Mental Health

Pandemic fatigue: feeling more exhausted than ever? You’re not alone

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Lauren Geall
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Nine months after the coronavirus pandemic first took off in the UK, many of us are feeling more exhausted than ever. So what’s contributing to this drop in our energy levels, and what can we do about it? We asked an expert to explain. 

Remember when we thought the pandemic would be over in a matter of months?

Flash forward nine months later, and not only is the pandemic not over, but the end is still a long, long way away. Although the vaccine rollout may already be underway, we’re still facing several months of restrictions before any semblance of normality returns. And that’s not forgetting the likelihood of a post-Christmas lockdown in January.

With all of this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that so many of us are feeling more than tired of the coronavirus pandemic and the havoc it’s brought to our lives. It’s a phenomenon experts are calling ‘pandemic fatigue’ – after so long spent living with the threat of coronavirus looming over our lives, it’s only natural that so many of us are feeling the strain.

However, this feeling of burnout in response to the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions may only be part of the reason why we’re feeling so exhausted. According to Lucinda Gordon Lennox, a psychotherapist and trauma specialist at The Recovery Centre, there are also plenty of knock-on effects of the pandemic which could be contributing to our lowered energy levels.

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“The expectation around Christmas is that of sparkles and joy and excitement, but because of the pandemic, we’re being told no. And that can be very disappointing – an emotion which can feel very exhausting,” she explains.

“There’s also the continued social isolation,” Gordon Lennox continues. “As social creatures, we have this thing called the vagus nerve, which, when stimulated, sends a message to the body that it’s time to relax and destress.

“When we see people all the time, the ventral vagal – a part of the vagus nerve – is automatically kicked into operation, and it makes us feel better. But when we’re not getting those social connections, without us even noticing, the ventral vagal actually slows down and what we call the dorsal vagal kicks in, which can make us feel low.”

A woman looking out a window
Pandemic fatigue: the isolation of the last nine months continues to take its toll.

With our vagus nerve receiving so little stimulation and the added pressures of Christmas and new restrictions, it’s hardly surprising so many of us are suffering with our mental and physical energy levels at the moment. But alongside trying to weather some of the stress of the pandemic and finding time to establish social connections where possible, what can we do to help ourselves recharge?

For Gordon Lennox, the answer is as simple as treating ourselves to a little TLC. “Everyone has their own thing – for some, it might be as simple as getting under their duvet and watching Netflix all day. Getting outside in nature, going for a walk and breathing can also be super helpful. After all, how many of us have actually taken our holiday days this year?”

She also suggests “looking inwards” and spending some time with ourselves – whether that’s by engaging in a bit of self-care, meditating or taking part in exercise like yoga. However, no matter what you decide to do, Gordon Lennox says there’s one important thing to remember.

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“It’s really important that this is not seen as a chore or something we have to do,” she explains. “The idea of healing is a journey, and this process should be about asking yourself ‘what’s the most loving thing I can do for myself today?’ – and that might look different everyday.”

Although dealing with the continued stress of the pandemic will inevitably take its toll, it seems that showing ourselves kindness – and continuing to question what we can do to love ourselves on a daily basis – really can make all the difference. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.

If you are struggling with your mental health as a result of loneliness, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.