"Surge capacity" and the reason you feel like absolute sh*t right now.

Hands up if you're over it.

Life as we knew it is but a distant memory and we are frankly, just really damn sick of this pandemic.

2020 started off terribly from the get go, with Australia's catastrophic bushfires and that time Iran and the US nearly started WWIII (remember that? It really seems like at least a decade ago).

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Video via Mamamia.

But the overwhelming story - the one to impact every bloody part of our lives - has been the global pandemic. Yes, I know, that really went without saying.

For most of us, COVID-19 will be the biggest, most dominant news stories of our lives. Well, fingers crossed there's nothing worse. Surely there can't be anything worse.

Since February, COVID has been an inescapable topic. The months since have been full of lockdowns, daily press conferences, and social distancing restrictions.

If you've found yourself feeling less and less 'okay' in the last couple of months, you're not alone. And it turns out there is a very relevant psychological reason this is the case.

I would like to introduce all of our despondent, fatigued brains to 'surge capacity'.

In an article on Medium, science journalist Tara Haelle described surge capacity as "a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters".


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Like any disaster, the pandemic and all that has come with it has had a profound impact on our lives.

But unlike natural disasters, the damage is not visible. We can't look out our windows and see the flames or rising water, because the enemy here is invisible and ongoing.

Our surge capacity allows us to adapt in the face of major temporary disaster but the pandemic has created a kind of uncertainty none of us are used to.

And the uncertainty just... keeps going.

So honestly, it makes sense that months on we're all feeling a bit - or very - shit.

There are a couple of phrases that have become cliche so fast, you're likely to eye roll just reading them: "The new normal", right?

We've been living in this 'new normal' for months now. When does it stop becoming 'new' and start becoming simply 'normal'? It probably won't.

"Why do you think you should be used to this by now? We’re all beginners at this," psychologist Dr Ann Masten told Haelle. 

"This is a once in a lifetime experience. It's expecting a lot to think we'd be managing this really well."

Masten told Haelle we need to recognise we're grieving many losses, while also managing the ongoing impact or trauma and uncertainty.

We're bored, but also disappointed, angry, sad, exhausted, stressed, fearful and anxious.


Oh. When you consider that, you might find you're doing better than you thought you were.

Basically, we need to stop being so hard on ourselves. Sure, we should probably be maintaining a routine, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, all for our mental and physical health, but we also shouldn't be beating ourselves up for not wanting to.

If your banana bread baking habit has morphed into sulking on the couch, or you've swapped a paintbrush for multiple tabs of online window shopping because creativity just doesn't sound that fun right now, that's fine (...I am aware that was very specific and uh, no comment).

We're in a global pandemic, for crying out loud. To expect ourselves to maintain the same levels of productivity and self-care as we would've had in 2019 or even in March, when restrictions were new and scary, but also a little novel, is unrealistic.

Our 'new normal' is chaotic and ever changing. It's like experiencing different levels of turbulence for an entire long-haul flight, or trying to stand in a boat on rough seas.

No one knows the answers on how to respond or thrive in a pandemic. We've never been here before, and after months and months at our 'surge capacities' we've crashed.

And that's okay.

If you're struggling with your mental health, or you're just having a difficult time and need to speak to someone, support is available.

Lifeline: Call 13 11 14
beyondblue: Call 1300 22 4636

Feature image: Getty.