The Biggest Cause of Fatigue Isn't Overwork, It's Monotony
Are you feeling fatigued but don't know who, or what, to blame? In theory, you should be brimming with energy! On paper, you have everything you need to be living your best life! But you're tired. More so than ever.
Just because you can't point to work-related burnout as the root cause of your newfound fatigue state, it doesn't mean you're imagining things. COVID-19 has brought entire populations indoors, removing people from the routines that once kept them busy (perhaps too busy to notice how tired they were, but that's another story). If you've lived some part of your 2020 in lockdown, it's no wonder you feel fatigued. It's called lockdown fatigue, and it's real.
Lockdown fatigue looks like this:
- sleep cycle out of whack
- waking up groggy
- perpetual worry, stress and/or anxiety
- increased screen time
- lack of physical activity
- lack of routine/structure
- lack of accountability
- lack of certainty
- lack of motivation
You might have assumed that with so much time spent off of the proverbial hamster wheel that you might be more energised and motivated to maintain healthy habits. Instead, you are noticing less stamina and constant cannot-be-bothered reactions to tasks big and small. Consider the dot-points above: do they seem like ingredients for a healthy, motivated, energised existence?
Ian Hickie is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Sydney and a senior fellow at the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Writing for The Conversation, he says the behavioural consequences of "lockdown fatigue" are becoming more obvious. The mental health risks associated with lockdown are serious, and are especially dangerous for anyone with pre-existing mental health or addiction issues.
"The real drivers of these substantive health risks are job losses, social disconnection and, for young people, the availability of support for ongoing education and training," Hickie writes. But when the monotony of lockdown meets the anxiety about the future—when will it end, when will we have a vaccine, when will life return to normal—it in and of itself can be dangerous, even without those more tangible causes that you point to.
Two activities that generally help with fatigue are exactly the two activities activities prohibited during lockdown: spending more time outside, spending more time socialising with friends. Spend long enough in lockdown and you might decide the risks of breaking physical distancing rules are worth the rewards, but ultimately is it not better to be safe than sorry? Instead of driving off the cliff, so to speak, like Thelma & Louise at the end of that excellent film, it's important to simply go easy on yourself and the situation in general, says Dr Tim Jones.
"It's really important for people, if they are feeling frustrated or fatigued by what's going on, to be able to look at themselves with a little bit of kindness," he told Dr Evelyn Lewin for Body & Soul earlier this year—simple advice that still stands. "I think it's really important to have that attitude of self-kindness and if we are feeling that we're starting to grate on each other, to make the most of going for a short walk or taking a little bit of time out."
Be kind to yourself, and others, and be assured by the fact that you are alone even though it may feel like it. For many people, to varying degrees, 2020 has been an incomparable hellscape, during which merely existing feels like trying to run through quicksand. There is no instant fix when faced with the monotony of lockdown, all you can do is look after yourself.
Consider the advice of experts on dealing with fatigue, and try to replace some of that comfort food with fatigue-fighting foods. FaceTime with friends and family. Why not give yourself an informal at-home mental health plan? Black Dog Institute have created an easy mental health checklist (plus a handy template) that will help you check in with yourself once a week.
If you are concerned about your health, please contact a medical professional. If you or someone you know needs help, phone National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255.