This article was co-authored by Dr. Mary Ross and Ryan Ghorayeb
You may have experienced some of these thoughts about how things would go while you were at home with COVID-19:
- This won’t last that long;
- I might appreciate this break;
- I’ll get up early and stick to my routine;
- I’ll exercise more and cook more healthy meals;
- I’ll start that new house project;
- I’ll relish in all the free time to get my de-cluttering done;
- That long leisurely walk with my dog will be great;
However, here’s what the reality may have been:
- It feels like groundhog day;
- I’ll just sleep in, then have a snack;
- Did I walk the dog?
- Another zoom meeting;
- Did I shower?
- Netflix; glass of wine; more Netflix; snack; wine;
- I feel like I have done nothing with my day;
- When is this going to end?
- What if it doesn’t end?
- What am I going to do next?
Whichever scenario you relate to, it’s likely that you are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by the sheer number of thoughts. In fact, you are also likely wondering why these feelings translate beyond just the mental state, but have manifested in the form of physically being more tired than usual. In these unique and sometimes challenging times, it is important to apply compassion and understanding – and to be kind and forgiving to yourself to help mitigate your stress.
The added impact of COVID-19 on our stress levels
Life throws us challenges on a regular basis and, for the most part, we human beings have an amazing physiological and emotional capacity to manage. Our bodies and brains act in a unified effort to activate or recover as different experiences occur. However, sometimes the magnitude and/or the number of stressors coming at us overwhelms our capacity, and we struggle in the process. Unfortunately, no matter how well we are doing, living through a pandemic is a pretty big stressor!
The past few months have brought an incredible number of new challenges. For some of us this has resulted in things like chronic worry about the health of loved ones, new fears about daily tasks, physical isolation and loss of connection, working from home or losing work, and much more. We are constantly bombarded by signals of danger from confusing and scary messages in the news, people wearing masks, people not wearing masks, closed doors, and other restrictions. Many of us have also lost our usual means of coping with physical distancing due to the closure of gyms and neighbourhood gathering places.
It is, therefore, especially important to acknowledge that the stress on our systems may be higher than we realize. This is not all bad, as some stress can inspire us to change, overcome obstacles, reach goals and help others. However, when our brains and bodies are hit with too many stressors, we can experience something called “allostatic load.” This refers the wear and tear on our bodies when we are exposed to repeated and chronic stress. Not surprisingly, this load can leave us feeling tired and fatigued.
How to stay positive and replenish your energy
Give yourself a break
One of the most important things we can do right now is to cut ourselves some slack. This means lightening up our expectations and self-imposed pressures. Beating yourself up for feeling tired and less productive than you think you should be only worsens the problem by increasing your stress. It is okay, and even normal, to be struggling right now. Be kind to yourself and do the best that you can do given the circumstances – one step and day at a time.
Find a routine
As previously mentioned, everyone has had their daily routine interrupted by the coronavirus. The best thing that we can do is not to dwell on how much better we would feel if we could continue our old routine, but to find a new routine that is healthy enough. Find a schedule that is do-able and use it for some structure and purpose to take positive steps forward. Just make sure to watch your expectations and step back the pressure. Try downloading this daily well-being checklist for a gentle reminder to practice both self-compassion, and essential tasks daily.
Treat yourself right and love and connect to others
Exercising, eating healthy foods, and scheduling social time (calls or park visits) with your family and friends are three ways to address your fatigue. But again, this is not about trying to do any of these things perfectly. This is about doing your best to take some positive steps by getting your body moving, trying to meet some basic healthy nutritional requirements, and connecting with others.
It is particularly important to connect socially. Talking, saying what you feel honestly to someone you trust and feel warmth for, is vital. Helping others can also be a powerful antidote. This might include calling someone you know who is vulnerable, or helping a neighbour. However, you should still make time to do something nice for yourself and take breaks from all the “to do’s” and “should’s.” Intentionally do some things that you find calming or soothing, even if that is watching a show on Netflix.
We are all trying to stay positive and find a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. The unprecedented circumstances that we are facing are difficult to cope with, and it is understandable that we are all feeling more stressed than usual. This stress is leading to fatigue, and it is crucial that you give yourself a break. Sometimes, fighting through fatigue is the appropriate response, while other times treating yourself to some relaxation time is the suitable thing to do. No matter how you choose to respond to your fatigue, one thing that we can all do is cut ourselves some slack and not get too down if we are not living up to our expectations of productivity during this time.
If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness that are leading to anxiety and depression, there are numerous resources available to you. Some examples include:
Your family physician, local psychologist, and your care team at our clinic are also here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out or book an appointment if you are feeling stressed, tired, or need someone to lend an ear.