I’m in quarantine – why am I so tired?
This quarantine. You have all the ‘physical comforts” of home. You work from home. You dine from home (endlessly). You socialize from home. You work out (or not) from home. You are entertained from home (so many options!). You occasionally leave to get essential supplies: groceries, margarita mix, hair dye. Out in the world, albeit dramatically changed, running what formerly was a mindless errand (though there’s nothing mindless for many of us about now having to be on high alert outside the home), you almost feel like…yourself.
Then, back to lockdown. The weariness settles back in. Confinement is the source of your fatigue, but why? Consider what’s going 24/7 in your mind. Cognitively, you’re processing an assortment of negative emotions and discomfort regarding restricted movement that may come in waves: some sadness, feeling defeated, moody or restless, perhaps topped off with an overall lack of focus. If you find your efficiency and productivity waning, you’re not alone.
Most people need a certain degree of stimulation to feel motivated and present in society. “Social rhythm reinforcers,” like going to school, work, social functions or the gym where you interact with others not only provides structure, but also tangible feelings that we have had a “productive” day. Certainly, when our days were filled with a variety of people, places and environments, they were more interesting than they are now. I know I had more things to talk about than what’s for dinner (“Chicken tacos, again?”) and Ozark Season 3 (fantastic, trust me).
All That is New
You might not think you’re working as hard…but let’s review: everything we’re doing is new, and it takes a lot of energy to do new things. You may be working from home more regularly or for the first time. You’re home schooling (um, 6th grade math?). You may be distance learning yourself. The mental and emotional burden of these novel, but often monotonous experiences wears on us. And, we’re all worried about social collapse, illness, death and money.
Then, there’s Zoom. It requires more focus than a phone call—more attention, more energy, more polish. You can’t multi-task, you have to perform as if on stage, all the while sneaking glances at yourself (or trying not to). You’re burning a lot of cognitive energy. Never mind the fact that you associate Zoom as a work tool, and now you’re using it for happy hours and family chats. Your work and private lives are merging, and your brain is just exploding er, begging for some downtime. No wonder why you’re exhausted at the end of the day – that day that looks like every other day?
A Peek Toward the Future
Acknowledging your weariness with this monotony is the first step toward mental and emotional revitalization, and indeed, feeling more like yourself. Here are some ideas to consider – a sort of ‘something I can get better at this week’ – to realign your energy and maybe even boost your mood.
- Choose one thing each week to aim for and don’t overdo it. If you want to change your environment, find a safe place to do a daily walk. If it’s sleep, go for a consistent bedtime. (Meditation can be particularly helpful for disrupted sleep.) If you want to eat a little better, substitute one healthy side at dinner. One thing at a time.
- Acknowledge your new demands schedule – and adjust. New routines require new ways of doing things. Your tried and true may not work. That one-on-one with your supervisor? Might have to be rescheduled to after 2:00 pm when homeschooling is done for the day. Your workout? If your biorhythms are now best at noon, schedule it as ‘Lunch’ on your calendar, and get moving.
- Socially connect in healthy ways. Emphasis on healthy. Mix it up: phone, Facetime, text, share a gif. If your Zoomed-out, decline. The important thing is to make a connection, share a memory, and laugh. Any release of dopamine, the feel-good hormone, which can come from laughter, is a game-changer.
- Find your ‘I’m OK for now’ to support your wellness. Five minutes to create physical or brain stimulation that is practical, intentional, and tangible. It could be a word game or puzzle, stillness, wall pushups and lunges, or explore public spaces online like an art exhibit or a national park – and do it with intention toward your well-being.
This pandemic has been all about uncertainty and losses of all kinds. Many of us have entered a stage of chronic stress, a hormonal response to emotional pressure over a long period. This state of being takes a toll on our body and brain. To relieve this distress, we have to get as close to stable as we can.
As we move toward the ‘next’ normal, sleep, nutrition and physical exertion are your fundamentals. Shifting your emotional and physical energy away from uncertainty and this holding pattern, and to an imagined, better future focuses on self-care and taking care of loved ones. And that can be re-energizing because that’s how humans are wired anyway – toward the future.