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Quarantine Exhaustion: Why We’re So Tired After More Free Time and Less Energy Spent


//by Jenna Cook, M.Ed., LPCi, NCC// After many conversations with friends, clients, and colleagues, it seems as if we are all more exhausted than ever after a long day of quarantine-ing. Somehow sleeping at least an hour later than usual, conducting Zoom meetings in comfy clothes, watching a couple of Netflix episodes, and walking no further than from the bedroom to the “office” in the kitchen and back is draining! How in the world did we ever spend 10 to 12 hours a day out of the house—waking up early, running kids around town, staying late at the office, cleaning the house, and going out for dinner?

Here are some ideas as to why we might find ourselves so exhausted after seemingly doing so much less during social distancing due to the COVID19 pandemic:

Our brain has been busy trying to keep us alive!

Our brains are hard-wired to keep the rest of our bodies alive. With the threat of a deadly virus consuming our news feeds, household conversations, and thoughts, our brain is on high alert! When our brain perceives something as dangerous or threatening in any way, it activates our sympathetic nervous system, which attempts to armor our body up against danger. Our muscles tense, making us ready to fight the danger off or flee from it. Our breathing quickens and our heart rate intensifies. Hormones are released throughout our body that are all readying us to make a life-saving decision. Most times, these reactions and functions take place so automatically, we don’t even notice them.

In short, our brains and bodies are in survival mode as we navigate a serious and scary situation. Your brain is doing its best job to protect you by activating your body’s fight-or-flight response. This takes up lots of your body’s physical energy. In addition, it’s likely that you’re feeling lots of confusing and unpleasant emotions during this time, such as worry, frustration, loneliness, grief, and sadness. Lots of mental energy is spent experiencing the ups and downs of life during a pandemic.

Our body has been trying to adapt to our new “normal.”

For those of us that were once used to spending 10 to 12 or even more hours per day outside the house, adjusting to staying home has been difficult. It feels frustrating to have to change our daily routine, especially when we’re forced to remove the things that gave us sanity, joy, and energy. With gyms and fitness classes being closed, exercise is an extremely common physically wellness measure and stress-relief that has been removed. While working out from home is an option, it is hard to uphold, especially when the exhaustion creeps in.

Another factor contributing to physical tiredness is the struggle of the makeshift office. For me, I’ve turned my kitchen table into my desk, with my laptop on a stack of books, tablecloth hung on the wall behind me as a backdrop to my Zoom sessions, and a hard, wooden chair as my office chair. Physically, I feel my back getting tight and tense as I hunch over my computer. Mentally, the fact that my “office” and rest of my one-bedroom apartment bleed over into each other is unsettling. Through this, I have learned to appreciate a designated office space—one with proper office furniture, where I can close the door, leave my “work” behind, and drive away from. When I think back on the daily drives home from the office, I’m thankful for that designated buffer period which allowed me to decompress and switch gears before entering my home.

With our homes being the catch-all space of work and school during quarantine, the constant switching of gears between the blurred lines of home/work/kids/school/cleaning /relaxing/cooking/surviving is exhausting! Even if it is a separate room or in a designated corner, I wholeheartedly believe in the power of boundary-setting when it comes to where work lives and stays. Leaving work/school on the other side of a firm boundary is super helpful in conserving energy, in that it allows you to be fully present wherever you are when you “download” upon entering the office and “upload” before leaving.

Could it be that I’m more extroverted than I thought?

In the world of counseling and psychology, when trying to determine if someone is more introverted or extroverted (or somewhere in between,) we often ask questions like, “From where do you draw your energy? Do you typically feel energized or drained after a big social gathering?” and “Are you someone who needs a good deal of time doing things alone to feel recharged?” Introverts typically need some time doing things alone, such as reading, making art, playing videogames, or hanging out with one or two friends, in order to feel relaxed and recharged. When introverts participate in a social event, they’re likely to need some “chill time” afterward, even if they really thrived and enjoyed the event and the people they interacted with.

Extroverts typically feel boosted by interaction with new people and feel recharged when they’re able to talk amongst a group. They really thrive when they’re able to have conversations, share ideas, and feel connected. When extroverts are required to be alone, they might begin to feel bored or lonely after too long. It can be sort of somber for those of us with some extroverted traits to be alone for extended periods. If you find yourself feeling extra exhausted, drained, and down, it might be that you require more social interaction than you realize. No matter if you classify yourself as more introverted or extroverted, we all require social interaction and the feeling of belonging. Lean into that and make sure you’re staying connected to friends and family in the ways you can.

If you or someone you love is feeling tired and drained during this time, know there is good reason. Your brain and body are busy and HARD at work keeping you alive, even if you aren’t aware of it. It is easy to feel pressure to be “productive” with all of the added time we have, but know that even if you only have the energy just to survive, that is important, productive, and okay. Adjusting to life outside of quarantine when it is safe to do so will likely be another big challenge. Lean on the ones you love, on maintaining self-care, on doing the things you know recharge you and restore your energy.

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