It seems like everyone I talk to lately is tired, and not because they’re suddenly more active or more productive than usual. In fact, most of them can’t tell you exactly why they’re so tired, they just are. This isn’t to say people aren’t busy, they are — just in new and taxing ways. But these new kinds of busyness and the “new normal” brought on by the coronavirus is causing many of us to feel mentally fatigued.
Mental fatigue is something that occurs when your brain goes into overdrive. You can’t stop thinking, worrying, anticipating, planning, etc., and this constant parade of changing thoughts can lead to exhaustion. This isn’t uncommon, most of us have experienced this at one point or another, usually when there’s a big project or event coming up. But lately mental fatigue seems to be the rule rather than the exception for many.
Most of us feel we’re rolling with the punches to some degree while the world around us changes. But the truth is these changes take a psychological toll on us all. You may be working, but your work has changed. Kids are in school, but school has changed. You may be healthy, but for how long? And there are marches, riots, and an upcoming election to consider. No matter how much you try to focus on your own small piece of the world the world around you is having an effect on you.
In a normal environment, you know what to expect and how to navigate things. You probably have work under control, school schedules are structured, and the regular chaos of life ebbs and flows at a fairly predicable rate. Sometimes you’re stressed, sometimes you’re not, and occasionally you feel mentally fatigued when things are particularly crazy.
But our current state of prolonged instability and change is something different. It’s like noise that’s always playing around us as we try to get through the day-to-day. Our brains naturally try to assign structure and normalcy to our personal environments, but the current noise can be deafening and distracting, and is changing all the time making it all that more difficult to put things in order and operate normally. This means your brain must work even harder to try and be productive and create routines and stability.
If you work your shoulders or legs too hard, they get sore, right? Well, your brain may not become sore like overworked quads, but it absolutely shows signs of overuse.
Mental fatigue has several tell-tale signs. See if any of these sounds familiar:
Any of these ringing a bell?
This can be harder to do than it sounds. Turning off and tuning out the noise around us initially requires concentration which is difficult when you are already having a tough time concentrating. But the focus in this case is on being mindful and calm in order to give yourself a break.
Mental exhaustion won’t just get better — you need to give your brain a rest and break the cycle. Any of these can be helpful.
The longer we let mental fatigue continue the harder it becomes to break the cycle. Over time you may experience physical issues, emotional problems, or full-scale burnout. And these all leave you incapable of navigating your life in a healthy and happy way.