Post-COVID Exhaustion

There is a term for the exhaustion many of us are suffering from in the aftermath of the pandemic: languishing.

Youth Insights
 Min read
July 11, 2021

There is a term for the exhaustion many of us are suffering from in the aftermath of the pandemic: languishing.

Many of us found ourselves saying repeatedly throughout 2020 “once this is over,” or “once things are back to normal,” and promised ourselves we would jump back into our lives on pause. However, if you’re noticing that sometimes all you can do is nudge yourself out of bed in the morning, if it feels like you’re going about your day in a fog, if you’re in a state of blah, you’re not alone. Languishing might be the most predominant emotion of 2021.

Whether we were essential workers last year or spent the majority of our time at home, most of us are equally exhausted. Let’s break down a few reasons for this and where to go from here:

Three reasons for your languish:

  1. Languish is an anticipated response to a collective trauma: a shared event that causes significant distress and psychological upheaval. Covid-19 left us with an increased feeling of vulnerability and fear. Some of us lost loved ones and were barred from closure and family company. Many of us lost our financial security. College students suddenly had to maintain academic performance in a totally different playing field. Furthermore, many of us were cut off from our coping mechanisms due to stay home orders, decreased physical activity, and fewer distractions that come with daily life.
  2. Pandemic Decision Fatigue. Decision fatigue refers to the stress and exhaustion due to the endless amount of decisions we have to make very day, which intensified during the pandemic, as we were faced with decisions formerly irrelevant to us: How do I work from home and set up my house to accommodate the kid’s online schooling? Did I remember a mask? What is the safest route for public transit? If I take my mask off right now, will people judge me? Is this door handle I’m touching going to make me sick? Is someone going to die because I touched something with dirty hands? The list goes on. 
  3. Burnout. Essential workers are at high risk of burnout if we haven’t started experiencing it already. Burnout is most commonly caused by overwhelming job demands, job dissatisfaction, lack of employee appreciation, and lack of proper resources. While essential work most commonly applies to jobs needed during the pandemic like grocers, healthcare workers and emergency services, it also applies to parents. Essential workers kept us afloat during the pandemic, risking our own health, safety and wellbeing, and with the world “returning to normal,” we have had no break.

So where do we go from here?

  1. Stick to a routine. Keep a schedule, but give yourself a lot of scheduled breaks if you can even if they’re just at your work station. Make sure these breaks do not involve going form your computer screen to your phone screen - give your mind time away from technology in between tasks. Sticking to a predictable routine also reduces the number of decisions you have to make each day. For example, I pick out my clothes the night before I go to work (or give myself two to choose from) and pack my lunch. At this point, I have done my morning routine the same way for so long, from the shower to the primping to the car, I don’t even think about it anymore. I save a lot of energy by hardly having a decision to make before I get to the office. 
  2. Give yourself uninterrupted time. Block out a chunk of quiet, “you” time and consider it a treasure to guard. Even if just 15 minutes per day, put it in your calendar. Give yourself permission to not have things competing for your attention. Give yourself time to clear our constant distractions and refocus. I have rearranged my work schedule so that I have no interruptions before 12 on Monday. I start my intense work week with uninterrupted time to prepare for the week ahead, start my week my way, and increase my productivity. This requires dedication to uphold boundaries with family or coworkers, but I promise you, it’s invaluable. This study addresses in more depth how uninterrupted blocks of time significantly increase overall productivity.
  3. Focus on the small wins. Carve out time daily to work on a small challenge that matters to you. Send a witty response to your tinder match, do a sudoku puzzle, organize your desk drawer - these are all small steps towards rediscovering the energy and enthusiasm that has been MIA for months.
  4. Seek professional help. As a therapist, this will always be my biggest piece of advice. Do not tell yourself that what you are going through is something you should just be able to get out of on your own, or that it’s normal. There are people in this world who are specifically trained in navigating the complexities of mental wellness. See my article on How to Pick the Right Therapist.

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