COVID 19, A New Normal and Being Tired

“I’m so tired. Is that normal?”

 

If you’ve ever been in therapy with me, you probably know I avoid the term “normal” in my clinical practice. I don’t find it helpful as most of the topics people ask the “normal” question about are highly contextual and in a range. Examples include alcohol use, frequency of sex in a partnership, how often you hold your baby, and crying during emotional commercials.

 

But I am going to use the term normal in this blog post. Precisely because we are not in normal times. And within those not-normal times, we are edging towards a return to normal, but calling it a new normal. If it’s new, how is it normal at all?

What does any of this rambling have to do with being tired? Everything. If you’ve been in therapy with me, it’s also highly likely I’ve talked to you about decision fatigue and ego deflation; the idea that throughout each day the hundreds of decisions we make deplete our mental resources. Well, a global pandemic (and particularly in the United States) is decision fatigue and ego deflation on steroids.

 

We went on alert in February, hyper-alert in March, and if there is anything beyond hyper-alert that is where we spent April. By May, we are over it. But “over it” is heavy with anger, frustration, and expressed out of the complicated energy of February, March, and April. 

 

It’s difficult and draining for humans to live in ambiguous situations without a clear and defined pathway, yet that’s exactly what COVID-19 demands. The reality is that two contradictory truths exist; one is that the science of the pandemic necessitates some level of continued stay in place. The other is that we have to “open back up” for economic and mental health. They are BOTH true. It’s not that one is true and the other false. People are arguing as though one is true and the other is not (usually along party lines), but they are both true simultaneously. The problem is we can’t DO both. And because there is not a clear, definitive, comfortable pathway, people are making the “other side” wrong. It’s easier to pick a side than to sit in the complicated and messy truth that there isn’t an answer that keeps people safe and secure mentally, physically, and financially.  

 

But we are not even in the same boat. Even the different experience of COVID’s collateral damage is…damage.

 

Clients, friends, staff, family members, and pretty much anyone who knows I am a therapist has asked me some form of “I’m so tired, is this normal?” Instead of answering that I don’t use the term normal, I say “Yes, it’s a normal response to a very abnormal situation.”

 

You are tired because:

 

  • Your routine has been disrupted
  • Access to your regular food has been disrupted
  • Your normal working out/move your body routine is blocked
  • Federal and state and county leadership are not on the same page
  • Information is often contradictory
  • Family members, friends, and other people who mean something to you may be on vastly different pages regarding this global event
  • People near to you might be sick
  • People near to you might be dying
  • You might have lost someone to COVID 19
  • You might have reduced work hours
  • You might have job insecurity
  • You might have lost your job entirely
  • You might be experiencing frustration with the systems to help you – unemployment, Small Business Administration Loans
  • Your choices might be criticized by family members and friends
  • Your teenagers or young adults may not be in compliance with the rules you’ve established
  • Family members in your household may be essential, making exposure a constant risk
  • Your financial insecurity might be increasing
  • Your kids might be home, and homeschool is not comfortable to you
  • Your health insurance may be threatened
  • You may not have health insurance

 

Can you add to the list? 

Your resources (mental, physical, emotional, and household) are being depleted and your access to refill them is restricted. Here are some examples of what I mean:

 

  • You aren’t able to exercise the way you did before the pandemic
  • Your sleep may be disrupted
  • Even though you may be home more, you may have less actual quiet and mental quiet for meditation
  • You may not have access to in person support such as Alcoholics Anonymous or other support groups
  • You may not be able to attend worship or Bible study or similar functions such as “small group”
  • You have not been able to attend your weekly Trivia Game (substitute your game of choice)
  • The people around you are *also* not getting their needs met, increasing their depletion
  • You have less choices at the grocery store in terms of products and even hours

For many people, this may be the most intense experience of the most to worry about and the least power they have to affect change. I’ve noticed in myself and others that getting just the basics of household management and work done pushes the limit of our energy level. Many people just want to take a nap. Here are some suggestions as we move into “our new normal.”

 

  1. It’s ok if you want to nap. Don’t let your experience of and during COVID 19 become a Pinterest competition. If you did happen to find new meaning to life during this time, great. For the rest of us, nap.
  2. Set limits. Here are some areas to set limits –
    1. News
    2. Social media
    3. Conversations and interactions with people who drain you
    4. Say “no” if you are asked to help with something and your immediate, gut level response is “no”
    5. Honor YOUR level of “open up.” Make your decisions based on the data you gather (after a limited amount of news per item a, above). Stick to it, and don’t feel the need to defend that. 
  3. Use humor. In my own family, we’ve taken to watching COVID 19 and Corona parodies. They help us process and laugh at the situation. I understand the underlying psychology, but that doesn’t minimize the power.
  4. Be creative. No, not Pinterest level creative. The creativity that is a catalyst for a part of your brain that elevates the good feeling chemicals. Write, draw, paint, craft.
  5. Move – get out of your head and in your body. Yoga, walking, Tai Chi are known to have neuro-cognitive and physical benefits. 
  6. Create a corner of sanctuary. If you don’t already have one, create a space in your home (however small or big) that when you sit in it or look at it you feel better. It can be a chair and a side table, a shelf, or a room. Fill it with colors and textures and items that feel good to you. Spend time there.
  7. Have great sex. Or just sex.
  8. Avoid big decisions – It’s common under distress to want to change your feelings. When under big distress, it’s common to want to change BIG things to fix those feelings. But at this time, we don’t have access to our best decision pathways. It’s best to wait on decisions about relationships, jobs, and moving. 

 

Notice that I didn’t put many of my usual self development and recovery tools on that list? If you’d like to add a gratitude journal, or a meditation practice, or pick a book to study and annotate ,please do! But have grace and kindness with yourself if the effort at establishing a new habit during a “new normal” doesn’t establish momentum.

 

While I won’t tell you to find deeper and hidden meaning in this experience, I will close with a hope that you can and will find moments each day (between naps) to smile (or, even better, laugh). And please don’t feel guilty about that. Yes, people are hurting. But you having a moment of hurting less doesn’t make them hurt more or make you a bad person. You have limited access to habits and activities to replenish your depleting and depleted energy. Seize them and exhaust them when you see them.

 

I love you.

 

One thought on “COVID 19, A New Normal and Being Tired”

  1. Woody Farrar says:

    How grateful I am for your post on this!

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