Australia has been in lockdown, on and off, for close to a year and a half now. March 2020 has been an incredibly long (and seemingly never-ending?) month and if you’re flagging, you’re not alone.
Our brains simply cannot cope with remaining in the same place, doing the same thing over and over again. We struggle to form memories, it throws our sleep off, and it makes us all just a little more on-edge than usual.
Tiredness is another symptom of lockdown and if you’re feeling tired all the time, rest assured, so is everyone else who can’t leave the house except for essential purposes.
Scientists and psychologists have identified the condition, known as lockdown fatigue, pretty early on in the pandemic. It’s our bodies natural response to being in a prolonged stressful situation and it doesn’t mean you’re not coping or that you’re somehow different to the rest of us who have all been put into what is a very unnatural position.
Contrary to popular belief, mood typically follows behaviour, not the other way around. If you’re struggling with lockdown and the tiredness it’s causing, here’s an explainer for just what the hell is going on and how you can manage it a little bit better.
What is lockdown fatigue?
Lockdown fatigue has been described as a state of exhaustion caused by the long-term effects of COVID-19 and the changes it has caused to every aspect of our lives.
While lockdown feels monotonous, it’s actually a series of seemingly unending stresses and frustrations. Hearing the news of rising case numbers, and extension of the lockdown beyond expected timelines, increasing the uncertainty of when you might be able to see friends and family again.
Couple this with a lack of routine and a denial of all of the things that normally make us feel good and you have a pretty good recipe for ongoing stress and anxiety.
Research has shown that tiredness can be caused by such psychological states as we deal with the mental strain that is required to keep on top of our daily lives. It is therefore the restrictions associated with the pandemic itself that are taking a physical toll on our bodies.
Dr Sarita Robinson, principal lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, explains that strain comes not only from physical exertion, but mental exertion too.
“We expect to feel tired when we have been on a run or have completed an exercise class. However, high levels of mental effort and increased anxiety can also make us tired too,” she says.
“This is because when we face psychological stressors, our bodies still mount a physiological response — we can enter fight or flight mode — and this takes up energy. So our heart rate increases and we start to feel more alert and energised. However, keeping the body in this high state of alert really takes its toll on our energy levels.”
If you’ve ever felt drained after an argument with your partner or during a period of significant financial concern, this is why.
That mental strain can also very easily have an impact on our sleep as well. While you might think that getting an earlier night or having a bit of a lie in might help, the truth is that when it comes to sleep, quality matters more than quantity.
Darren Mansfield, from the Epworth Sleep Centre, says “the general view is people are sleeping worse in the lockdown”.
While we might be physically doing less, the poor quality sleep we are getting due to the inability to relax while COVID measures are in place means that we are being run down from both sides.
What does lockdown fatigue feel like?
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has written that lockdown fatigue can be expressed as any of the following:
• Short temper with outbursts of frustration, anger and irritability
• Anxiety and fear
• Physical exhaustion and burnout
• Difficulty focusing, prioritising, problem-solving and making decisions
• Lack of motivation and reduced interest in previously enjoyed activities
It can also make you resent the health orders in place and promotes negative behaviours like non-compliance, over or under eating, and an increased reliance on alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.
Negative thought patterns like routinely telling yourself ‘I’m over this’, ‘I can’t see an end to it all’, ‘I’m so tired, I’ve just got no energy or motivation’, ‘It’s getting harder and harder to get out of bed each morning’, and ‘I can’t stand this anymore’ are also common symptoms.
Overall, a feeling of exhaustion throughout the day is typical due to the body’s reaction to long-term stress.
How to deal with lockdown fatigue
The APS write that “grieving the old normal” is a nautral response to lockdown measures and that it’s important to allow yourself time to adjust to any big lifestyle changes.
Psychologists recommend that improving your daily structure, your excersise routine, your sleep, and your nutrition are big factors that will help alleviate some of those burnout feelings.
The days all kind of merge into one so having things to look forward to can be a big help to break this up. Whether that’s as simple as making sure you eat meals at the same time every day, get to bed, or do something active at a certain time each day, all of it is going to help provide some structure.
You’re probably sick of Netflix at this point, so getting involved in a new live show that comes out weekly on TV can be a good way to have something simple in the diary to look forward to. The same goes for a new album from a favourite band, a new video game, or a new film on the horizon.
While you might not be able to leave the house very often, getting together with a mate for a walk is another way to put something in the calendar that will help break up the week.
If you’re struggling for ideas in lockdown, we’ve got a list of 33 different ideas to bring some life to your house in lockdown.
It sort of goes without saying that exercise is such a huge benefit to your mental health. While the gyms are locked down, even doing something as simple as a morning yoga routine, a walk, or a run, can get your endorphins going and help you feel more relaxed. Exercise also has the added benefit of tiring you out so that you’re likely to sleep better.
Nutritionist Jane Clark has said that “being in nature boosts our health and wellbeing.
“Exercising outdoors — whether that’s going for a walk or a HIIT session or in your back garden — is a real wake-up for mind and body.”
While you might feel too exhausted to exercise, the benefits of even half an hour of walking five days a week are huge and will really help.
Although your quality of sleep may be affected by the ongoing stress of lockdown, it’s still important to try and maximise the hours you’re getting.
Setting up a good night time routine is vital. That means no technology for an hour before bed and calming activities before sleep. Try reading a book instead of scrolling on Instagram. If you haven’t got an alarm clock, set your alarm on your phone an hour before bed time and place it on the other side of the room so you won’t be tempted to touch it. This also has the added benefit of meaning you’ll have to walk over and turn it off in the morning and thus leave your bed.
Associate Professor Sean Cain has said that while we might have lamented the morning commute to work, it did have the benefit of exposing us to natural light in the morning.
“When we’re in bright light we tend to feel in a better mood,” he said.
“Having less of that will result in a lower mood. Even without the pandemic, people are spending 90% of their time indoors — that can only be greater now.”
Your bodies circadian rhythm, the internal clock that tells you when to wake up and go to sleep, functions on light. Too much in the evening can leave you feeling wide awake while not enough in the morning can have you feeling sluggish. Ensuring you keep the house, and your phone, dim in the evenings and opening the curtains wide when you wake up is key.
It’s easy to fall back on food to make us feel better in the pandemic. After all, why don’t you deserve that choccy biccie or donut? You’ve had a stressful day/week/month/year.
Relying on sugary foods for a pick-me-up is not a great long term strategy. Not only does it have extensive implications for your physical health, your mental health too is at risk from the up-and-down crashes of flooding your system with sugar.
It’s important to eat a range of foods to boost your iron levels as these are crucial for energy. Iron can be found in red meat, green vegetables, and fortified foods like breakfast cereals.
Try to eat wholegrain when going for starchy foods as these have more fibre which contributes to gut health.
Finally, make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water too as this is essential for cognitive function as well as overall health.
Music can be incredibly uplifting. Psychologists have shown that the music you listen to tends to dictate your mood which means that although you may just want to listen emo indie rock and Bon Iver while you stare out the window, that’s probably not going to help.
Try listening to something that has the energy you want, even if you don’t feel like it at the time. Fast paced, motivating tracks can help bring on those familiar feelings of getting down on the dancefloor and bring you out of whatever dip you might find yourself in.
If you’re particularly missing live music, tracking down some live performances of your favourite artists can be a great way to keep the vibe alive. You’ll be dancing away and singing along in no time.