Burned-Out

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Q:
Dear Dr. Darcy,
I don’t know what’s happened to me lately.  I can’t seem to get it together and do what I need to do to manage my life.  I find myself overwhelmed by small things like the phone ringing or a knock at the door.  I’m not returning phone calls, I’m not opening mail, I’m avoiding friends and family and I look for reasons not to leave the house.

I wasn’t always like this.  I went to an Ivy League school, made a ton of money in my 20’s & 30’s.  Now I’m in my early 40’s and I don’t want to do anything that I absolutely don’t have to do.  I was laid off from work about 3 years ago and started my own company which is both a blessing and curse.  It allows me the flexibility to work 3-5 hours daily and make enough money so that I don’t have to touch savings, but it also allows me to work from home, so I essentially never leave the house.  I haven’t had a relationship in almost 5 years and I’m not really motivated to meet anyone. I’m just feeling drained and unmotivated in life. Is this what happens in one’s 40’s?

A:
This could be a result of several things:  Depression, thyroid/hormone imbalance, cognitive and physical atrophy from an absence of physical and cognitive stimulation…  The first thing to do is rule out a medical condition. You need to start by going to your primary care physician for a physical.  If that exam shows something’s off then that may be your answer. If it doesn’t, you need to go to an endocrinologist, and I recommend you go to one who specializes in anti-aging.  My concern is that if you go to a traditional endo, he’ll look for pathology in your lab results and as long as you fall within the normal range (even if you’re at the bottom of the normal range), you won’t be offered treatment and you’ll be told that the way you feel is a ‘normal part of aging.’  If you go to someone who specializes in anti-aging, they will look at your lab results with an eye towards optimizing your hormone levels.

At the same time, we need to breathe some life into your 40-something body which we’ll do by creating daily structure (something entrepreneurs often lack) and by engaging in physical activity.  Stop working from home. Rent a cubical or an office somewhere. Sure, it’ll be overhead, but the added expense will motivate you to work a little more than 3-5 hours daily, which is not enough cognitive stimulation for someone who is ivy-league educated.  It will get you out of the house, give you a reason to shower, brush your hair, and wear decent clothing, all of which will help you to feel better. Do this immediately. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Today.

Last but certainly not least, you need to get off your ass and do some sort of exercise.  If the thought of joining a gym gives you hives, pick a hobby that involves movement and for which exercise will be a byproduct.  I have a hard time doing something where the only purpose is exercise so I take several dance classes every week. What activities did you do in high school or college?  Did you play a sport? Were you part of a club? If you spent half the amount of time taking action that you spend making excuses, you wouldn’t be in the predicament you’re in.  You want change? Change something.

If you’re experiencing clinical depression, the exercise and daily structure alone will make a significant difference in the way you feel.  If, after you’ve followed these steps, you still feel lethargic and unmotivated, you need to call a therapist. Luckily, you now know one.