Have months of mostly taking cover indoors left you feeling lethargic, weary or even apathetic?
If you have, you're not alone.
This unintentional phenomenon is what public-health experts are calling "caution fatigue" — and you have your brain to blame.
Psychologists are linking it to extreme vigilance we all showed at the pandemic's outset back in March, which wore us out mentally. The threat was new, urgent and driven by the human instinct for self-preservation.
Six months on, our minds and bodies still remain vigilant despite that sense of immediacy fading. Meaning that our inner monologue is fighting against itself as to what to do. Pair that with the fear of cases rising once more, our collective motivation and energy to comply with safety guidelines is at an all-time low.
"I'm not surprised at all by the way people are feeling," MyMind psychologist Anna Nauka tells Irish Tatler.
"We (psychologists) sort of expected it. This feeling of fatigue is very normal given the circumstances. When I think about it, I think about it from the point of view of trauma. However, it's not a usual trauma we're facing – it's a little more complex, ongoing and repetitive, like a rollercoaster.
"Our first shock was back in March when lockdown was announced, and it's been repeated shocks since then. It makes sense that people are feeling a little more anxious and exhausted by it all now again because of children returning to school," she says.
Nauka says that depression levels internationally are spiking somewhat, with rates in the US having increased by 25% – higher now than they were after Hurricane Katrine or 9/11.
"Lockdown has brought with it fatigue but also a massive increase in mental health difficulties, especially depression and anxiety," she continues.
"We have been anticipating the second wave for months and are now in the thick of increased restrictions, with loads of people suffering by way of the consequences. It's a hugely threatening situation that exposes us to massive amounts of fear which, in my opinion, leads to feelings of living in a traumatic situation.
"I read a very good quote recently from one of our specialists stating that 'trauma is a natural consequence in our body to our environment', meaning that it's not something to be afraid of, it's your body's way of protecting you from what is happening.
"We live in a society that doesn't deal with that very well and we often experience the pressure of pulling our socks up and carrying on right away. So, for those experiencing depressive feelings right now, take this time to feel everything and work your way back to wellness."
As for what to do during these unknowably trying times, Anna recommends the following:
1. We must learn to accept our situations to a certain level
"Very often I see clients who experience a lot of irritation and impatience connected with lockdown which often leads to self-criticism (e.g. "why can't I feel better?", "I'm doing everything right – what is wrong with me"). You need to be able to accept that this is happening and fatigue is okay. Grieving what we've lost – whether it's a loved one, a wedding, or simply just time – is also alright, too."
2. Use this time to rest
"As we go into the colder months, your body will need more rest anyway. Take this time to go to bed earlier, sleep more and give yourself a break. Your body and mind have been through a lot this year and needing to recuperate is nothing to be ashamed of."
3. Give it time
"With mental health difficulties, it takes time for things to be okay again. I often use the analogy of a broken hand. After a break, you will need time in a cast, possibly a sling, painkillers, physiotherapy and even after all of that, you will still need to take special care of the area that was once hurt. With your mind, it's much the same. Take your time trying to feel like yourself again – it will hugely stand to you."
4. Make time for talking
"I know everyone has read every self-care article a thousand times at this stage, but to revert back to self-care, we need to speak to others to care for ourselves. On a very biological level, talking to people and being on contact with close ones is hugely beneficial to everyone. If you're not comfortable talking to your close friends and family, consider a support group or attending a psychologist or psychotherapist. So many of my clients have told me how much better they feel after talking in sessions – it could be really beneficial to you."
Just recently, MyMind has received enough funding to cover free sessions for those in need until the end of the year. If you feel like you could benefit from speaking to someone, visit their website here.
Main image by @majawyh