We’ve been living in a pretty surreal world for more than 6 months now. Our lives have changed significantly and it’s hard to predict and plan for the future. This constant state of uncertainty is pretty exhausting and can impact our mental health and wellbeing. Even those of us who feel we are coping well are likely to feel moments of fatigue, or even grief. Thankfully, there are lots of things that we can do to boost our mood and feel more energised, in spite of our pandemic lethargy!
Change is constant and tiring
Work and home life have converged, resources have been reduced in some industries while others deal with increasing demand and other challenges. Plus, stress and anxiety levels have increased as a result of this pandemic.
For many of us, COVID-19 has meant longer working hours and less connection with others. And in our hyper-vigilant state and fast-paced digital worlds, we’re bombarded with constant dings and pings of information. Feeling popped at the end of the day? That’s possibly because Zoom meetings can take a toll.
When our brains are processing more and more information, it can overload our cognitive capacity. When we experience cognitive overload, we’re more likely to make mistakes and not be able to pay attention.
Feeling the burn
Prolonged fatigue and stress in the workplace, compounded by the pressure of a global pandemic, increases the risk of burnout. The World Health Organization officially classified “burnout” as a legitimate medical diagnosis, resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
Leaders across all sectors are increasingly recognising that chronic stress is a key area to address. As we approach Mental Health Month this October, more and more businesses are implementing proactive wellbeing programs and mental health support in their workplaces to manage stress positively.
As individuals, it’s important to speak openly about your feelings and ask for help when we need it. And it’s the responsibility of our leaders to listen and act.
Here are some practical steps you can take to manage your fatigue.
Find a new perspective
Firstly, start with managing your perspective on what is happening in the world around you. Appreciating the context and understanding and accepting our feelings helps us to manage them. Gaining perspective also creates the potential for us to be grateful for what we do have. Practising gratitude has been shown to support our mental health and wellbeing.
Reduce the problem space
When thinking about the future, it can be overwhelming to grasp all the things we can’t achieve or do right now. It’s a good idea to consider what is in your control – the problems that you can solve. This might include what you can achieve at work today, or how much exercise you can do between now and next week.
It can be helpful to mentally break down what’s ahead of you into parts and create achievable short-term goals. This is otherwise known as reducing the problem space which consists of the initial (current) state, the goal state, and all possible states in between. When we feel a huge gap between where we are and where we’d like to be, or a large problem space, our anxiety increases and our motivation levels dip. You might like to focus on your goals for today, this week or the month ahead, and find satisfaction as you reach them.
Create routine and rituals
With COVID-19, whether in lockdown or not, many of the regular (even mundane) things we do or like to do have been taken away. Simple things like getting dressed and going into the office, going to the cinema or catching up with friends at a local restaurant, have gone from our routines. This can cause anxiety and a sense of loss.
Some of us have found solace in creating new routines and rituals, which offer a helpful framework for us to organise information and keep calm and connected to our purpose and identity. You may like to introduce some simple rituals and breaks in your day to boost energy levels, such as:
- Regularly exercise at the same time each day – even just 20 minutes of brisk walking has been shown to boost your mood for up to 12 hours
- If you’re working, create a pre- and post-work ritual:
- Get dressed and put shoes on!
- If working from home, consider adding a fake commute – driving or walking to work at the start and end of your day to signal pause between work and home life
- Take a planned lunch break and connect with nature
- Keep your video meetings short to avoid digital fatigue
- Do walking meetings via phone to add more activity into your day
- Get up and stretch and look out the window at least once an hour
We may have more alone time with physical restrictions in place, but that’s not the same as feeling lonely. Managing our social connections with others is vital for our mental health and wellbeing – staying connected can help to boost your confidence and fight that fatigue feeling.
Find what works for you
What works for some may not work for others. That’s why you need a toolkit to draw on (hint: An ORANGES toolkit!). If you’d like to learn more about the science behind why you’re feeling the way you are, and a range of practical tools to help you (and those around you) to manage burnout and fatigue, join our special Mental Health Month webinar – Managing Burnout and Fatigue – on Wednesday 29 October.
If you are feeling consistently exhausted, it’s a good idea to visit your GP for a check-up. You may be experiencing a medical issue that goes beyond your general wellbeing and mental health. There are even some preliminary findings in the UK that people who’ve had COVID-19 are experiencing longer periods of fatigue and chronic fatigue. For all of us, it’s important to not overexert yourself physically or mentally and ensure you get rest and good quality sleep of 7-8 hours per night.
When it comes to managing your mental health or the health of those around you, there is a lot of support all around. You may be able to access counselling support through your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at work, or free call:
*This blog post is written for the general population and if you are concerned and need medical support, you should seek out professional advice.