Are You Exhausted or Are You Lonely?

Two years ago, I never felt more burned out and exhausted. I was working hard and studying even harder. The more I learn about myself, and understand the mechanisms behind fatigue and exhaustion, the more I wonder if my job and study pressures were the root of my exhaustion.  In truth I wonder if in my business and drive to ‘succeed’ and ‘achieve’, Perhaps I had inadvertently disconnected from many relationships which I needed. 

I wonder if I had failed to value connection in my life. Perhaps this led to a deep loneliness. I wonder if it was this loneliness which was one of the triggers of my exhaustion.

Perhaps less work and less study was not the antidote to my tiredness, but rather connection and inclusion.

I want to show you an excerpt from Brene Brown’s book, Dare to lead from pages 61-63

This below was shared by DeDe, who is the developer of innovation, analysis and leadership development for was Air Force Global strike Command which comprised 33 000 officers and enlisted airmen

DeDe writes:

“During the first year of my command I was presenting an award to an airman at a squadron event. At the end of the presentation I asked if anyone had any questions. A young airman raised his hand and asked. Ma’am when is the pace of the current operations going to slow down, cause we are really tired.”

“Yeah” I said, it has been very busy and we ask a lot of you. I just came from a different command, and heard the same thing. Across our Air Force leaders know we are asking a lot of you and they know you are tired.”

There were about 40 airmen at the event that day. I asked everyone who was tired to raise their hands and pretty much every hand went up.

I went on: “I want to share something with all of you. An article that I read recently has really made me stop and think. Three days ago, I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review and it was talking about an organisation that was researching companies who were reporting high levels of exhaustion. The team went into these companies to see what was driving such high levels of exhaustion. What they found was that while these employees were in fact exhausted, it wasn’t just because of the operations tempo. They were actually exhausted because people were lonely. Their workforces were lonely, and that loneliness was manifesting itself in a feeling of exhaustion.

When we are lonely, we just feel lethargic. We don’t really want to do anything; we think we are tired and we just want to sleep. But If I were to ask you instead of who’s tired, who’s lonely? How many of you would raise your hand?”

At least 15 people raised their hands. Loneliness is such a hard thing for many of us to admit. I thought maybe one person would raise a hand. But when fifteen people raised their hands, I was shocked.

Our Air Force, our military in general is facing challenges with suicide, with people feeling isolated and hopeless. As leaders we are trying everything, we can to reach our airmen and ensure they know that suicide is not the answer. We spend so much time talking with them about available resources, but I am but I’m not sure enough of us are talking about the fact that in the end, a lot of people are just lonely. They’re not connecting and they’re not reaching out.

I decided to call on courage and venerability and stay with them in that moment.

I decided to be honest with them.

“This breaks my heart. Loneliness isn’t something I’ve talked about with you before. But seeing so many of you raise your hands today scares me a little because I’m not entirely sure what to do with this information. As a leader, if you tell me you are tired, I’m going to send you home, tell you to take leave, to take some time away and get some rest. But if what’s really going on is that you are lonely, than sending you to be by yourself, yet again, means that I could possibly exacerbate the very problem we are so desperately trying to combat in our Air Force which is that some people are so out of hope feeling so isolated that they are doing something irreversible.”

My willingness to ask an uncomfortable question opened the door to great conversation. We ended the afternoon event having a very candid discussion about how we build relationships in the unit and how we reach out to others when we are feeling alone. How to create a community of inclusion. It also provided invaluable insight for the squadron commander and set him on a path to address the right issue: connection and inclusion versus busyness and exhaustion.

I found this section of Brene’s book ‘Dare to lead’, and I have read it over and over. It has me wondering how much of exhaustion and burnout, is actually in reality a loss of connection and a deep sense of loneliness.

What if, in our fast paced, productivity driven Western society we are valuing accomplishments over relationships, and achievement over connection?

As a doctor, one of the most common complaints I get from patient’s is exhaustion and fatigue. The solution always seems to be simple! Less work and more rest. However, in reality I wonder if it is less about work, and more about learning how to reframe our lives to prioritise relationships and seek connection. To seek to prioritise intimacy and vulnerability with one another again.

Does this resonate with anyone? Is anyone exhausted? Is anyone feeling lonely?

I certainly was both of the above not so long ago. And now I see so much of my exhaustion stemmed from being deeply disconnected. I was lonely.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this beloved ones. Somehow, we must all find a way to connect with one another. To build relationships at work, at home, and at church. Real relationships. That takes vulnerability and trust.

I think coming to this realisation is a start. It is the most important part.

How about you beloved? Are you exhausted? Or perhaps you are lonely?

You are deeply loved and richly cherished

Dr Christine Greenwood

Reign in life

Wink: So you know I would NEVER have admitted 18 months ago that I was lonely. I would have told you I was Way to Busy to be lonely.

P.S Dare to Lead by Brene Brown is one of my top three all-time favourite books. Please read.

P.P.S Also loved this podcast on Oprah’s Super Soul conversation podcast called “Quest for a Moral Life.” This is all about how an community approach to life is where joy can be found.

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6 thoughts on “Are You Exhausted or Are You Lonely?

  1. I feel lethargic on most days. Even when interacting with people on my blogs and social sites, I feel disconnected. Since I’ve become an author, this has worsened. I have family, but I’m alone during the days and late into the night when I write. I never thought of loneliness as the cause, but it might be. Thank you.

    1. Christine says:

      Susanna. Thanks for being real here. Personally I found such breakthrough when I began to take small steps to prioritise connection again!

  2. Kt says:

    We need a social committee at our church which will include the little not very important people. I say that because unless you are in the cool club at some churches your voice is not heard and your face is not seen. They may voice the message of love but it is a shallow trumpet that is hollow and meaningless to most who have been silenced to not speak out..anymore.. Everyone has something meaningful to contribute so inclusiveness has a joyous sound and loneliness is diminished when listening, hearing and seeing everyone is practiced.. The enemy of loneliness is value and inclusion to say the very least.

    1. Christine says:

      KT. Thanks for sharing your heart here… xx

  3. Jemma Petty says:

    Love this! Had never thought about the connection between loneliness and exhaustion, but it makes sense. I get so much more tired when I am alone because I don’t have the energy or motivation that comes from being with loved ones. Also, how great is Brene Brown?!

    1. Christine says:

      Jemma thanks for sharing. Love this. And YES. Brene Brown fan right here… ❤

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