Pandemic fatigue – are you feeling the strain?

It feels like so much has changed — and yet it hasn’t.

If you’re anything like me, then you might be feeling a bit fatigued, lacking energy and just a bit bleugh!

It’s hard to stay focused on the good stuff – like the vaccinations rolling out or schools taking pupils back, or restaurants/cafes/pubs due to re-open in the not-too distant future, even what are we’re going to do for a holiday this year (I know, first world problems, but having that change of scenery has probably never been so important!)…and we’re just coming out of winter, a wet and cold one at that!

Looking back on this time last year, the change is massive – no one could have imagined we’d go through lockdowns, queuing at supermarkets, not being allowed to see friends or family, wearing masks.

And there are other things going on in people’s lives too – I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, the year of the Pandemic. All my appointments, two operations, numerous mammograms, scans, radiotherapy, had to be done alone. My husband was not allowed to come in with me, something that would have been normal before, and as much for his sake as mine as he felt helpless in the face of it. The only thing he had was being able to support me – and he wasn’t allowed to do that.

So you might be forgiven for feeling Pandemic Fatigue. I’ve seen plenty of posts about it over the post-Christmas weeks, when it felt like we were marching towards a goal (just got to get to Christmas, see the end of 2020 out, start the new year fresh!) only to find it was a false finish line – because there appears to be another endless road snaking out into the distance. And of course we knew the virus wasn’t going to go away just because the year ended, but it all just felt so flat.

Ironically, now is the best time to build your resilience, because it isn’t built during times of comfort and ease. 

No, resilience is built in discomfort, hardship, stress…

We know that lighter days are ahead, offices will re-populate (maybe not the same as before because working from home is out of the box now!), the shops will re-open, the hairdressers and gyms will welcome their clients back, the sports venues will ring out with cheers, the arenas and theatres will fill up… it will just take a little time.

In the meantime, if you are feeling pandemic fatigue, here are some tips to help:

Look after yourself

Self-care isn’t a dirty word, it’s not selfish or a waste of time that could be better spent servicing the needs of others! You can’t pour from an empty cup – if you don’t look after yourself, then you’ll have nothing to give others.

Make sure you get good sleep – we have a tendency to steal from the night to augment the day, but sleep isn’t a luxury, it’s the foundation of your health – and nothing feels good when you’re tired. As well as the short-term impact (feeling irritable, losing your temper, unable to focus, loss of balance, being more accident prone, more emotional), there are serious long-term health issues from chronic sleep-deprivation. Sleep is when your brain processes all the events and information it gets during the day, as well as all sorts of cell renewal and system maintenance – if you don’t protect your sleep you’re starting your day with a health and energy deficit, which gets added to as the days and weeks move on.

Get outside – our biorhythms depend on that connection with nature and natural sunlight. On a sunny day you’re be exposed to around 100,000 lux of sunlight, on a cloudy day it’ll be around 5,000 lux – staying inside with artificial light will only give you around 200 lux if at best. That exposure is necessary for our body clock regulation, it even helps you sleep at night.

Go for a walk, or just take your coffee outside for 10 minutes, whatever helps you to get outside.

Move your body – don’t think exercise, think movement. Pushing the vacuum around is movement, going up and down stairs is movement. And yes you can also exercise – run, walk, yoga, HiiT, dance, whatever works for you just move! You release feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and you’ll feel more energised than sitting on the sofa!

Work-Life Integration

If you’re working from home, it can be tricky to separate work and personal – we’ve moved across from work-life balance to work-life integration! Especially if you add in all that home schooling and childcare we’ve had to contend with, partners working from home too… it can feel like a bit of a car crash with all areas of our lives coming together, and so quickly.

Try to have a separate working space which you can shut down when you’re not working – definitely do not take your laptop/work into your bed! Your brain will start to associate your bed with being mentally active and that will start to impact on your sleep.

When you’ve stopped working, even for a break, close your laptop. It helps to create a boundary, a small action that tells your brain ‘work is closed now, it’s time for…’

And stop trying to multitask – having lots of tabs open, your mobile by your side, maybe the tv on. We live in an era of ‘continual partial attention’, one ear open for a notification ping, an eye on work, your brain switching between different tasks, it’s highly inefficient and extremely tiring.

Stay focused

It can be tempting to take on board lots of information, the pace of change we’ve gone through and continue to face is fast! And as well as real actual information, there’s a huge amount of conjecture and fake news floating about, it all makes for a very noisy world to navigate through.

So keep it to a minimum, take on news from verified sources, learn to block out the rest, and keep your focus on the immediate future rather than what might happen in 6 months’ time, a year, next year… Live in the day.

Connect with others

In a time of social distancing, we need to connect more not less. It might not be the same as sitting across from someone having a coffee, but setting up virtual coffee dates is an option using one of the online video call platforms. And pick up the phone for an old fashioned chat, share funny videos or memes, pass on jokes, they’re all forms of connection – and this is as much about checking in with them, ensuring your nearest and dearest are okay as it is about shoring up yourself.

We feel good when we connect, we evolved to be part of tribes not to live on our own, and it’s still hardwired into our DNA – we release serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’ when we interact with others, so ensure it’s part of your daily life.

New frameworks

Without the old routines, the days can melt from one to the other, weekends and weekdays all seem the same… it’s definitely time to bring in your own routines to help give some definition to your week.

And remember to dress for the life you want, not the life you have! Simple changes in mind set and behaviour make all the difference.

Maintain Perspective

It can seem like we’re stuck in a Groundhog world but it’s not forever. Nothing stays the same and we will move beyond the Pandemic – the horizon is already bright with the vaccines rolling out.

All the worries you might have over work, going back to the office, whether your children’s education has been damaged, how your loved ones are coping, how your colleagues are managing… they are valid for now but try not to get too mired in them. Change is coming and just as we’ve learned to flex into the current situation, so we’ll learn to flex into whatever else happens – that’s what being resilient is all about.

So, hold on, it’s all going to be just fine. It’s not going to be the same, but you will cope and come out the other side. If you feel overwhelmed, or a bit down, lacking energy, let yourself feel it… but keep in mind you don’t want to stay there forever. You can’t help how you feel, but you can influence those emotions through your thoughts and behaviours.

Give yourself a little break, then gather yourself up and work out the best way forward – for you.

And above all, be kind to yourself – after all, it’s been a hell of a year!

Our thanks to Geraldine Joaquim of Mind Your BusinessGeraldine Joaquim and Quest Hypotherapy for this article.

Geraldine is one of a wide range of experts Your Employee Wellbeing works with to create effect, sustainable Employee Wellbeing programmes. 


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