As someone who enjoys minimal social interaction and is a seasoned remote worker, I didn’t think that going into self-isolation over fears of COVID-19 would make too much of a difference in my life. But, I was wrong. I began self-isolating at home in the first week of March and nearly ten days later, I started noticing my mental health waning. I was struggling to complete basic tasks like eating and my productivity at work was dipping. I was tired all the time, despite doing nothing but writing and walking around in my tiny apartment. When I went on social media, I realized I wasn’t the only one feeling this way, many others expressed that they were experiencing low energy levels and were finding it difficult to keep up with their daily routines despite the reduction in their physical activity due to the lockdown. We asked an expert why so many of us are feeling so low.
Changes to mental health
“The fact that people are [feeling] worn out is mainly psychological,” said Canada-based clinical therapist Omar Bazza. He believes that social isolation, coupled with stress about the pandemic, may lead to a decreased quality of life for nearly everyone. As a result, one might experience an increase or decrease in appetite, loss of motivation and changes in mood levels. Feelings of anxiety, that are associated with a mentally difficult situation like this, can cause changes in energy levels and can have people feeling drained and fatigued.
Bazza commented that it is to be expected that people will not have the same energy that they normally would, especially for those with anxiety and depression for whom decreased energy is an associated symptom.
Worry and fear
We are constantly being bombarded with news about the disease, fretting about ourselves, our immunocompromised loved ones, our jobs. Constant worry could unfold as increased stress and anxiety for many, according to Bazza. As we watch the number of cases grow daily and death being discussed so freely, “it can be traumatic to think that we may be part of those deaths,” reflected Bazza, adding that most of us are coming face to face with our own mortality. Trauma can manifest itself in physical symptoms like sleep disturbances, low energy, and anxiety. It can also translate into irritability and concentration troubles among other behavioural and cognitive changes.
“It is hard to focus on work when there is mass panic. We are not expected to be at peak productivity at a time like this.”
“We are all feeling something akin to grief right now with all the phases of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance,” he reflected, adding that we can move through them and go back and forth between the different stages.
Change in sleep cycles
In lockdown, many people no longer have work or are working from home and this change in routine often translates to a difference in sleep cycles. Some may be getting too much sleep, while others may be getting too little. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep deprivation is directly linked to a lack of energy and concentration, increased distractibility, restlessness, and fatigue. While oversleeping, or sleeping more than 10 hours, is not healthy either with conditions like anxiety, impaired memory, and fatigue being related to it.
How do we cope?
Bazza emphasized that it is crucial to validate the feelings we experience and understand that it is OK to feel worried and take time to focus on ourselves and our mental health. “It is hard to focus on work when there is mass panic, lockdowns. We are not expected to be at peak productivity at a time like this,” he added.
To counter feelings of loneliness, he suggested engaging in simple tasks like reaching out to loved ones virtually and doing activities with them that you would usually do in person like drinking coffee together and playing games.
Bazza believes activities like deep breathing, reading, taking online classes can help a person deal with feelings of exhaustion and fatigue, and he emphasized the importance of establishing a sound sleep routine and a proper diet.