Quarantine Fatigue and COVID Stress: How to Cope
Updated: May 24
As COVID restrictions continue, many people have been reporting an increase in fatigue and stress, and especially in the past few months as COVID restrictions have continued. There are many reasons to feel tired and fatigued that are unrelated to sleep, and these feelings can often be paired with other emotions such as anxiety, irritability, and loneliness.
What is Quarantine Fatigue
Quarantine fatigue is related to decreased connection, isolation and change in routine, and the loss of our sense of freedom to live our lives in the way that we did before COVID. This can feel very restricting and stressful, which can be emotionally exhausting and depleting.
As humans, we are creatures of habit, structure, and predictability. With less structure and unpredictability, anxiety and depression may set in, resulting in down mood, and feeling fatigued, often.
At the beginning of COVID, there were clear guidelines for most on how to proceed in terms of national shutdowns, restrictions, and recommendations. As the COVID pandemic has continued, restrictions and recommendations have varied, causing us to have to constantly adapt to changing circumstances with high levels of variability, which can also be exhausting.
The emotional stress brought on by the current circumstances and restrictions is difficult to face on a day-to-day basis. Adjusting to working from home, feeling isolated with less social connection, dealing with financial stressors and unemployment, navigating childcare while trying to work, as well as various restrictions and compounding stressors over time can greatly increase stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
Fortunately, there are many ways to manage fatigue and stress associated with quarantine that can improve coping and resiliency during these challenging times. Understanding why we are experiencing quarantine fatigue can be helpful for better management.
Reasons for Quarantine Fatigue and How to Manage
There are many reasons for quarantine fatigue, and there are also many ways to manage depending on your main concerns and how you are being impacted. It is helpful to first differentiate between feeling fatigued due to quarantine and feeling sleepy. Sleepy: Signals the body is sending that are saying it's time for sleep-yawning, heavy eyes, feeling like you're nodding off, and your mind starts to drift and not think about much.
Tired: This can happen for many reasons (see below), but this usually means lack of energy, trouble focusing, and feeling out of it. This tends to be felt more in the body and mind.
If you are not feeling sleepy according these sleep clues, then you are likely experiencing fatigue. We can feel fatigued for many reasons, and quarantine fatigue specifically may manifest in various physical and emotional ways. Below are some reasons we may feel fatigued specifically related to quarantine and how to manage.
Top Sources of Quarantine Fatigue
1. Constant Change and Unpredictability
We are creatures of routine and habit, and when our routine is shaken up and there are many changes to adjust to, this can be very draining both physically and emotionally. This will be different for everyone, but changes that can be draining may include losing a job, adjusting to working from home, trying to manage self and children in the home, and other changes.
We tend to do best when we have a regular routine with consistency, so having our routines thrown off with less predictability can result in stress, depression, and exhaustion.
How to Manage: Keep a Regular Routine Based on Current Circumstances
We are creatures of routine and habit, so it's especially important to maintain a routine right now. Be flexible and get creative, but try to create some structure in your day of when you're doing what.
I would encourage you to use your normal work/school hours for your "productivity time," whatever that might look like for you. This may include still going to work, working on projects around the house, searching for a job, or other tasks you find productive or work-like.
We need a certain level of stimulation to feel energetic and productive. Have you ever felt like you were dragging on days when you didn’t have much going on at all? When we don’t have enough going on that is stimulating, this can actually cause understimulation, fatigue, and low motivation.
Many people are not doing their current activities and are finding it challenging to find activities they can do given the circumstances. This can result in feeling tired despite not doing much…..strange, I know, but very common!
How to Manage: Get out of the House and Change up your Scenery
Staying within the walls of your home day in and day out is going to zap energy. Get outside when you can in a way that feels safe and comfortable to you. Sunlight it important for alertness and energy, so make sure to get out and get some Vitamin D when you can to increase energy. Remember, social distancing does not mean that you cannot go outside in a safe way.
3. Overstimulation due to Information Overload
The opposite effect can also occur-when we are bombarded with news, politics, big changes in environment, and constant information in general, this can cause information overload. INformation overload leads to overstimulation and exhaustion as well.
This year (and the news) has been filled with COVID-related concerns, civil unrest, and political divide. The combination of these things can be very stressful, especially if we are getting too stimulated by information overload.
How to Manage: Monitor News and Social Media Intake
Set limits for your news and social media consumption. Trust reliable resources so you can stay informed while monitoring for signs of information overload when utilizing media, such as higher stress, muscle tension, and racing thoughts.
4. Lack of Physical Activity
Physical activity is one of the best ways to improve energy, concentration, sleep, and overall health. When our physical activity decreases, this can make it harder to sleep at night, which can cause more fatigue during the day and low energy.
Normal exercise routines have been altered for many, especially as the winter months approach and gyms have various restrictions.
How to Manage: Get Moving
Exercise is one of the best ways to improve mood, attention, and energy. Creativity is important for incorporating physical activity, especially as the winter months are upon us.
Go for a walk, watch a youtube workout, join a live workout, or anything else that gets you moving for a bit each day. Find interesting winter activities outdoors that are socially distant, or find new ways to be active in your home. Walking is usually the most straightforward way to get some movement if you are looking for a place to start!
5. Changes in Sleep Schedule
The body operates on a 24 hour cycle, and it likes when things are regular and predictable. If your sleep routine has changed and your wake/sleep times are vastly different than usual, this will throw off the natural body clock and cause higher levels of fatigue, stress, and anxiety.
How to Manage: Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule
Do your best to keep a consistent sleep/wake time. This might be a bit more flexible if you have a different schedule than usual, but it’s still important to keep the clock regular to combat fatigue. Make sure to spend the last 30-60 minutes before bed engaging in relaxing activities, such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, listening to music, or light reading.
6. Too Little or Too Much Social Interaction
Humans are social creatures, and social activity is important. The recent changes have resulted in people being more isolated, and for some, the opposite-spending way more time at home with people than usual. Both scenarios can be draining.
How to Manage: Monitor Social Interaction
As mentioned above, humans are social creatures, and social interaction is very important. If you are feeling isolated, find ways to stay in touch with friends and family-use video calls, phone calls, text, messages, or any other way to stay connected.
If you're having the opposite problem of being around people in your home more than usual, carve out time for yourself and communicate this to the people in your home. Boundary setting with both yourself and others is important for stress reduction.
7. Diet and Food Intake
Eating meals very heavy in carbs and fat can make us drowsy and tired. Eating large meals right before bed can make it hard to get into deep sleep as well. Alternatively, not eating enough nutrient dense foods can also deprive the body of foods that can support energy.
When stressed, we tend to reach for less than healthy foods or avoid eating nutritious foods, which can cause the body to be more susceptible to illness.
How to Manage: Nourish your Body
Incorporate veggies and fruits into your daily food intake and try to eat balanced meals.
Balanced eating is the key to success, since this allows you to eat foods you like while also making sure you are getting the nutrients to support your immune system and overall health.
8. Unhealthy Coping Strategies
When we are feeling anxious or have more time on our hands, we might be more likely to turn to unhealthy coping such as alcohol and drug use, online shopping, gambling, excessive media or social media consumption, and other forms of unhealthy coping. Many substances can impact sleep and energy levels, and excessive media use can also be draining.
How to Manage: Limit Unhealthy Coping
Monitor substance use, especially any recent increases in use. Evaluate your coping tools and determine which ones are helpful for you long-term, and which ones may be less helpful in the long-term.
Consider the other tools discussed here to replace unhealthy coping with healthy coping that can help reduce stress and improve energy.
9. Higher Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety increases the sympathetic nervous system in the body, which utilizes a high number of the body's resources at the same time. This can be very draining and exhausting.
When feeling down or blue, fatigue, energy, and motivation tend to be lower as well.
How to Manage: Track your Mood
Keep an eye on your mood and notice symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, racing thoughts, changes in appetite or sleep, and other symptoms that indicate your mood is changing.
Utilize tools to manage such as the strategies listed above, as well as deep relaxation to manage anxiety, a variety of enjoyable activities to combat depression, and monitoring unhelpful thinking that can decrease mood.
Focus on what is in your control. This can be challenging when thinking about the pandemic, watching the news, and thinking about the difficult circumstances we are experiencing right now. However, focusing on what we can control, such as the ideas listed here, can help reduce stress and improve mood.
Coping with COVID Fatigue and Stress Summary
These are some common reasons you may be experiencing quarantine fatigue. As we enter the Fall and Winter months, taking care of ourselves is going to be especially important. Evaluate what is contributing to the quarantine fatigue you are experiencing so you know how to best manage.
Combating quarantine fatigue with the strategies listed here can help you reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance energy and productivity. Choose 1-2 strategies listed here and incorporate them into your routine starting today to see mood and energy boosting benefits!
Quarantine fatigue getting you down? Reach out for an individualized plan to master your stress and take back your life, even during these challenging times. Get in touch with the contact form here on the site. I'm here for you!