Lockdown fatigue, burnout and lack of motivation
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
How are you doing at the moment? I’ve noticed myself recently feeling a lack of motivation and energy to do things, more so than I normally would. I’ve been trying to write this blog post for some time and have really struggled with finding the motivation to do so. Anecdotally, speaking with friends, family, colleagues and clients it seems that I am not the only one experiencing this too. Many of them report feeling, unmotivated, fed up, tired, feeling teary at times, angry, wanting to withdraw from others, easily irritable and lonely, especially since the second national lockdown has come into effect.
A number of people I speak with feel quite surprised that they are feeling more of a mental and emotional strain this time around compared to earlier in the year. Some have also felt that they are not coping well or that there is something wrong with them because they are finding things tougher. And yet when we look at what is and has been going on since March, I think it's very understandable that many people are feeling fed up, burnt out and sensitive at the moment.
We are over 8 months now into living with social distancing measures since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. These are difficult and uncertain times to live in with the levels of freedom we have in flux not helped by what I think it's fair to say confused messaging from the government. In addition to the general stress and emotional toil from living with social distance and lockdown measures, many of us are also struggling with pre-existing mental health issues. Many people have lost loved ones in this time, to the coronavirus and also to other causes. For them their ability to grieve and say goodbye to their loved ones has too often been disrupted and complicated. Many others have also lost their jobs, are facing redundancy or are very worried that their businesses may not survive through this period of time through no fault of their own. We are experiencing a lot of loss.
While the coronavirus will be the dominating event of 2020 historically (at least so far,) it is also not the only disruptive event of this year. Events linked to climate change such as forest fires in various countries, the end of the UK withdrawal agreement with the EU, the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests in the US and around the world and the US presidential election have added to the uncertainty of the times and are all ongoing issues that haven't been resolved. Despite some good news with the successful development of vaccines for the coronavirus, the hopes that life will be going back to normal anytime soon is unlikely.
Feels a lot right? There’s been so much going on and so much still going on that it often feels very confusing and exhausting trying to keep up with everything. And this can have an impact on our mental health.
Being in an unstable environment creates uncertainty, stress and a pressure on us to adapt and process what has occurred. This takes time and energy from us to do so. Even changes that may seem far from us like political events do impact us to varying degrees. We are always affected by our environment. At the same time the options we would normally use to respond to this uncertain and changing environment, have been greatly reduced due to social distancing measures. When there is so much disruption and instability in the world and when we also have a reduced range of options to respond with, it's not surprising that many of us are finding it difficult to have any energy and motivation to do anything else other than get by right now.
One thing that I notice about our culture in the UK that I think paradoxically adds to the feelings of burnout and fatigue is the myth of the stoic Brit with the stiff upper lip. The stoic brit doesn’t whine or complain when things get tough, but just gets on with it and perseveres. This idea has often been drawn upon in times of struggle and conflict such as both World Wars, disasters, terrorist attacks and most famously reinforced by the myth of the blitz spirit which has been invoked many times by the government and the media across this crisis. Indeed there were a lot of memes going around earlier in the crisis comparing the current struggle to that of earlier generations and that we were lucky as we only had to sit on the couch! Funny that they don't seem to be circulating so much at the moment!
It's true that stoicism can help at times of difficulty and crisis by helping us to give perspective, perseverance and an acceptance of reality when it can feel like it’s hard to go on. But like too much of anything, too rigid a hold to stoicism or a misunderstanding of it can cause us to ignore how we really feel, leading to people disconnecting with their true feelings. When we are disconnected from ourselves the likelihood of experiencing burnout becomes a lot higher as we can easily push ourselves beyond our limits and only find this out too late.
Soldiering on without complaining can also have the effect that it leads us to feel more isolated when it comes to experiencing our emotions. The social distancing measures have already had a great effect on increasing our isolation from one another and increased feelings of loneliness. Feeling like we should be feeling a different way only adds to this feeling of isolation and can easily lead to us thinking that there is something wrong with ourselves. When we don't talk about how we feel or when we feel like we’re struggling or experiencing a negative emotion it can also have the effect that others around us then feel like they aren't allowed to share their own struggles or negative emotions.
So what can help us to avoid burnout and to support ourselves through this time? I wrote another post earlier this year which goes over some of the ways you can support yourself through the pandemic. I think a lot of these are still relevant now, if not more so.
I think it would be helpful to start with really lowering our expectations of ourselves in this moment in relation to how we should be feeling or what we should be achieving during this time. There is no wrong or right way to feel, ever really! We don't actually have control over how we feel about something emotionally. We do however have control over how we make sense of our feelings and how we react to them. So perhaps one way to support ourselves through this time would be to show compassion and attention to those feelings in the same way that we would show compassion for a stressed friend or an upset child rather than ignoring them. Perhaps it's worth considering what would help to relax or soothe yourself.
In the same manner that we show compassion to ourselves, perhaps we could also understand that our family, friends, loved ones and people we work with are also going through this too. And whilst they may not be experiencing things the same, the pressure is also there. There is a lot of anger around, particularly towards authority for many reasons at the moment, and anger can often be redirected to others when it is not able to be expressed. This is not to say to not respect yourself or your boundaries, but rather to understand people might not be able to give their all at the moment and that we all cope with stress in different ways. If you do experience difficulties, anger or conflict with others to try not to take things too personally; it might not be really about you.
Counterinutitively, we could also tune in to how we’re really doing and to be honest with what we are able to do and what we need from others. This may involve asking for support or help for some and for others cutting back from some commitments or postponing them for another time. This may sound selfish and in a way it is, but it's respecting your boundaries and that’s healthy! It's only when you respect your own boundaries that you can effectively help yourself and be there for others in a sustainable way.
Finally maybe we can learn to let go of that need for us to feel like we should always be fine and unaffected by what’s going on around us. We aren’t machines and perhaps if there are some beneficial things to come out of this crisis it will be to help us to get in touch with our feelings and sense of humanity for one another.
If you are finding yourself affected by fatigue or low mood and lack of motivation counselling can help to give you a space to explore what is going on for you and to reconnect with yourself. If you are interested in finding out more about counselling or booking an initial counselling session email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text on 07445 551287.