As the challenges of 2020 drag on, many are left wondering “Why am I feeling more tired now, why am I not adapting better to this situation?”
Our bodies are complex systems with amazing built-in and automatic responses designed to maximise our chances of survival in a dangerous world. These are primitive responses that have changed very little over thousands of years, despite the environment we live in having changed dramatically in that time. Many people have heard of the fight or flight response, although there is also a lesser known third option: freeze. It is not just a physical threat that can trigger this response, a psychological threat can also trigger it. Similarly, our resulting reaction – to fight, flee (flight) or freeze – may also emerge as a psychological reaction as opposed to a physical one. When we are living in a constant state of assessing threat we start to experience problems such as fatigue; anxiety; an inability to think clearly, make effective decisions or focus on priorities; and reduced ability to mange our emotions effectively.
An emergency response system that is becoming more widely discussed at this time is known as “surge capacity”. Surge capacity refers to a complex combination of mental and physical responses, including the one mentioned above, designed to maximise our chance of survival in a crisis. Surge capacity is an energy intensive response designed for short term situations, for example, a natural disaster like an earthquake or cyclone, and cannot continue indefinitely. When depleted, this energy source needs to be renewed. This can be difficult to achieve in this situation of ongoing, chronic threat, and can require conscious effort.
What can we do to renew our energy in this ongoing state of chronic emergency?
- Stick to a routine. Our original routines may have undergone a major transformation this year, or disappeared altogether, but it is important to establish a new routine that works for you now. A routine can result in some behaviours becoming automatic, which reduces the metal load of constant decision making and can therefore conserve energy and reduce fatigue.
- Maintain contact with friends and loved ones. Having a support network can reduce feelings of isolation, and when isolated we tend to remain on higher alert for potential threats. This sounds great and easy in theory, but in reality, can raise issues of it’s own. Privacy for video calls can be difficult to achieve if there are other people living at home, and people may have conflicting priorities and schedules, for example, working around bedtime routines when there are small kids in the home. People also can start to withdraw when feeling anxious and depressed. Try and maintain contact in imaginative ways, such as establishing group chats, or having shorter conversations more frequently, for example, a quick call when going for a walk. Recognise the importance of maintaining contact, even if you do not really feel motivated to at the time.
- Eat regular meals and try and ensure most of them are healthy ones. The food we eat can affect our moods and emotions, as well as our sleep habits. Unwanted weight gain can also contribute to feelings of depression at this challenging time.
- Exercise. Maintaining a regular exercise routine can help renew our energy, burn off excess stress related hormones, help regulate our food intake and contribute to a better night’s sleep.
- Try to avoid using substances to cope, such as alcohol or caffeine. If this has already become a habit seek support to change this, as dependency on substances can add further issues to an already challenging time by affecting your health and personal relationships.
- Limit your exposure to news and social media. Do not feel you need to constantly monitor news headlines as the headlines often present us with feelings of renewed threat that our minds and bodies must then process. Try limiting your exposure to one or two sources of reliable news and doing so at a time that you have the ability to discuss – and therefore process – the news headlines with another person to reduce feelings of threat and anxiety.
- Try and schedule time to do something you enjoy.
- Stick to a regular sleep routine. Try to avoid adding physical exhaustion to the emotional and physical fatigue we are already experiencing. If you are having trouble sleeping, try watching an episode of a light-hearted sitcom right before going to bed, listen to some relaxing music or do a guided meditation.
- Practice problem solving. Problem solving helps address feelings of helplessness by giving us back a sense of control, even if it is just in small ways throughout the day.
- Manage your expectations. Go easy on yourself and the people around you and try and practice kindness consciously. If you need to, speak to a professional counsellor, having an objective and empathetic ear to really listen to you can make a significant difference in these difficult times.
* Originally published on venusempowered.com