Many people these days are complaining of exhaustion and the inability to concentrate or think clearly. There is a phrase for it: “Pandemic fog.” Of course, it is an extremely stressful time with uncertainty about nearly everything and a constant sense of threat. An article I recently saw and will include here gives some explanation for this.
People who are alone, or even families and couples sheltering in place, are isolated and cutoff from a myriad of daily interactions which, although we hardly pay attention to, have an important role in maintaining our sense of safety.
The author writes, “In my regular life, I would see dozens of people a day. I commute to work, I get lunch, I meet up with friends, I go to the gym—and all of those little interactions are cues to my brain that I’m OK, and part of a larger social network. But when I’m alone, I’m more vulnerable, and my brain is working overtime trying to protect me.”
“Uncertainty is one of the biggest elements that contributes to our experience of stress …. Part of what we try to do to function in our society is to have some structure, some predictability. When we have those kinds of things, life feels more manageable, because you don’t have to put the energy into figuring those things out.”
Without these cues nor sense of regularity, our brains are on high alert to assess risk. All of this cognitive work taking place causes fatigue to the body. This is what is called allostatic load.
The author continues, “And while it feels like I’m doing nothing most days, my brain is still dealing with the anxiety and strain of this pandemic. I’m exhausted not because my body is working hard, but because my brain is.”
She points to familiar ways of dealing with stress, such as regular exercise, good diet and sleep. Her first recommendation, however, is familiar to those of us involved with psychotherapy: express yourself, your emotions. Given the enormous challenges of our most challenging time, a good way to do that would be to start psychotherapy if you are not in therapy now. Although therapy is being conducted these days over the phone or by video, which is less ideal than in person, it can be extremely helpful to have another person with whom you reflect and express your feelings to. The regularity of the sessions, sometimes more than once a week especially now, and the strong bond of the relationship that forms, also offer ways of feeling soothed. Be well.
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