Since the first quarter of 2020, an ominous cloud has hung over the world as a novel coronavirus spread across the globe. Initially, we were gripped as we watched China battle to curb the spread through a series of drastic measures – factories shut down, forcible isolation in Wuhan, makeshift hospitals, and even facial-recognition software that assigned quarantine guidelines for residents based on their contagion risk.
COVID-19 is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis. However, we are witnessing extensive economic consequences as we try to get the virus under control. No-one knows how quickly we can tame the epidemic or how widely it will spread – yet we are dealing with the daily aftershocks of a global economic lockdown with far-reaching implications.
Life as we’ve known it has changed in different ways for each of us. For some, that has meant adopting a more sedentary lifestyle working from home and being less active. In the business world, we’ve discussed the benefits of remote working for years – less time commuting, more time with the family, fewer distractions at the office, greater productivity. Now that it’s our new reality, why do we feel so incredibly exhausted?
There are a couple of reasons lurking just beneath the surface
Firstly, our sympathetic nervous system is running on overload in recent months. The anxiety we feel around our own health, the health of our loved ones, and the health of our businesses triggers our fight or flight response. Add in the constant news updates, and an unfolding deepening recession – every trigger produces adrenaline to help us stay alert for constant threats. Living in this state of constant anxiety is stressful! Think about pressing a light switch on and off every minute for months on end – eventually you’ll wear out the switch, and potentially do some damage to the internal wiring. Triggering our threat response to this degree contributes to adrenal fatigue and our bodies start to shut down to preserve energy. Now, next time you’re craving a nap after working at home all day, maybe its exactly what your body needs to quieten the mind and replenish your energy!
Secondly, we’re missing our old lives. Humans are habit-forming creatures – we thrive on predictability, it helps us navigate our daily lives with ease. Often our daily habits provide us with a sense of achievement throughout the day – and that achievement fills us with dopamine (the feel-good hormone). When we can no longer access these dopamine hits, our mood is depleted which can cause us to feel even more tired! Habits also help us get through the day using less energy. Think about that for a minute… we use so many short cuts in our daily lives to help preserve energy for when we need to think deeply or solve a problem. Getting the kids out to school, grabbing a shirt from our ‘work wardrobe’, taking the same commute every day, stopping to grab a coffee before you start work – every single one of these habits has been disrupted. And what happens when we need to build new habits? It’s HARD – we need to Think. About. Each. And. Every. Step. Even then, each time we start to build new habits, the goalposts are moved and we go right back to the start. It’s overwhelming, right? Is it any wonder we’re tired!
Thirdly, we like certainty. In fact, our search for certainty affects how we approach work, maintain relationships, and even how we parent. Sometimes this approach serves us well – but often it can lead us to choose comfort over courage. A recent study has shown that uncertainty is even more stressful than knowing something bad is going to happen! There has been no crisis of comparable magnitude within living memory – we have felt the loss of control over our health, our finances, and our daily activities. Regaining a sense of power over your life means concentrating your efforts on the aspects of your home or professional life that are within your control, and letting go of things outside of your control.
What can we do to prevent a Tony Stark-inspired meltdown?
Don’t ruminate over the news
- A simple way to reduce Covid-anxiety is to reduce your exposure to news updates. Create a schedule of when to check the headlines, and stick to it.
Build new routines
- We crave structure and consistency because routines help us preserve energy for when we need it most. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take some time to jot down the top 3 things fuelling the sense of overwhelm, and build new routines to give you a better sense of control.
Let it go
- If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t control the future no matter how hard we try. Write down the things you can control, and those you can’t. Try it – it’s incredibly rewarding to recognize that you can’t solve the world’s problems single-handedly!