It does feel as if we’re taking part, unwittingly and unwillingly, in the largest psychological experiment in history. Unwittingly … so we may not be fully cognisant of the potential for psychological impact. Unwillingly – we are not in control of the situation and cannot act at will, have no agency.
In my coaching practice, which has taken a knock but which, I’m delighted to say, also continues, I’m noticing exhaustion as a fairly common thread across my clients, often accompanied by a sense of demotivation, of feeling ‘flat’. I’ve experienced it myself, in fact I felt as if I was barely functioning on one particular day last weekend.
Let’s just ponder for a second what we are all dealing with as human beings right now, whether we recognise it or not:
- Our routines have changed
- We are, probably, working in a new environment
- We have been forcibly distanced from our colleagues and our social networks
- We are inside most of the day
- Experiencing fear of illness and loss
- Actually experiencing illness and loss
- Staring at screens, using technology much more than before, is our way of working
- People who live on their own risk feeling isolated
- People living with others risk feeling claustrophobic
This has to be having an impact, consciously or subconsciously.
Research shows that exhaustion can, of course, have psychological roots just as it can be caused by physical activity. It follows that experiencing the psychological strain associated with Covid-19 and the lockdown could be at the root of this extreme fatigue. Add to that the anxiety we are all facing and the bereavement that surrounds us and it also follows that perhaps it would be more surprising if we were not exhausted.
A period of adjustment
Some of it can quite possibly be attributed to a period of adjustment. We’re all racing through our own versions of the (in)famous change curve, aren’t we? But it’s good news, in part. Periods of adjustment come to an end.
We can all support ourselves by applying structure and routine to our days, just as we had before everything changed. We can try to exercise at the same time; hopefully most of us can find a way of socialising each day; we could stop what we’re doing and listen to some music, or meditate, for fifteen minutes at the same time each day; we can pick up the phone to loved ones or colleagues at the end of the day, avoiding Zoom/Skype/Teams to avoid exacerbating that over-use of technology; we can make sure there actually is an end of the day, creating boundaries between work and home life; we can work to ensure we are not ‘always on’.
After the period of adjustment, the longer term conditions within which we are going to be living and working are still hard to predict. So let’s add uncertainty into the mix.
Sleep and those dreams
The thing is, those of us who are on the face of it sleeping well, a quantity of hours, may not actually be enjoying the quality of sleep that we need. I’m finding my dreams themselves to be exhausting. Mariella Frostrup, writing in the Guardian, summed it up well: “I’m getting more sleep than usual but I’m not sure it’s what you’d describe as restful as my mind relentlessly pounds the pavements of my past.”
Many are waking up to this phenomenon and, as you can see in this article, there are psychological reasons for it. In summary, our minds are just trying to make sense of this very strange reality.
What can we, therefore, do on top of the creation of new structures? My mind turns to good old-fashioned self-soothing activities. Find a way, for example, of protecting your hobby time. I love street photography (I hope you like my work too…maybe looking at someone else’s photography can be relaxing for you?) It isn’t possible right now so, instead, I took some photos of the sky (see above) and of a few things around the house then fiddled around with the shots on Lightroom.
What are your self-soothing activities? A very long bath? Listening, really listening, to your favourite music? Baking? Reading the book you’ve always wanted to read? Looking at the moon and the stars at night? Stroking your pet? Listening to the radio in bed? Eating your favourite food, mindfully? Enjoying every drop of a single glass of wine? Meditating? Yoga? You will know what works for you or you can set out to find it.
And please give yourself a break. There isn’t going to be a test on “how much you achieved during the lockdown”. There’s no obligation to do anything that you don’t want to do. Your physical and mental health are the priority here – ignore those rather misjudged tweets coercing you into being “a more disciplined version” of yourself. What nonsense. Be kind to yourself, I’d say.
And the cures for exhaustion? Well if that was easy we’d have all done it. But here are a few thoughts:
Using some of these ideas, protect your sleep. Remember that this situation will pass, in time. It really will. Avoid adding to the pressure…practice existing hobbies rather than suddenly aiming to learn something from scratch. Set boundaries. Watch a box-set. Do nothing. That’s right, sometimes just do nothing. Drink less caffeine and eat less refined sugar. Top up your Vitamin D, preferably by sitting in the sun if you can. And your Vitamin C. Drink lots of water. Go for that walk/run/ride. Practice high quality breathing. Cut down on social media and news channels. Connect with nature.
And finally…if you can find 30-45 minutes, try this. I commend it to you: https://www.everyoneok.be
My best wishes