Hitting the wall (and what to do about it)

It happens to all of us. A week ago, it happened to one of my classmates. I was trying to offer support and encouragement, all the while running full-tilt in terms of my work – and then BANG! it happened to me. I suddenly found myself on the ground with a metaphorical bloody nose. I had hit the wall.

That analogy of running flat-out is the clue to why this happens. All your focus is going into the running; you’re not focusing on where you’re going. The nature of studying full-time (or studying part-time while being a full-time parent) is that you have to run as hard as you can, because the deadlines are constant and inexorable, like birthdays. So, you don’t see the wall looming and can’t avoid the collision.

Don’t give up!

You’ve hit the wall and are lying there, dazed, thinking that it’s time to quit, that running isn’t really your thing after all. Don’t give up! What do you do instead? Here’s how I’ve learned to approach this.

Firstly, just lie there for a while. You need to get your breath back. There’s no point trying to get up too quickly – you might just fall over again. While you’re lying there, have a look at that wall. Notice how pretty the brickwork is, and how little fern plants and mosses are growing in the cracks. Enjoy the stillness. Breathe.

After a while, you’ll need to get up again. Don’t start running too quickly – or even walking! Have a break. Limp over to that park bench and sit down.

Tend to your injuries first. In real life, this means looking at your habits – your eating and sleeping patterns, levels of exercise, medication, meditation – whatever it is that supports you. A big one for me is food. When I’m so focused on work that nothing else matters, I start eating instant food (pizza!) and neglect green, vital nourishment that I need to support good health.

You may need to ask for help. Your injuries may be deeper than you can cope with alone. Be careful of just letting off steam or whinging – although this can be useful in the short term. If you need help in the long term, then work out  what you need and ask for that. You may need to offload some  housework and cooking (a great time to get partners and children to appreciate what you’ve been doing for them up till now!) or ask a tutor / classmate / boss to assist with some aspect of the work you’re struggling with.  If you think this is a mental health issue that needs support from a health professional, call your doctor or look online for advice. Whatever it is, work out what you need, and ask for help.

Then, plan a new route for yourself well away from walls! Zoom out and look at the map. Look at the big picture of your life and your workload – this is where timetables, scheduling, planning and prioritising come in. Spending time doing that will pay off in the long run (pun intended).

Next time you hit that wall, recognise that this happens from time to time. Use it as a time to reflect. Use the experience to help you to learn, change and grow. You’ll be in a better position to avoid walls in future, and to recover the next time it happens. And you’ll be able to recognise this in others and help them.

Now, can anyone give me a hand up please? It’s cold lying here on this concrete footpath, and I think my nose might be broken …

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