Do you notice that you’re feeling more tired or fatigued these days? Maybe you’re having difficulty concentrating or find yourself more impatient than usual? It might be that you just flat out feel more depressed or anxious. Whether you’re noticing symptoms or not, you are likely suffering from what’s now known as coronavirus fatigue or pandemic burnout. Today I’m going to teach you how to identify your symptoms and my top tips to help you stay calm and focused right now.
I heard a great line recently: Hand sanitizer is the new condom. Yup. That’s our new normal and the new way we check with people to see if they’re “safe.”
Our world has been rapidly changing and it’ll never be the same again. From businesses and entire industries being decimated to travel being severely curtailed, to virtual learning for our kids, to being cooped up with the people we love and wanting to kill them, to feeling isolated and lonely. It can feel like you’ve got no control and that the hits just keep on coming.
While we’ve been busy “flattening the curve” so hospitals don’t get overwhelmed, the mental health industry is busting at the seams. We actually need to focus on flattening the mental health curve because people are having issues at an alarming rate!
Studies show that the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with anxiety, fear, distress, depression, and insomnia. We’ve seen a dramatic rise in alcohol and drug use, PTSD, and domestic violence. It hasn’t been studied yet, but the big fear is that suicides will spike as we continue to move forward. Basically, this disease has profound psychological and social effects. And that includes you.
Nearly a third of Americans are reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety and a federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress had a more than 1000% increase in calls compared to the same time last year!
In a Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking poll conducted in July, 53% of adults in the US reported that their mental state was negatively affected because of their worry and stress over COVID-19. In March, that number was at 32%. As this wears on, we’re getting worn out!
I’ve talked before about our emotional bandwidth. Basically, this is the “room” you have in your brain to handle all the things happening in your world. Everyone’s plate was already full to bursting and this has put it over the edge.
What’s Pandemic Fatigue or Corona Burnout?
There have been a LOT of intense emotions flying around since shelter-in-place started back in March. You’ve no doubt been on the roller coaster of emotions from fear and frustration to anxiety and loneliness or feeling isolated.
But the symptom I see the most? An overall feeling of being exhausted. Sometimes that’s a physical lethargy and sometimes it’s a type of inner weariness.
Some of the symptoms you may (or may not) have noticed include:
- Feeling “snappy” or nervous
- Being more easily frustrated and impatient
- Eating or sleeping more (or less) than usual
- Drinking or using drugs more than usual
- A general lack of motivation (your get up and go has got up and went)
- Isolation and withdrawal from people
- Constant negative or racing thoughts
- Increases in symptoms related to a previously diagnosed mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, PTSD or your mood generally being unstable
Why is it so Bad?
So why is it so hard to be in this pandemic? Yes, there’s a lot going on but we’ve got toilet paper again and most of us have fallen into a certain rhythm. So what’s the deal?
The reason this sucks so bad and has us all feeling like we were in a drunken bar fight last night is largely because of your ancient hardwiring. You see, your brain HATES uncertainty and that’s all we’ve had for the last six months and, right now, there’s no end in sight.
Your brain hates ambiguity and uncertainty so much that, whenever it experiences it, it’ll make up all kinds of stories and will fill in the blanks (no matter how wrong), just to feel more certain!
- Boyfriend doesn’t respond to your text? It must be because he’s dead on the side of the road (or is that just Jewish girlfriends who think that?)
- Boss doesn’t smile when you greet her? It must be because you’re about to get fired (or is that only Jewish employees who think that?)
- Friend didn’t comment on or “like” the picture you posted? It must be because she now hates you and never wants to speak to you again. (Again, or is that just us Jewish friends who think that?)
Your brain generally jumps to some negative conclusion and assumes the worst before realizing that your boyfriend turned off his phone for a couple hours so he could concentrate on his work, and your boss was actually feeling sick this morning and your friend didn’t see your post yet.
To your brain, uncertainty equals danger. If your brain doesn’t know what’s around the corner, it can’t keep you safe and out of danger. When certainty is questioned, your lizard brain goes crazy, in an attempt to spur you to action and get you to safety.
In fact, the brain hates uncertainty so much that it would rather get an electric shock than be unsure!
In a study done in 2016, researchers explored how people reacted to being told they would either “definitely” get a painful electric shock or whether they would “probably” get that painful jolt.
And here’s the crazy thing they discovered: Participants who knew they’d definitely get the shock were measurably calmer and less agitated than the people who were told they only had a 50% chance of getting the shock!
In the same way, job uncertainty takes a greater toll on your health than actually losing the job!
Let’s Science This Out
So, your brain hates it, but why do you get that nervous or edgy feeling? It’s because of a tiny structure in your brain called your Locus Coeruleus or LC that tracks uncertainty in your brain.
When you’re in any kind of stressful situation, it gets activated and releases the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline). This release of norepinephrine is a stress signal and makes you feel “wired” or “on edge”.
When noradrenaline is released in the brain, it triggers the physical and behavioral responses to stress. Your heart and respiratory rates will increase, your blood will flow faster, your muscles will tense, and you’ll feel more alert or “wired.”
Yup – that’s a whole lot of biology working against you! No wonder you’re feeling like you’re feeling!
I know you’re hurting and I’m here to help. I’ve got five great ways to get you from exhausted and frustrated to calm and focused.
Here are my top 5 ways to stay calm and focused right now:
Tip #1: Start your day with intention.
Tip #2: Practice mindfulness throughout the day.
I’ve got a ton of stuff on mindfulness so if you want to learn more, check out how to make mindfulness a consistent habit.
Tip #3: Increase your optimism
One of the best ways to be able to tolerate more uncertainty is to increase your optimism level. Raising your optimism set point to balance your negativity bias shifts your brain to a more neutral state that anticipates both positive and negative outcomes more evenly. Now you’ve got a different choice and a calmer brain.
Tip #4: Take Care of the Low-Hanging Fruit.
Whenever I speak with clients about their anxiety or upset feelings, the first thing I do is ask questions to assess if the easy stuff is handled. There are some easy things you can do to ease yourself towards comfort and a sane mind.
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine which all aggravate anxiety and depression and can trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep.When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest. So get your butt to bed on time!
- Move your ass. Even a little bit of movement every day will help you feel good and maintain your health.
Tip #5: Think physical distance NOT social distance!
Relationships and social connections are the key to a happy life. Find ways to connect with others. Friends reduce our anxiety! (Or at least the calm ones do).
Also keep in mind who you allow in your inner circle. Who do you interact with most? Our emotions are contagious so others can make you feel fear and panic. In the same way, make sure that you’re not the one infecting others with a fearful mood.