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Pandemic Burnout: Between Exhaustion & Insomnia

At the moment I never know what the next day will bring. But one thing is certain: not a day goes by without me discovering a new kind of tiredness - exhausted but unable to sleep, extremely tired but excited, barely able to lift my head, sluggish, but ok. On top of that, everyone is slowly starting to make plans again, while most of the time I still wonder what will happen next. My best friend gave birth to a baby in January that I've only seen once. Her son has since grown into a tiny human being. It's already too big for the clothes I wanted to give him. Our pace of life is slowly accelerating: we had too much free time and now we don't seem to have enough of it. All of this planning around me only makes me more tired. Is burnout creeping up or do I have long COVID? "Are you still watching Grey's Anatomy?" Netflix asks me. Yes and no. This answer describes the limbo in which I find myself: too tired to go out, not tired enough to be able to sleep. My current life is no longer what it was before the pandemic: Back then, my circumstances demanded a lot from me. Now, however, I have to deal with ever-changing corona rules, devastating deaths, concerns for loved ones, social tensions, economic uncertainty and annoying Twitter debates, all while trying to figure out what a better world could and do to make plans for when our lives can go back to normal. But my mood is anything but unusual for the times we are currently living in: The pandemic had devastating effects on our well-being and mental health. At the beginning of this year, psychologists drew attention to the fact that more and more people were complaining that they felt drained from persistent stress and could no longer cope with the situation. Experts refer to this phenomenon as "pandemic burnout". We know that chronic fatigue can be the result of constant stress. Personally, I imagine it to be like an ultramarathon with no clear finish line, as opposed to a 100-meter sprint. Dr. Heather Sequeira While each of us has experienced the last year in different ways - depending on who we are and what we do How much money we have and how unlucky we have been - our bodies have processed the grief, anger, insecurity, and stress in a similar way. The clinical psychologist Dr. Linda Blair explains that we are all drained and feeling exhausted right now. “Our brain has a hazard detection system called the amygdala,” she explains to me over the phone. “During the past 14 months, it has been on high alert for most of the time in what is commonly known as fight-or-flight mode. Usually, however, this is only a temporary response to an imminent threat, not something that lasts as long as it does now. Many of my clients complain of the same extreme fatigue as you do. They are stuck in an intermediate state because they are constantly afraid of the uncertainty and the feeling that they don't really know where to go or what to do next. “For over a year now we have been forced to take this emotional rollercoaster ride and beware of possible dangers. What was initially considered a temporary exceptional situation has now become the new normal for us. Wear mouth and nose protection. Don't wear one. Face masks may not really protect at all. Wash your hands. Meanwhile sing "Happy Birthday". The virus is likely airborne. Christmas parties may take place under certain circumstances. Christmas is canceled. Don't meet anyone outside of your household. The situation is improving. The situation is getting worse. These factors, says Linda, have had psychological and physiological effects on us. “Whenever a mammal senses danger, our body prepares us to deal with that danger,” she explains. “Part of our fight-or-flight response is the production of cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare us to fight off or run away from the object that poses a threat to us. If that happens over a long period of time - especially if the threats are theoretical, such as B. 'You could die of the virus' - the cortisol level is non-stop too high. Of course, that has consequences. ”This trapped in a hamster wheel of fear, adds Linda, can lead to physical burnout. Affected people are no longer able to produce enough of the hormones they need, which is also known as hypocortisolism. Studies suggest that this condition is related to long-term psychosocial stress and burnouts in some people. Linda's not the only psychologist concerned. Dr. Heather Sequeira, a consulting psychologist, says that despite the popularity of the term burnout, we need to remember that it is a syndrome that we must take seriously. Although burnout is not an official medical condition, it is defined as a syndrome by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the WHO, this is caused by chronic stress (at work) that has not been successfully managed. The symptoms are usually a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. “We know that chronic fatigue can be the result of constant stress,” explains Heather. “Personally, I imagine it to be like an ultramarathon without a clear finish line, as opposed to a 100-meter sprint. From a biological point of view, we humans are built in such a way that we can cope with 'sprints', i.e. short-term intensive loads, followed by a recovery phase. That is why we usually cope well with acute high stresses such as exams or deadlines at work. Since they are usually limited in time, we can then relax, regain our strength and switch off. The demands that the pandemic places on us, especially in the area of ​​work, are very different and, above all, long-lasting. ”When it feels counterintuitive to be exhausted from the one thing that you have been looking forward to all along - the world is (partly) opening up again, remember: Even things that we would not immediately associate with stress are stressful. If it feels counterintuitive to be exhausted from the one thing you've been looking forward to all along - the world is opening up again (in part) - think about it: Even things that we don't immediately associate with stress are stressful. “We are currently facing a lot of phenomena that would not necessarily be called 'stressful' in the traditional sense,” explains Heather. "These include zoom calls, working from home, the change from being alone at home to expecting to socialize again soon, and even boredom." We all try hard: We try to cope with this difficult situation, to go back among people and rediscover the world outside. To do this, we have to spend a lot of energy all day and every day. That saps our strength. What once served our relaxation - meeting with friends: inside after a strenuous day - can now feel like the opposite of a breather (always making sure that you are following all the Corona rules, in every person you comes across, suspecting a potential danger, etc.). So take it easy and be lenient with yourself. “The situation is slowly improving and things are gradually returning to their normal course - even if the current circumstances are still very different from the times before the pandemic. So we can expect new, more stress factors: increased insecurity, more time with other people (which is both stress and fun), new working conditions and a lack of clarity and certainty in many areas of life, ”says Heather. “All of this is on top of the stress that has caused some people to burn out over the past few months. In the next few weeks and months, some of us will find ourselves in a diabolical spiral of reduced resilience and a less than optimal response to stressful situations. One thing leads to another. ”Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? Is the pandemic hitting 25-year-olds particularly hard? Getting around - how did it go fast? Do we have to look good after the lockdown?