- Melanie Lopes, MFT
Why am I so tired all the time? Pandemic fatigue is real and you're not alone.
How are you holding up?
Have you been feeling exhausted or a low grade fatigue that just doesn’t seem to go away even after a good night’s sleep?
Welcome to the club. You’re not alone in how you’re feeling and it’s hitting a lot of people right now. It's possible that you’re dealing with stress fatigue, or what’s also being called “pandemic fatigue”, “coronavirus fatigue”, or “COVID fatigue”.
Stress fatigue happens when you’ve been under stress consistently for a prolonged period of time and it can show up even if your overall stress has seemed relatively mild or manageable.
Even if you’ve been fortunate enough to keep you and your family healthy, maintain some financial stability, and adjust to these circumstances relatively smoothly, there’s no escaping the stress that comes with having to adjust to so many changes to your usual way of living, witnessing the ongoing impacts of this pandemic (firsthand or through the news), and dealing with the uncertainty of when this crisis will ever end.
You see, typically when you experience stress you may feel on edge, nervous, anxious, charged up, tense, antsy, or irritable. You might notice that your mind is racing and you have a hard time sleeping, and in some more intense situations, your heart starts racing, you feel shaky, and you may even experience panic. Under ideal circumstances, you’re eventually able to get some distance from the stressful situation, either by physically distancing yourself from it or by allowing time to pass. Then your stress levels go down or you’re able to do something to help yourself unwind and you can get back into a more calm and stable state.
But unfortunately, our current circumstances are not ideal. The stress has been persistent, and with all of the various restrictions in place, some of your go-to strategies for coping with stress may have been limited or not available at all – things like heading to the gym, gathering with friends or family, a weekend getaway, happy hour, or even going for a walk in the park were no longer options.
When you are dealing with an ongoing, steady stream of stress, and the demands and worries in your life outpace your ability to cope or bring yourself back into a more relaxed and stable state, then your stress builds up and your nervous system gets overwhelmed. That’s where the stress fatigue comes in.
Here’s what it can look like:
Mind feels “foggy”, difficulties with focus or concentration
Feeling on edge and easily frustrated or irritated
Mood changes, feeling sad and pessimistic, mild depression
Withdrawing from others
Feeling more achy or tense
Then, to top it off, you might start to feel bad about yourself or think there’s something wrong with you for not being able to handle things better, or you might even feel guilty for feeling this way, especially when so many others in the world are suffering far more.
Of course, feeling bad about yourself and how you’re managing your stress only adds to your stress and can make you feel worse, so…that’s not helping the situation.
Give yourself a break.
Stress fatigue is real and you're not alone. Rather than spending time and energy feeling frustrated with yourself or trying to push aside your feelings, remind yourself that what you are experiencing is a normal response to an abnormal situation and that the tired and worn out feeling that you’re having is your nervous system letting you know that it’s time to slow down and take care of yourself.
It’s a signal that it’s time to ramp up your self-care and your coping strategies so that you can find some relief and not allow your stress levels to build up even more.
So where do you begin?
Start with the basics and keep it simple and consistent.
Create a daily routine. This provides you with some structure, gives you a chance to set up good habits, and gives you some consistency that can be grounding and stabilizing.
Create a nightly routine. Try to be consistent with your sleep habits at night. Create a regular bedtime and a wake up time and make time to do things to relax and unwind before bedtime.
Watch your eating habits. Eat healthy and balanced meals and try to eat at consistent meal times, avoid skipping meals or over-indulging.
Stay hydrated. Make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day.
Limit caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and other substances.
Get outside, get some sun, and get some fresh air. Sunshine can help lighten your mood and being outdoors, especially in nature, can have a calming effect on your nervous system and help broaden your perspective.
Stay connected with others that you care about and who are supportive.
Exercise or do something to move your body. Going for a walk is a simple way to get yourself moving and release some stress.
Limit exposure to news and other media. It’s good to stay informed, but constant exposure to various crises and tragedies can add to your stress.
Do something calming or enjoyable. Or think of things you are grateful for or that make you smile. Practice breathing deeply and slowly.
And of course, be kind to yourself through the process. Watch your expectations and know that you may need to make some adjustments. If you’re dealing with stress and stress fatigue, it may take a bit longer than usual for you to do things or you may not have the energy to do everything you’d like or think that you should be doing, and that's ok. Acknowledge it and plan for it. Also, try not to compare yourself to others and instead listen to your needs and focus on doing what’s best for you right now.
While it’s unknown how long we will be dealing with the impacts of the pandemic and there are a lot of things that are outside of our control, one thing you can control is how you care for yourself. This is a great time to look through this list of basic self-care practices and see where you need to make any adjustments or improvements, and it’s good to keep checking in on yourself in this way so you can develop a solid foundation of self-care to build upon.
If you can take care of the basics then you can build your stamina and cope with stress more effectively over the long run. Once you've covered the basics you can then start learning some effective tools & strategies to overcome challenges and move through obstacles with greater ease.
If you are interested in more support for managing anxiety, stress, or depression, feel free to contact me and we can set up a therapy appointment. I’m happy to help.