Why Are We All So Tired?

by Deborah Atherton

Why are we all so tired? 

Lately almost everyone I know has been telling me that they are very, very tired.  Many of us, of course, have very good reason to be tired; we work all day, and then we try to write or play music or paint or blog or do photography at night and on weekends. This is the fabric of our lives; we are used to spending our days overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things we are trying to do.   And everyone is just getting over some bug or another, and dragging themselves slowly into spring.

But I feel what I’m hearing lately in people’s voices is something more than that. Although we’ve all been living for at least a decade now with a different sense of how unpredictable and frightening the world can be, the last few months may have threatened our precarious sense of balance in a new way.  Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear disasters—we’re indirectly experiencing so many events completely out of our control that even the new and scarier world we’ve gotten a bit used to has been turned on its head.  Many of us can’t bear to watch the news for more than a few minutes at a time, and when we do, we watch with a kind of fascinated horror, and perhaps it makes the things we are trying to do—find the right chord for a song, finish a portrait, rewrite a scene—seem kind of unimportant.  Just getting up in the morning and paying attention to what is going on around the world is exhausting right now—how can we push ourselves to take one more step?

I’m not sure I have the answer to that, except that there are all kinds of ways to bear witness to the world and the other human beings in it, and exercising your own creative spirit might be one of them.  If it can only be five minutes of thinking about your project, or five minutes of sketching or writing or looking through a new lens, that is five minutes of sanity and calm that will move you closer to your larger goal.  Once I heard a Zen teacher talking about how, if you can not find half an hour for meditation, you can surely find fifteen or ten or five—or two—and I believe the same holds true for creative endeavors.  It may seem like a useless effort, it may seem like a tease, but really—is it going to make you any MORE tired to dedicate five minutes to shaping something new?

Maybe not – maybe it will even have the opposite effect, and encourage you to try ten minutes tomorrow.  Or maybe it will just have to be five minutes every day until the news is a little bit more bearable again and we can dream a little bigger.



5 Responses to Why Are We All So Tired?

  1. You almost seem to be in my own head, you describe so accurately my sense of almost every day. I’m not sure if it’s the natural disasters that triggered the new phase of an even added experience of being overwhelmed, perhaps we’re approaching that point on the curve where the time it takes for total human knowledge to double is imperceptibly short.
    We say the same thing in the Jewish tradition–if you don’t have an hour for daily study (shorthand for contemplation/meditation/reflection), perhaps you have a half-hour, twenty minutes……. I think that it’s hard to disengage from all the “pressing” reality because that contains an admission that we really can’t effect it that much anyhow. But, moving by indirection, this “retreat” into creativity probably does produce our most effective response and contribution to the solutions we’ll need.
    Thanks for getting me thinking (even though I should be sleeping now……)

    • deborahatherton says:

      You’re right about human knowledge and the impossibility of keeping up. It’s exhausting to try and keep up and it’s almost impossible to let go and admit the sum of all any individual will ever know is really small. Thank you for sharing the Jewish tradition – it is so hard to make space for reflection, and sometimes we think the few minutes we have to spare aren’t valuable. But the truth, I think, is that every moment we spend in meditation, reflection, study, or creating is a little triumph, even though we always think it is not enough.

  2. kristen says:

    “…there are all kinds of ways to bear witness to the world and the other human beings in it, and exercising your own creative spirit might be one of them.”

    Hear ye, my friend!

    • deborahatherton says:

      And of course spending a few hours exchanging witticisms and deep truth at the Algonquin is another!

  3. lazeigler says:


    This post about Why are we all so tired is so thoughtful and it says in a way i could not how I have been feeling lately. Thank you for writing such an insightful post. And I love the idea if only we can take five minutes , that too is okay . Leslie Zeigler

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