Burn out. Brain fog. Overwhelm.
We’ve got various names for it and they express it quite well. But what we’re really talking about is mental fatigue – something which many of us now experience in regard to COVID-19.
What is mental fatigue?
Mental fatigue refers to the deep tiredness that sets in when your brain is run down. It leaves you mentally and emotionally drained.
Perhaps the thing we’re all most fatigued about right now is COVID-19. It’s been two years of fear and uncertainty, learning how to live with lockdowns, homeschooling, cancelled plans, missed family times, closed businesses and financial stress. Two years of listening to case numbers, death rates and changing public health advice. Two years of hand sanitising, social distancing and mask wearing. That takes its toll.
What does mental fatigue feel like?
If you’ve developed mental fatigue you might experience symptoms like:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Confused thinking
- Difficulty making decisions
- Slow reaction times
- Making mistakes
- Not getting through your workload.
Think about a normal day and try to imagine getting through it with those symptoms. No wonder mental fatigue can have such a big impact on your life. Even tasks that are usually simple now seem too much to manage.
What causes mental fatigue?
Many different things can lead to mental fatigue, including wonderful (but life-changing and exhausting) things like having a baby.
Maybe you’ve experienced the stress and upheaval of divorce, which has required many exhausting decisions and adjustments. Maybe you have a demanding job, rushing from one meeting to another, dealing with impossible deadlines and trying to meet high expectations day, after day, after day. Or maybe it’s because of COVID.
If you’ve had COVID-19, you may develop a post-viral condition known as long COVID. Mental fatigue or ‘brain fog’ is one of its symptoms. Even if you haven’t tested positive to COVID, you may still be deeply fatigued from navigating its impact on your life.
How can you prevent or manage mental fatigue?
Preventing mental fatigue really involves putting in place some measures to protect yourself from burnout.
- Regular time off: Don’t waste your annual leave – or spend it all at once then have no other breather for the rest of the year. Regular breaks like a mental health day or a long weekend can help to recharge your batteries throughout the year and ward off burnout.
- Looking after yourself: Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and build in regular time for enjoyable activities that refresh your spirits
- Maintaining deep relationships: Spending time with friends and family gives you a sense of connection and belonging. Hopefully some of these people are good listeners – so talk to them about how you’re feeling.
- Resting when sick: It’s OK to spend the day in bed when you’re unwell. That’s why you have sick leave. Don’t push on regardless when you’re unwell. Take time to rest and recover.
- Learning how to say ‘No’: If you’re already feeling under pressure, don’t take on more. It’s OK to politely refuse an invitation, to ask if you can postpone or to negotiate your workload with your boss. Here are 21 ways to give a good ‘no’.
The tips above will also help if you’ve already gone down with mental fatigue. In addition you can try:
- Removing the stressor: If you’ve got too many responsibilities at work or at home, then talk about it with your boss or partner. Find ways to share the load more so that you are not under so much pressure.
- Practice relaxation techniques: It could be yoga, prayer, meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness, but get into the regular, daily habit of deliberate relaxation. There are now many apps that can guide you through these exercises.
- Prioritise sleep – at night: Sleep is a deeply restorative natural healer for our bodies and minds. If you’re finding it hard to nod off then try not to sleep during the day and to be consistent with your bedtime routine. Follow these tips for good sleep hygiene.
- Exercise: You probably won’t feel like it, but try to kick yourself out of the house for a half-hour walk or other moderate exercise every day. It’ll do wonders for your mood, energy levels and sleep.
- Get help: Your GP is a valuable source of support and advice when you’re dealing with mental fatigue.
Coping with COVID-related fatigue
Pandemic burnout is real. As the World Health Organization says, ‘pandemic fatigue is an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis.’
If you’re dealing with long COVID, then it’s important to rest. GPs take this seriously and will support you with time off work to rest if you need it.
If you’re dealing with fatigue due to two years of living through a pandemic, then it may be wise to:
- Reduce your exposure to COVID news – don’t tune into press conferences or check social media constantly. Just check in once per day to ensure you’re aware of any important changes then get on with your day.
- Reduce your stress through a daily walk/run, yoga or mindfulness meditation.
- Do more of the things that bring you refreshment and joy such as spending time in nature or visiting loved ones.
How can WeCare help?
Our caring GPs take mental fatigue and COVID-related fatigue seriously. We know that it can have a big impact on your life and we want to help you either avoid or recover from it.
We’re able to:
- Listen as you describe how you feel
- Test for any underlying medical conditions or nutritional deficiencies that might be causing some of your symptoms
- Advise you on ways to simplify your life to improve your wellbeing
- Give you a medical certificate so you can be given light duties or some time off work if you need it
- Prescribe any medication that might help or recommend complementary therapies
- Check in with you regularly to see how you’re progressing and whether you need more help.
Please book an appointment and get the help you need.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.