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Why do we feel so tired – we’ve done nothing for a year!?

We made it through 2020! It’s been an extremely tough year, of change and uncertainty, missing friends, family and celebrations, and even losing loved ones. Not to mention our personal lives and work lives combined, the schools and pubs closed and our ‘normal’ routines were totally upended. We did it, we made it, 2021 is here!

Are you shattered? Because we certainly are!

In a very short time, we became restricted in what we could do, and our day-to-day lives were upheaved, along with the additional stress and fear induced by the virus itself. It was a great deal of change to adapt to, on top of maintaining our usual responsibilities and coping with the uncertainty across the world. But that was way back in March, so why are we still feeling the exhaustion?

Well, the mental strain of the pandemic has definitely taken its toll on many of us. Being under lockdown and restrictions during a health pandemic is draining. We might expect to feel tired after exerting a lot of energy but many of our usual activities, hobbies, or exercise routines don’t exist as they did, and we are still feeling the fatigue. Although we might feel like we’re doing very little, we are facing psychological stressors – our sources of stress – which can still mount up to a physiological response that takes up energy. The increased fear and anxiety can mean our bodies go into fight or flight mode. A perfectly normal response, but one that causes a high state of alert, and staying in this high state can really deplete our energy levels. This is why we feel tired when we are facing financial or health concerns, or even when we have to adapt to unfamiliar ways of doing things, such as life under lockdown.

As we’re living through this period of heightened anxiety over our health, vulnerable loved ones, finances, and job security, it’s not surprising that our sleep has been affected. Many of us have been having weird, vivid dreams, our sleep routines might have changed, or we might just be struggling to drift off at all. Anxiety feeds on uncertainty, so it's thriving right now. That combined with new or changed routines, means we may be going to bed later, having a lie-in or napping during the day can cause our sleep clocks, or circadian rhythm, to be disrupted which in turn causes sleep problems. And not getting enough or good quality sleep is obviously going to affect our energy levels.

“People often feel exhausted but struggle to get the good quality sleep they need to stop feeling so shattered. This means they try and try to get sleep and sleep becomes harder and harder to get. They are tired but wired and this is the worst state to be in to get the sleep we need.” James Wilson, AKA The Sleep Geek

And let’s not forget the monotony of lockdown. We are living the same day over and over like Groundhog Day. Although the extra time at home has led some of us to have more time to exercise or keep up with housework, there’s not much else going on is there? And for those who haven’t seen sparkly kitchens and bathrooms or achieved their fitness goals – who can blame us right now. Believe it or not, boredom can make us feel more tired. As it turns out, the part of the brain that influences motivation and pleasure also affects our drowsiness and left unstimulated, the brain will send signals to fall asleep. Annoyingly, these signals are so powerful that we can’t tell the difference between boredom-induced sleep and regular sleep. When we are feeling so bored, we seek stimulation, and right now much of it is from our digital devices. But we need to remain conscientious about our digital use to ensure we are not stuck in a cycle of seeking stimulation, receiving overstimulation from technology, and creating habits to maintain this level of overstimulation to prevent boredom. A sneaky trap many of us will have fallen into.

There are a few things we can do to increase our energy levels during this time:


1. Get some structure – we’ve said it before, we’ve read it before. Having structure allows us to take back some control which helps us maintain a positive mindset, staving off the panic and fear and keeping us going with things to do – even if it’s not a lot.


2. Get that dopamine – exerting some physical energy will boost our mood, increase our energy levels, and give us something to do. But it will also tire out the body meaning when it comes to bedtime, we will find it easier to drift off. And it doesn’t have to be exercise, relight the physical energy in the bedroom to get the dopamine fix – we have the time!


3. Get outside – whether it’s for exercise or to socialise, some fresh air, especially in these winter temperatures, is a great way to refresh our mind and re-energise. The fresh oxygen actually reduces lactic build up (one of the causes of fatigue while cooped up inside breathing in the same air all day) so go get some, even if it’s some deep breaths through an open window on a break from work.


4. Get some support – we’re all experiencing heightened emotions right now and for some of us, it may feel like too much to cope with. We’re not alone, and there is professional help available from GPs to therapists, and many are offering online or video sessions through the lockdown. We all need a little help from time to time.

 

Reality Reminder: Yes, we can make an effort to do all of these things to increase our energy levels – but let’s be real, finding that motivation when we’re tired, isn’t as easy. When motivation strikes embrace it, and if we can’t muster the energy at all just have a low-key day, or even a day off – that‘s ok too!


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