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Fatigue in the New Norm

TIGNUM Thoughts

September 19th, 2020
By Chris Males

The last six months of navigating through this pandemic have been quite the emotional roller coaster ride. Just like a real roller coaster, there have been periods of unbridled adrenaline followed by times when you felt the world was moving at slow motion, and every day was a repeat of the day before. These ups and downs can be fun at times, but if you’re feeling exhausted, you are not alone.

As with all crises, the initial human response is a fight or flight response. This is driven by a surge in adrenaline and cortisol and is quite energizing. From the beginning of this crisis, teams and families rallied, leaders raised their game by doing frequent check-ins, and we all committed to figuring this thing out. We were on the free fall of the roller coaster and feeling the brief yet powerful surge of energy.

One of the early outcomes of the pandemic was that air travel was canceled, which eliminated jet lag and the stresses of business travel. Similarly, as we were all forced to work from home, the stressful morning and evening commute disappeared. As a result, most of us added 45 to 60 minutes of additional sleep - in our own beds, I might add. On the surface, we could assume that the combination of our adrenal response and the additional sleep would have created the perfect cure for fatigue. Unfortunately, our data was telling a different story. People were reporting feeling a significant rise in fatigue, a lack of energy and focus, and a feeling of a loss of emotional control. What happened?

While physical fatigue can be obvious to recognize, emotional fatigue can often be overlooked and underestimated. Our thoughts, fears, anxiety, and the new daily calculating of personal risk overcame us. Am I being cautious enough? Will I get the virus? Will a loved one get the virus? Is my environment safe? Am I keeping others safe? Why is this virus so unfair? How long will this last? Just a few examples of the reverberating thoughts and questions that took over our brains. Along with this inner dialogue, the associated emotions lead to significant fatigue. Add to this the emotional weight of compassion fatigue from possible layoffs, racial injustice, volatile political situations, and tragic climate events around the world, and we can quickly see that much of our energy was being exhausted by simply trying to manage our own emotions in an uncertain, overwhelming, and tumultuous world.

If you feel this, remember you not alone. In times like this, finding ways to get out in front of this fatigue, rather than waiting for the fatigue to unexpectedly hit, is key. Here are a few simple things that we have found very helpful:

  • _Be aware of your emotional loads and proactively strategize for upcoming events that you know may be draining.
  • _Look ahead to your next week and identify work and home events that may require more emotional energy than others. Set clear intentions and plan ahead for what attributes and mindset skills you want to bring to these events.
  • _Purposefully reflect on the things you are grateful for and the successes in your life. Some clients have shared that they do this together with their team or their family.
  • _Do an act of service to help others.
  • _Purposefully plan for fun where you can laugh or do something that brings joy.
  • _Create an emotionally recharging music playlist that you can listen to before and after your most emotionally demanding events.
  • _Invest in learning something new that elevates you from where you were pre-pandemic. Adding a meditation practice can fit nicely here.
  • _Schedule ‘pre-covery’. This is the concept of finding a short oscillation/recovery break prior to your upcoming event. This will help you fill your emotional energy gas tank so that you can multiply your energy to those around you. Implementing focused breathing techniques can be very useful here.
  • _Perform regular exercise where you build your mobility, stability, balance, strength, and cardiovascular systems.

Once you’ve replenished your emotional energy, purposely search for moments to multiply it in others. Even in virtual events, emotional contagion is real. Don’t underestimate how a simple 'pre-covery' strategy can create a ripple effect that will energize those you interact with. You may be surprised not only how that energy keeps impacting others, but also how it comes back and re-energizes you.

As always, we’d love to know what you think.

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