COVID-19 Survival Guide: Fighting Fatigue

Ann StrombergAnn Stromberg, Emotional Wellness Counselor

COVID-19 Fatigue is real!

We have been quarantined for almost five months now, and COVID-19 quarantine is an abnormal way of life. COVID-19 fatigue is the feeling of exhaustion, frustration, and disillusionment due to the pandemic. Frustration builds as people continue to react differently to the precautionary measures suggested for all of us. If you have been following all the recommendations, wearing a mask when out and sheltering in place, it is maddening to see so many choosing to do as they please.

The daily reports are even more distressing now, considering some cities are stepping back and closing up again. All of this is occurring without any clear knowledge of how long we will be facing these pandemic challenges. Considering all of this, you may be wondering if we will ever return to some version of normalcy. Facing an unknown situation is stressful and usually resolved when we get the situation under control.

How do we find control in a pandemic with so many unknowns? These prolonged feelings of uncertainty create chronic stress in our bodies. Chronic stress can feel very different from acute stress, like an accident or a sudden traumatic event. Chronic stress can wear us down physically and mentally slowly and sometimes without our knowledge.

Our body’s response to stress has not changed much through evolution even though our way of life has changed, our nervous system is still on the lookout for survival. In a nutshell, when the nervous system signals our body there is danger all of our flight or fight response will activate, and the other systems not needed for survival, are suppressed until the threat is over. Once the body receives the message we are safe, our nervous system tells our body to relax and return to normal functioning. Our thinking brain is turned off until the danger has passed, creating a decline in our executive functions. Chronic stress keeps our survival mode turned on, and this causes us to remain on high alert.

When we are chronically stressed, we lose the ability to think as clearly as possible. It suppresses our immune system, interferes with our sleep cycle, and eventually, our body gives up trying to regulate itself, and the stress response takes over. It doesn’t matter if we are working from home, looking for a new position, or making a career change. We can’t perform at our peak levels if our brain is not fully tuned in. We all want to do our best, and we need peak brain performance!

We do know how to live in balance and how to be our best selves, and we know it takes some effort to put our well being first. We have learned that abnormal is the new normal, and we are feeling tired of being at home. When we began to quarantine in March, it was novel, and we jumped in ready to charge through until we returned to our usual activities. As our time at home has grown well beyond what any of us expected, it may seem more challenging now to get motivated to do anything. This is the feeling of fatigue that is affecting a lot of us now. There are strategies to combat this fatigue and to re energize our daily routine. You can talk about how you feel, especially if you are quarantining with others. Talking with others may help to normalize some of the feelings you are all having.

Try to accept this new normal for what it is. We don’t have to like it, but accepting that we can’t change it ourselves can reduce frustration. Try getting up and moving. It’s hard to find a physical or emotional issue that exercise doesn’t help to improve. Try setting a schedule for your day, and don’t make it so rigid that you are bound to fail. Create small blocks of time to help your daily progress, including the time to get outside, move around, spend time with family, and block off the time you need to be working. Be sure to be gracious to yourself if the schedule gets derailed, it can always be fixed the next day.

Start setting a time to go to bed and a time to wake up. Keeping your sleep schedule regular will help you get a restful night of sleep, and our body needs time to rest and repair to allow our nervous system to regulate. Make an effort to stay connected with friends and family, in whatever manner is available to you now even a phone call strengthens our social connections. Find time every day for gratitude. No matter what our challenges are, we can always find gratitude. Let’s all remain healthy and hopeful so we can move past this COVID-19 pandemic as soon as possible.

COVID-19 Survival Guide: Beliefs and Character

Ann StrombergAnn Stromberg, Emotional Wellness Counselor

Beliefs and Character

We have all felt the uncertainty of our world during the past few months. How do you respond to uncertainty? Do you feel anxious or in total control? Our deep beliefs influence our response to difficult challenges. Our belief system influences our biological and emotional responses to all situations we encounter, both positive and negative. Our beliefs also influence our character, the qualities we show the world, and the way we experience life.  

You have likely heard the concept that our inside influences our outside, what we show the world. This is not a new concept, but one that is worth review. Consider that 95% of our behavior is controlled by our subconscious mind outside our conscious awareness. Our subconscious mind allows us to do ordinary daily activities without using a lot of consciousness. An example of how we allow the subconscious mind to lead would be driving and realizing we were not paying attention to the route but still reached the destination. We can use our brainpower for more challenging tasks and learning. Most of the decisions we make with our conscious mind. However, our subconscious mind drives most of our behavior. 

We still blame outside influences if we are not happy with the results, not recognizing our limiting beliefs. Our subconscious beliefs are based on what we internalized as children. Dr. Bruce Lipton in The Biology of Belief says we can use positive affirmations to confirm our intelligence, but if our subconscious messages we received were that we are dumb or worthless, that will always override our affirmations. 

Outside of our awareness, our subconscious mind overrides our conscious thought. These beliefs that we internalize early in life are our deep belief system, and our mind wants to protect them. Our body’s natural protection system will naturally override the growth system, so it is a challenge to shift these deep beliefs. The protection system is linked to our body’s stress response to challenges. Our bodies cannot be stressed and have a positive growth at the same time.

As you know, there are many techniques to build our self-awareness and to notice the signs of our distress within us. Frequently when our thoughts, feelings, and actions are not aligned, it will manifest in physical symptoms, a stress response. We can use mindfulness to begin to notice when the stress response that has developed, usually with physical symptoms. Slowing down and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings allows us to tune into the subconscious thoughts. 

As we gain awareness of our beliefs, we can begin to align them and our actions, diminishing the distress within us. Our character brings together our mental and moral qualities, and these should align with our beliefs and behaviors. Some believe we are born with characteristics that make us who we are. However, the positive character can be cultivated and grown by our conscious thoughts and behavior. We can develop our character by doing things that align with our belief system. Our beliefs help to shape our character, and growth occurs when we are humble and teachable. Service to others also builds character.   

The beauty of this complex physical and emotional balance we strive to achieve is that we are in control of our health and well being. Our beliefs do become our biology, and yet we can create our best selves. We must take time to assess our thoughts and feelings by slowing down and listening to our bodies. Find the technique that best fits you, meditation, prayer, sitting quietly, anything that allows for introspection. We can find peace in knowing we can grow and change as necessary, creating our best self with a strong character.

Your beliefs become your thoughts

Your thoughts become your words

Your words become your actions

Your actions become your values

Your values become your destiny

Mahatma Gandhi