The Balancing Act with Pandemic Fatigue
By Rebekkah LaDyne
Pandemic fatigue is on the evening news, it infuses the moods of my Covid bubble buddies, and it’s easy to spot on the masked faces I pass on the sidewalk or the store. I’m hearing this from clients, colleagues, friends, family, and neighbors. Many of us are hitting a wall at this point in the pandemic, and it makes perfect sense that people are looking for a way out. It’s coming to my attention — possibly yours too — that our familiar standbys are falling short for pandemic-coping. While a lot of us have turned to excessive zoom-socializing or T.V watching to cope, many are working to excess, shopping to excess, or drinking to excess — each of those three activities can be followed by “oholism” for a reason — they pose a threat to our health and wellbeing. But even seemly healthy choices like cleaning and exercising can become destructive.
A client described herself up at 10 PM, intensely scrubbing the kitchen sink, unable to let it go and get to sleep, even though a solid night’s rest had been evading her for weeks. A friend mentioned the mountains of boxes she has had in her foyer for months, one pile for coming-in and one pile for going-back — her own little shipping and receiving department, she said — she’s caught in trying to find “just the right” things for her home. A neighbor has been riding his bike for hours every week; he’s clocking his rides on apps, tracking his time against other riders, distracted while at work and with friends, fantasizing about what his next ride will be.
But how shiny does the sink need to be in times like these? And are “just the right thing” fantasies for the house real? I mean, is there a thing that will finally make being at home for the better part of every 24-hour, 7-day cycle, actually feel good? And is exercise, or any self-care for that matter, adding stress as well as reducing it if we’re kind of…getting obsessed?
As a stress researcher and author, I know that coping strategies are essential for stressful situations — like a year-long (plus) pandemic, for example. And things like settling into the couch with a bowl of popcorn and several episodes of your favorite series, can be just what the doctor ordered, as they say. And yes, there can be a nice relief once the dishes are all done. For many, there is indeed joy in an epic cycle and satisfaction in finally finding a special new thing for the living room. I also know that when these things keep gnawing at us, and we find ourselves wanting more and more of them, whatever they are, this is your mind-body system trying to communicate with you. Trying to let us each know, this self-care or self-soothing we’re trying for here, it’s not fitting the bill.
I love the saying, “you can never get enough of what you don’t actually want.” You can keep going for another cookie, drink, sparkling-clean [fill in the blank], but does it lead to the relief, joy, or satisfaction, you’re hoping it will?
I know stress well, both as a researcher and as a human being. What I’ve come to understand is that we benefit from a balanced approach to stress-reduction; a little of this, a little of that — an array of ingredients. Add a bit more of what’s missing, take out some of what there’s too much of, and see if it helps bring about the relief you’re actually after.
My research has shown, for stress-reduction, less is more — we don’t want to create stress in our effort to lessen it. Take mini reset breaks; time to briefly, almost casually, lower your experience of stress. Ultimately this will decrease your total stress load, little by little, instead of the big bang for your buck that’s not so cost-effective after all. Add a few mini reset breaks into the midst of your day’s activities instead of the all-on all-off yo-yo we can find ourselves tangled up in.
Below are a few mini resets to lower stress throughout the days, weeks, and months ahead. With these in the mix, you won’t be as likely to have a huge ball of stress growing inside of you that is so desperate for relief it moves you toward excessive behaviors that aren’t really the serum you seek.
These mini resets don’t mean you can’t, or won’t want to, cycle on Saturday, find that perfect living room accouterment, put a shine on the stainless steel appliances, or whip up a batch of your favorite treat and enjoy a few; these mini resets do mean you probably won’t do these things: a) to excess, b) in a hypnotic-like trance that has you miss the enjoyment of them altogether, or c) feel ill-at-ease, grouchy, or even anxiously-depressed if you can’t find the time, or money, or ingredients, for those alluring activities each time you crave some relief.
The women that I studied using the same tips I’m sharing here, showed a significant reduction in cortisol levels and self-report stress after just a few weeks of including mini reset breaks into their day. So give it a try, test it for at least two to three weeks, and see for yourself how your stress levels respond.
You can do these one at a time (remember a little here and little there) or bundle them up in groups of two or more. Follow your instincts and remember these are mini-breaks; easy does it when it comes to stress-reduction.
Add these exercises into your day:
- Start with a few long breaths out with gentle sighs like of “ahhhh,” as you release your exhales.
- Stretch your neck side to side, or gently twist your torso clockwise and counterclockwise.
- Listen for soothing sounds around you: nature, music, pleasing quiet.
- Take a look around, see with a soft focus and let your eyes rest somewhere they like.
Add value to what you are already doing:
The next time you’re walking, cycling, and yes, even scrubbing the sink, you can take a moment to feel its positive impacts on you?
- Small experiences of feeling a “yes” in your body are a big help to reducing stress. Perhaps there is a little lightness in your disposition, an ease in your jaw, a relief of tension, the pleasure of a deeper breath? It doesn’t have to be much. A moment of noticing any positive impact your activity is having on you can help your body and brain register the benefits. It’s like earning some extra money and then depositing some of it into your savings account…enjoy a little now and save a little for later too!
To learn more about these tools and understand how they help your mind and body to reset, check out The Mind-Body Stress Reset, which is full of tips, explanations, and grounded science.
Rebekkah LaDyne, MS, SEP, is a somatic therapist, researcher, and mind-body skills educator. Her book The Mind-Body Stress Reset: Somatic Practices to Reduce Overwhelm and Increase Well-Being, is available now.