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When Your Defenses are Down

October 7, 2018 | by Emuna Braverman

How to be your best self even when your exhausted and tired.

I’m still recovering from the holidays – they were wonderful but I am completely and utterly exhausted. As I always tell my daughters who are up in the night with their newborns, “Being tired is not a fatal disease.” I’m not sure they find it comforting but it’s true. Not only that, there is a certain pleasure in feeling tired – it somehow validates your hard work – and justifies your subsequent rest!

The real challenge to being tired is that our defenses are down, our self-control is weakened and we are less able to fight against our yetzer hara, our negative inclination.

If we are trying to eat healthy, it’s much easier when we’re full of energy i.e. at the beginning of the day and much more difficult when we’re worn out at the end of the day. It’s no big deal to exercise self-control at breakfast. At dinner I may barely notice what I’m eating. And don’t even get me started on those before-bed snacks…

If we are trying to exercise, we are more motivated in the morning and can barely move at night.

If we are working on our marriage, it’s much easier to be smiling and patient when we say good-bye to our spouse in the morning and much more difficult to maintain the same good cheer when we reconvene at the end of the day. And at bedtime, when the complete and utter exhaustion really kicks in, even polite conversation, let alone dmc’s (look how cool I am) can be a challenge.

Once we understand how being tired weakens our defenses, we can plan a strategy to counter this.

In fact, any and all of the ways in which we are working on our character – to be kinder and more thoughtful and more sensitive and not to gossip or cause pain with words – all of these are easiest at the beginning of the day and become more challenging as the day progresses and our energy flags.

The only comfort is that we recognize this to be true. And that means we can do something about it. Once we understand how being tired weakens our defenses, we can plan a strategy to counter this.

If we are clear about the goals and clear about the challenges, all that’s missing is the plan. Of course it’s not quite as simple as that, and some plans are easier than others. Let’s take the healthy eating, okay I really mean dieting, as an example. In the morning when our willpower is strong, we don’t have to put that much effort into our new diet. In the evening we need to plan ahead. Since we know that our exhaustion leads us to operating on automatic pilot with very little awareness of what we are eating or how much of it, we can counter that by planning ahead of time. We can write down exactly what we want to eat and in what portion. We can consult our guide.

How about with our marriage or other important relationships? We can certainly train ourselves to smile at the end of the day, to wait 5 minutes before jumping all over our partner with our problems, perhaps to have a drink or snack that will relax us (but not put us to sleep!) and then allow for a more congenial interaction. Even at bedtime, we can figure out what works best for us – maybe a little break to read/catch our breath/be “alone” and then we may be available to speak. I frequently find that with this strategy I get what I like to call a second breeze. It’s not the strength of a second wind but it allows for a pre-sleep connection.

These types of strategies can be applied to all situations.

And we can create new ones. The key lies in self-awareness, in recognizing the challenge and making a commitment to battle it. We all know that being tired makes the world fuzzy and our reactions less sharp. We know that it means that we aren’t as diligent or careful as we’d like to be. And we know we can plan ahead if we want to do something about it.

I’d like to continue to use the excuse that I’m just really tired from the holidays to absolve me from working on myself but the problem is it really doesn’t fly.


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