindfulness meditation can help reduce the likelihood that fatigue will cause you to experience negative emotions or emotional numbness.

Researchers at Shenzhen University in China say they are the first to study the link between fatigue, attention and emotional processing. In their study, half of the participants completed a 15-minute mindfulness meditation. This included a breath-based mindfulness practice—paying attention to the sensation of breath in the body—and a body scan exercise that asked them to move their awareness from one part of the body to another.

The researchers were particularly interested in how this functioned among people in stressful jobs.

“Professions such as consultants, HR consultants, customer service personnel and nurses often suffer from fatigue due to the high emotional demands of their work tasks (also called emotional strain),” the authors of the study note. Heavy work involving long hours can be physically exhausting and drain your emotional resources, reducing your ability to respond to stressors. You simply do not have the resources to manage your emotions and those of others. In this case, simple rest may not be enough.

This is where mindfulness meditation training comes in handy. Research has shown that this practice neutralizes the negative connection between fatigue and emotions. This suggests that when you’re tired and feeling emotionally stressed, stepping away for a few minutes of meditation can be more beneficial than taking a break to simply rest.

Why does mindful meditation help?

If you think of fatigue as lack of sleep, you may be missing the source of your exhaustion. Many things can contribute to the fatigue factor. Overexertion, whether physical or mental, as well as illness, medical condition or medication. Stress, especially when it’s chronic or traumatic, can contribute to your feelings of exhaustion. Even diet and dehydration can contribute to fatigue.

Whatever the cause of your exhaustion, it can affect your reaction time, your judgment and concentration, and your mood. When you’re tired, difficult emotions become stronger and harder to recover from. Something that might normally go unnoticed can cause you to overreact emotionally.

And fatigue often creates an emotional cascade. Not only are you nervous about what’s going on around you, you feel bad about being tired. Mindfulness meditation can also help here, as it allows you to meet your fatigue with neutral awareness. When you more objectively notice your fatigue and accompanying emotions, it is easier for you to refocus your attention on what is happening at the moment. Mindfulness helps you recover from stressful experiences and regulate your emotions more effectively.

Tamara J. Jeffries is a senior editor Yoga magazine

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