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The valid reason why you’re constantly tired from doing nothing

While some productive sorts might have been upskilling during #isolife, for many it just made us feel tired… so very tired.  So why are we all so exhausted? Sarah Tarca asks Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno to explain. 

As we finally start to ease out of the COVID-19 restrictions and into a new kind of normal, we’re all collectively starting to exhale. But is that an exhale of relief – or exhaustion?

Because, although you may have been moving slower than usual during this time (and spending obscene amounts of time in your PJs) you’re probably feeling more tired that ever before. And it turns out, there’s a good reason for that.

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Why we all so tired in isolation?

Let’s just take a minute to step back from the situation here: in most of our lifetimes, this has been the single biggest (or only!) pandemic we’ve had to deal with. And for a lot of Aussies, this has probably been the thing that has impacted your day-to-day life the most. It’s been huge, it’s been scary, and there’s been a hell of a lot of change in a short period of time.

“We are all experiencing something we have never come across before and as such we are struggling to find the coping mechanisms to help us manage. When we slow things down we often get the chance to check in with ourselves and realise the toll our lives have taken on us,” says Nancy.

All these big changes, and the lack of routine can (not surprisingly) leave us feeling pretty stressed. And guess what happens when we stress? Our energy gets zapped.

The link between stress and exhaustion

As it happens, anxiety and stress require quite a lot of energy. “The more heightened we become the larger the come down and so we feel more tired without feeling like we are doing much,” says Nancy. And it makes sense. Ever had a particularly gnarly deadline or an epic fight with your partner? You know how it makes you want to immediately have a nap? That’s the comedown. Living in a constant state of high anxiety and fear as we have been in the last months has only exacerbated those feelings.

But the exhaustion is also physiological. It’s a reaction caused by our sympathetic nervous system – the system that allows our body to (involuntarily) respond to stressful situations. It does this by kicking off our flight-or-flight response, and releasing cortisol.

Nancy explains, “cortisol is a hormone that is released in our brains when we are stressed and can cause fatigue if in large supplies. And because we have many stressors in our life right now we are feeling flat, unmotivated and extra tired.”

The unexpected side effects of COVID-19

It’s not just the stress that’s making you feel this way either. Part of it has to do with the lack of routine and structure that we’ve all been facing too. “We work more effectively when we have control of our lives and are able to schedule things in that we find pleasurable and important,” says Nancy. Adversely, when we can’t do the things that bring us joy – or have that human connection – it only compounds the irritability.

Adding to that the limited exercise and poor/ little light quality also greatly affects our mood. In fact, in some parts of the world, Seasonal Affective Disorder (which has to do with light), affects up to ten percent of the population. “Being in natural light allows our bodies to stick to their natural circadian rhythms, so that they know when to feel alert and energetic and when to feel sleepy,” says Nancy.

And of course we all know how important exercise is for our mood, not only because it helps us release anxious energy (and deplete cortisol levels to feel more calm), but also to release serotonin – the “feel-good” hormone. And let’s face it; we all need more of that in our lives.

The feel-good plan:

Want to get out of the slump? Nancy gives us these feel-better tips:

  • Spend more time outside in the sun and fresh air
  • Open up windows and sit in well lit areas when working from home
  • Exercise regularly to exert anxious energy and improve serotonin in your brain
  • Talk about how you’ve been feeling, and check in with your support system
  • Work on positive sleep hygiene
  • Don’t over caffeinate
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness daily

More essential coronavirus reading:

Read up on what the government lockdown means for you, understand why Aussie doctors are up arms, be aware of the ‘hidden symptom’ of COVID-19 carriers, prepare yourself for the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, get your sweat on at home with these free online workouts before reviving your over-washed hands with this DIY balm, and then console yourself with these unexpected joys.