health

Isolation fatigue: Why you feel so exhausted, even though you’re doing absolutely nothing.

Call up anyone you know right now and ask them how they’re doing. There’s a good chance they’ll say, “I’m tired”.

“I’m tired, too,” you might reply before going into detail about your very packed weekend schedule that involved doing absolutely nothing. A bit of baking, sure. Maybe a walk around the block or an at-home workout. But the reality of our new global pandemic way of life is most of our time is now spent at home, sitting on the couch watching TV or thinking about what to do next.

In theory, we should be bouncing off the walls with energy now we’re rid of draining work commutes, group workouts, errands to run, and birthday drinks to attend. I’m willing to bet most of us are actually feeling the opposite.

We’ve got ‘isolation fatigue’: the feeling of being physically and mentally exhausted from doing sh*t all.

If you’re feeling it too, read on to find out why your energy levels might have decreased in isolation, and how to feel a bit better.

WATCH: Here’s what the different star signs are doing in isolation (including the one who’s sleeping all day). Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia
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Why am I so exhausted, even though I’m not really doing anything?

The answer is in any physics textbook you may or may not have skim read in high school (if at all). To create more energy, you have to spend it. In real-world terms: sitting on your arse watching TV all day doesn’t expend much energy, but it won’t help you gain any either.

Melbourne-based GP Dr Preeya Alexander (The Wholesome Doctor on Instagram) also explained the impact stress can have on our energy levels, which has never been more relevant given we’re living through one heck of a stressful time.

“Many people don’t realise being stressed can cause a significant degree of fatigue. These are worrying times, life has changed as we know it and there is a lot of uncertainty, and many of us are feeling stressed and perhaps a touch anxious,” she told Mamamia.

“This can make us feel exhausted – lots of adrenaline constantly floating around literally wears the body and brain out – so despite not doing very much, our bodies and minds are tired. ”

Even if you dealt with daily stress in your pre-COVID life, we had busy schedules to distract us then. Now, we don’t. And we’re painfully aware of how tired we actually are.

tired
Yes. Doing nothing really does make you tired. Image: Getty.
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Am I just tired or is there something more going on?

Feeling tired at the moment is part of our new normal. So is feeling emotional, but experiencing exhaustion along with feeling down and negative feelings that won't go away is something to take seriously.

"Mood disorders can also make you feel very tired. It's not uncommon as a GP for a patient to present with fatigue and for an underlying mood disorder like generalised anxiety disorder or major depression to be uncovered. It’s really important right now to keep a close eye on your mental health."

"If you think you are persistently low in your mood and energy levels, and your outlook on life and the future is consistently negative, then you should ideally seek help from your doctor or psychologist."

Medical conditions like iron deficiency and hypothyroidism can also cause fatigue, so if you've been feeling flat for a while or are noticing other symptoms on top of your tiredness, don't wait until coronavirus is over to talk to your doctor.

Dr Alexander added, "Despite the pandemic, you still need to take care of your health and check in with your GP. Just because COVID-19 is currently a significant issue, doesn't mean other medical issues like cancer, depression, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and the like have disappeared."

"At the moment, Telehealth consults (video or phone consults) are available for lots of health issues and if your GP thinks you need to come in for a face-to-face consult to do an examination or blood tests, then they will let you know and plan accordingly."

LISTEN: Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and Jessie Stephens unpack all the many emotions we're feeling in isolation on the Mamamia Out Loud podcast below. Post continues after audio.

How to improve energy levels during isolation.

OK, so now we know why we're tired and when to talk to a GP about it. Here's what we can do to feel better.

You probably won't be surprised to hear most of what you can do to increase your energy levels are things we already know we should be doing. A.k.a eat your veg, move your body and for goodness sake, get enough sleep.

In COVID-19 times, feeling energetic has everything to do with establishing a routine for your days.

Here are Dr Alexander's core pieces of advice for creating structure and routine in isolation:

1. Get better sleep.

"Aim for good quality sleep and enough of it. Try to set a regular bed time and wake up time," she said.

"It's easy to go to bed late and wake up late right now without our normal routines, but try to avoid it. Better quality sleep is important too. Key tips I prescribe my patients include avoiding screens, including phones and computers, in the one hour before bed, and avoid caffeine after 2pm to allow the brain to slow down in the evening."

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2. Look after your mental health.

While we're all weathering varying degrees of storms because of coronavirus, we need to watch our stress levels. Even if you feel like your stress is insignificant or not as bad as someone else's.

"Don't let stress fester. Exercise and meditation are some great ways to manage stress. Whichever way works for you, managing stress can help increase energy levels."

3. Exercise - cliche, but it works.

Experts always say to aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days, but what does that actually mean?

"Moderate intensity simply means getting your heart rate up and exercising to the point of being slightly breathless and sweaty. Going for a walk, cycle, run - literally whatever you can manage - can help you feel more energised."

4. Eat your fruit and veg.

Now most of us are eating at home, try and pack as many fruits and vegetables into your meals as you can.

Meal times in isolation might be different with our new concept of time, but things like adding a big handful of baby spinach to your sandwich or eggs on toast, having a banana on hand for a mid-morning snack and planning to cook veggies each night with dinner can help. It's worth noting frozen veggies are perfectly fine too if you can't afford fresh at the moment.

5. Sorry, but limit the booze.

In lockdown life, it's always 5pm. Weekdays and weekends have smooshed together into one timezone in which an alcoholic beverage almost always feels appropriate. Everyone's different, but if you've been enjoying nightly glasses of wine and G&Ts when you wouldn't usually, returning to your normal drinking routine may help.

Dr Alexander said, "Try to keep an eye on how much you're drinking right now. I'm not saying don't drink (I'm human!) but limiting alcohol intake can improve sleep patterns and hence, fatigue."

Above all this, remember: these are stressful times and it's OK (expected, even) to not be feeling like your best self every day. You're not alone, so be kind to yourself. And maybe don't stay up to watch 'just one more episode'.

If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek professional help. You can contact your GP or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Feature image:

Have you been experiencing isolation fatigue? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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