We are all spending more time at home. Activities available to rush off to are fewer, as are social responsibilities and obligations. You may even be able to work from home in your jammies, if you so desire. Daily life in general is more casual, even laid back for many.
Yet, you feel exhausted. What’s going on here?
Our Toughest Task-Master: The Gut Brain
These feelings are not “all in your head,” or because of a lurking emotional, moral, or physical shortcoming. Pandemic stress and fatigue are the more likely culprits. Not to mention the political stress that’s been ramping up over the last few years. And now, a hot divisive presidential election has entered the mix.
If you’re not feeling exhausted, you haven’t been paying attention. Why? Because the gut brain won’t ignore threat, no matter what your intellect observes.
As far as the gut brain is concerned, all perceived threats are matters of life or death. It releases the same neurochemistry and has the same effect on our bodies, regardless of whether basic survival is in dire straits.
Too Much of a Good Thing
We need a certain level of arousal chemistry just to stay motivated and functional in daily life. And, of course, we do need that ability to inject some extra oomph when jumping out of the way of a quickly approaching car or defending ourselves from a mugger.
But pandemic and political stresses are ongoing. They remind us of their presence daily, with no end in sight. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t produce large amounts of adrenaline indefinitely. As the gut brain pushes the panic button over and over, we eventually run dry.
The result: feeling exhausted.
Give Your Gut Brain a Break
This poor little guy needs a rest. Here’s a few ways we can let him off the hook, and reduce pandemic and political exhaustion:
- Be kind to yourself. When fatigue hits and you know there are things you should to be doing, let self-compassion step in. Forgive yourself. What’s happening to you is normal. We’re all in the same boat. Coming down on yourself about it only makes matters worse.
- Be kind to others. When short on adrenaline, we may socially fail those around us. Most people are giving all they’ve got to give, regardless. Remind yourself of this when they disappoint or offend you. The chemistry of compassion can counteract the chemistry of excessive stress.
- Prioritize. Maybe some of the things we regularly do aren’t as important as we’ve made them in our lives. Select and engage in those activities that really are essential.
- Limit exposure to news broadcasts and social media. Stay informed and in touch with those you care about, but don’t spend too much time on potentially conflictual playgrounds. And whatever you do, don’t let your gut brain draw you into pointless back and forths over stressful issues of the day.
- Eat healthy, and get enough sleep and exercise. Doing so helps better process the chemistry leading to exhaustion.
- Encourage empowering self-talk. The intellect can’t keep the gut brain from pressing the panic button, but it can talk us down from feeling distressed by it. Confront and counter defeatist and other negative thoughts, remind yourself of all you’ve done to protect yourself, and count the blessings you’ve received during this difficult time.
- Mind your mind: Note that you are in fact breathing, your heart is beating. The ground beneath you is solid. You have strengths, in spite of vulnerabilities. You are alive, and aware. You’ve made it this far–meaning, you have the competence and determination to go on.
Consider whether there’s any good use for the energy and passion that follows a recently pushed panic button. If that’s not so, let it go.