Are You Suffering COVID Exhaustion?
Are you feeling more tired than you can recall? Are you just feeling flat and done in?
It's certainly something many, perhaps even the majority, of my clients are reporting currently. Oddly enough, a lot don't even make the connection. They arrive with heightened stress, or struggling to control their drinking, or feeling just what seems unaccountably down and worn out. Well, it's not unaccountable, actually. And it does seem to help when I reassure them that there's a really good explanation: COVID exhaustion. It's not just you, I might say: many of us, myself included, are feeling it. And it's OK to feel it.
I'm not talking about the symptoms of the virus, though exhaustion can be one of them. You might want to get that checked out. No, I'm talking about 'pandemic fatigue.' It's a form of emotional exhaustion, sometimes called 'burn out,' recognised by such respected authorities as the Mayo Clinic and the World Health Organisation.
Here's four steps to dealing with it.
Firstly, simply even knowing that it's a thing can be a help. So acknowledging that you're feeling down, exhausted, burnt out is actually a good thing, and better than just 'soldiering on.' (I'll let you into a trade secret: therapists call this normalisation, which is to say, reassuring people that what they're experiencing isn't stupid or bad or wrong or even unusual.)
If you're suffering something, as well as beating yourself up for 'being stupid' or being 'weak' because you can't overcome it, then guess what? Now you're actually suffering twice over... and you don't need to! Drop the self-laceration. It's not helping, is it?
Take away: it's a thing. You're not alone. You're not lazy, or going mad. (Well, you might be, for all I know. But you're going to need better evidence than this.)
Secondly, knowing that it's a thing gives you permission to be kind to yourself.
- Hang on, hang on! I know. Before we go further, I do know very well that COVID has inflicted and continues to inflict terrible suffering on millions of people, and you may very well be among them. And I'm sorry. Separation from loved ones, and even worse when they really, really need you or you really, really need them, such as when there is illness, or a death, is just about unbearable. Losing your income or having it under constant threat of loss is a terrifying experience. Having to close down a business you've built, perhaps over many years, is heartbreaking. Not being able to pay wages, or having to lay people off, is a terrible blow for any employer with a heart. And if you are experiencing that kind of pain, then being told to be kind to yourself can really give you the irrits. So forgive me. But you might be surprised how many people are bearing up under that kind of burden, and are then frustrated or even angry with themselves that they're not doing some other things that, frankly, can just jolly well wait.
Think about it this way, perhaps. If you're struggling along carrying a big, heavy backpack up a hill that never seems to end, then don't be surprised if have to take a break for a while. If the living room's on fire, don't beat yourself up because you're not renovating the kitchen like you said you would! So if you need a break - and you can take one - then do so, and don't guilt-trip yourself. Only you know how you're going, so the ill-informed opinion of others is pretty much just noise. Are they experts? Do they know about this stuff? No? Well then you don't have to take what they have to say seriously, do you?
Take away: if you feel exhausted, you're exhausted. Listen to your body, and if you need a mental health day or week and can take it, do so without guilt or shame.
Thirdly, prioritise. To return to that bizarre image of the living room on fire and the unrenovated kitchen: what really matters right now? If you haven't got around to writing that book you always said you'd write if you ever had the time, or if you haven't done anything yet about getting out of your dead-end job with the micromanaging boss (yeah I know, right?)... well, that can wait. Or maybe it can't. Thing is, you need to pick and choose. Work out what's really going to make a difference to you right now, and put as much spare energy as you have available into that. And let the other things wait for a while. If you try and do everything, you'll end up doing... not very much at all.
Take away: Work out what one or two things will make the biggest difference, and put your limited energy into them.
Finally, it helps to share. Talk to someone. If you're lucky enough to have a friend who's a good listener, who's a little wise and whose take on things you respect, then you're lucky indeed and you need to pick up the phone and arrange a coffee. (Not that judgy one, you know, the one who's always talking about herself. She's as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.) As well, or instead, go to your GP. Or you could always give yours truly a call and we can have a chat to see whether you think I might be able to help. Book your call - it's free.
I think of seeing somebody to work on this stuff as pretty much like getting a personal trainer or a physio. If you had neck or shoulder pain you wouldn't hesitate, would you, to give Ashlee or Daniel or Jaki at Contagious Enthusiasm a call on 9502 0650 and get it sorted out? Same thing. If you're struggling, body or soul, there's help available and you don't have to do it alone.
So, to summarise: it's real, it's a thing. Be kind to yourself. Prioritise and don't try and do everything. And don't feel you've got to keep it to yourself.
We will get through this. Mask up, get vaccinated, check in everywhere you go, don't watch too much news if it gets you down, get outside and get some fresh air, a little of what you fancy does you good, and help out where you can.