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7 Reasons the COVID-19 Pandemic Might Be Making You Exhausted

COVID-19 has affected society in so many ways. When the CDC first asked everyone to stay at home as much as possible, I didn’t think too much of it. In fact, I kind of liked the idea… at first.

When I first realized it was going to be much longer than I had originally thought, the idea became a lot harder to deal with — but it was still doable. My initial impression had been how much I could get done with not as much paid work as before (though that worried me on another level) and so much time at home. As the time was extended, that was still my goal — to get a lot of projects done I normally don’t have time for.

But nothing in me realized how it would feel to be home so much, or its unanticipated effects.

One of those has been exhaustion: bone-weary, fall-asleep-at-my-desk, can’t think exhaustion.

There are so many factors directly related to the pandemic that could be playing into this issue:

1. Not getting enough sunlight

Lack of sunlight affects us physically in two main ways. First, being in direct sunlight for about 10-30 minutes a day helps your body produce vitamin D, which is essential in warding off fatigue. Second, the lack of sunlight causes your body to produce more melatonin, which helps make you sleepy. On top of these, there is a psychological boost to being outside and spending time in the sun.

2. Anxiety

Excessive worry causes tiredness due to many factors. It’s draining to try to figure out solutions constantly, especially if the cause of the worry doesn’t have a solution (like COVID-19). Your adrenaline runs high with anxiety and when it finally runs out, there can be a physical crash. Wanting to get away from the worrisome thoughts may lead to naps, which makes sleeping at night more difficult. Insomnia from this stress can also lead to being very tired during the day.

3. Lack of exercise

We don’t realize how much we are up and moving around in the course of a typical workday. Even short times of movement like walking to and from your home/office to the car add up. Kids activities, church events, social gatherings… these all lead to not sitting as much. I know that for some, being at home has increased their exercise — maybe from chasing children who would normally be at school or cooking and cleaning more because of more bodies being in the house all day. But for many of us, the days are passed through more screen time than we are used to and thus, less being up and about.

4. Too much or too little noise

Too much noise can cause what’s called “listener fatigue.” There are many who are used to having at least periods of quiet at home or work during the day. More people at home, as well as more screen time, often means more noise to deal with. On the other side, for those who may be home alone may have too little noise, which subconsciously promotes the feeling that it’s time to sleep.

5. Boredom

Like anxiety, being bored can lead to activities and behaviors that interfere with good sleep. Not having a lot of plans can lead to staying in bed longer than typical in the morning, taking naps throughout the day and going to bed early at night.

6. Eye strain

Because of the screen time increases in most households, eye strain can be a problem. This can result from looking at something at one set distance for long periods. In the course of a regular day at school, work or even leisure, there are a variety of things to look at — all different distances. For example, going to your child’s ball game. Getting ready involves going back and forth from looking for what you may wear to what you are putting on to looking in a mirror to just looking around the room. The drive there includes looking out the window, looking at the speedometer and looking at others in the car. Once you are at the ballpark, you are watching your child play ball, checking your phone, looking at the back of the ball field for the score, etc. During the stay-at-home order, there often are much longer periods of watching TV, gaming or Zoom meetings where you look at one place. This eye strain can lead to feeling worn out when all you’ve done is sit in a chair all day.

7. Grieving/Depression

Everyone has lost something during COVID-19. It could be having to cancel special plans, job/income loss, a relationship or just the freedom of being able to run into a store without worrying about wearing a mask and abiding by social distancing measures. Grief is hard on both your physical and emotional state. It often leads to a period of depression. One of the main symptoms of depression is not being motivated to do tasks that were loved before. This lack of motivation, like several other factors mentioned, leads to less activity, more naps and generally an interruption of regular sleep cycles, which contribute to fatigue.

8. Too much caffeine or rich, sugary foods

Caffeine and sugar are often used as ways to wake up. But what many don’t think about is how after that period of being artificially alert, there is a crash. The fatigue that some of the other issues listed have caused is only exacerbated by using stimulants such as sugar and caffeine to combat it, due to this crash later. Plus, these can interrupt getting deep sleep at night due to the effects of caffeine lasting into bedtime and GI issues from too many rich foods.

9. Not enough water

Dehydration is a sneaky thing. It’s obvious when you have been outside in the hot sun and haven’t been drinking water. But it’s way too easy to miss when you are home all day and just forget to drink as much. Maybe you are used to having a water bottle at your desk at work but can’t seem to remember to carry it around with you while you are at home. Maybe it’s because you are used to bottled water, but there is a shortage in your area. Maybe it’s because since you are home you are drinking more soda or alcohol than you would normally drink in a typical day. Either way, even mild dehydration can lead to fatigue.

10. Finally, actually having COVID-19

One of the top symptoms of COVID-19 is excessive fatigue, because it’s a byproduct of your body fighting the virus. Add to that other COVID-19 symptoms can lead to not getting good sleep, like continuous coughing or a high fever.

So when I am fighting exhaustion, there is a battle playing out in my brain… Is it one, two or a combination of many of the causes besides COVID-19 listed above, or do I have one of those cases of COVID-19 where I don’t really have the other symptoms? Without being able to get tested every time I feel really tired, I’ll never really know.

What I’m doing is trying to work on as many of the preventable non-COVID-19 exhaustion causes as I can. I’m taking extra vitamin D and trying to get outside every day for just a few minutes if I can’t do more. I’m trying to be grateful for little things, which helps with both anxiety and depression. Exercising isn’t happening, but I’m working on a plan to do so. I try to control noise levels and eye strain (though not always successfully). I finally got to the point where I carry water with me all day.

All I can do is control what is possible to control. There’s that serenity prayer again: God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Photo by CMbT Photography