More and more people are talking about pandemic fatigue. We speak about fatigue in materials when there is a weakness or a wearing out from overuse. The human mind can also become overused when constantly in a stressed situation for long periods.
No one would doubt that this has been a stressful time with anxiety, uncertainty, massive changes to our lives and isolation; as well as loss and distress for some. There are added concerns about finances, job security, or working from home with children to assist you! Anxiety can lead to sleeplessness. Our minds and bodies are capable of dealing with stress for a period of time, but as it becomes protracted, a fatigue sets in. Cortisol, which is the energy promoting hormone, can get unbalanced under prolonged high stress. It is as if a switch is flipped and you then experience pandemic fatigue or burn-out.
There is also a frustration of taking one step forward and two back as restrictions are eased and then re-enforced; as in Leicester; or people are employed and furloughed repeatedly. We are experiencing prolonged uncertainty, unpredictability, and unknowns, and this can lead to a sense of overwhelming fatigue. If you are constantly feeling worn down or tired out mentally, emotionally and physically, or you are experiencing stressors or illness, then you may be experiencing pandemic fatigue.
Types of Fatigue
There are two types of fatigue.
- Caution Fatigue
This is not a new term but has become more prevalent with Covid 19. People have become sick of dealing with it and so the motivation to keep high levels of caution is worn out. This is demonstrated by how some people have become lax about the protocols and an attitude of ‘I’ll take my chances’ has crept in. This is important to watch out for in the workplace if precautionary standards start to slip.
- Anxiety Fatigue
This is where you have reached your limit on how much you can process. Your personal well-being can be compromised as your mental clutter increases without physical outlets. It becomes an ambient underlying stress. An analogy is to imagine a massive 18-wheeler truck stationary at traffic lights that are green. The engine is revving but it is not going anywhere. The engine is likely to start to overheat and burnout, as well as cause frustration in those around it.
These fatigues can be worsened by ‘doom scrolling’ where you continually read through bad news and negative social media. This can inhibit healthy sleep patterns. Digital clutter is another habit that if overused can increase pandemic fatigue. Added to this, can be the guilt of not being busy, so we fill our time with ‘stuff’. During lockdown, people have used the time to learn another language, do various workouts, puzzles, etc. I know I have been doing this. The risk is, that if overdone, it does not give your brain a rest. It just gives it different work to do and another type of stressor to cope with.
Another analogy is that this pandemic is like a boat capsizing with your family in it. You are left treading water, whilst trying to keep your family safe. There is no land in sight and any passing ships are out of reach. There is only so long a person can keep going in this situation. Similarly during the pandemic, our mental muscles become fatigued as we try to keep ourselves and family safe. The answer is to look for life rafts. What can you put in place in your life to help you stay afloat until this is over?
Mental Life Rafts
- Take the time to relax and think about what brings you happiness. I have certainly taken more pleasure from the simple things around me. Many of the things we took for granted pre-covid, are now luxuries, like socialising with friends or going out to somewhere other than the supermarket! Find joy in each day.
- Get balance in your judgement of who you are and what you can achieve. This is a time to reflect on your self-esteem and be kinder to yourself. You can choose to focus on the positive things rather than the negative. What positive affirmations can you give yourself? The danger is we can beat ourselves up for making mistakes or not achieving things which are impossible at this time. This just zaps our energy, which we need to bounce back from all this.
- Your energy levels are important in the battle to avoid fatigue, so it pays to know what energy you have and to use it wisely. You may like to think of it as a spoon ration. How many spoons of energy do you have each day to spend and how much will each task take? If you overdo it, then you will feel fatigue. You may need to prioritise what gets a spoon of your energy. Don’t waste it on the ‘small stuff‘.
- Be aware of your thinking and how cluttered your mind may be. What we think automatically affects how we feel. We are designed to thrive, but our thoughts can take us away from the right path.
- The websites of Mind and Time to Change have some great ideas on how to improve your mental well-being with real examples of individuals and employers who have helped their workforce.
- Talk about how you feel. This can be a great release and helps others to understand and support you. You are not alone and there is nothing wrong in admitting you are not coping at the moment. It is important to encourage this type of conversation in the workplace.
- Sleep is vitally important to allow the mind to reset and recharge. Major Allison Brager, Director of Human Performance Operations and Outreach Education – US Army Warrior Fitness Training Centre, describes the impact of sleep and fatigue. There are many ideas available for helping with sleep, including not watching negative news or working on the computer just before bedtime, and limiting caffeine. You can use routine, physical exercise, meditation, and sunshine to help create a sense of well-being and calmness.
“A change of thought is the only thing that can ever work to change behaviour.” Jack Pransky
Recognising a Need
We can con ourselves that we are fine, in true British stiff-upper-lip fashion. If you would like an accurate and powerful assessment of your state of mind, then we offer the Judgement Index. This is an on-line assessment and measures mental energy, self-esteem, self-care, balance of judgement, morale and much more. It can highlight where you need development to prevent pandemic fatigue or burnout. As a leader, it can start a dialogue with your team to support them through these strange times.
Special in-depth work has been done for the care sector by Rob and Sophie Coulthard in the UK.
Please contact me if you would like to know more about this article or undertaking the Judgement Index for yourself or your team. My sincere thanks to the US Judgement Index team for the inspiration for this article.Image by Quang Le from Pixabay