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Mental Health Challenges and Fatigue During COVID-19

Most people experience physical and/or mental fatigue at some point in their life, but if you have a mental health condition, you may deal with low energy far more often – and a day or two of rest doesn’t always recharge you. Combined with the fatigue of living through a pandemic this past year, your mental health challenges may have you feeling especially drained right now.

What is fatigue? 

Fatigue is more than feeling tired – it refers to exhaustion and lack of energy that isn’t quite fixable with a good night’s sleep. It is a common symptom of many mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. It can also come from prolonged periods of stress, which many people have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Fatigue can make it hard to go about your daily life and accomplish even small tasks or things you’ve always been able to do without much effort. You may feel apathetic, unmotivated, or like your brain is working in slow motion. Experiencing fatigue can also be overwhelming – it may feel like your to-do list keeps growing, but you have less and less energy to get things done. 

Am I feeling fatigued because of my mental health condition or because of the pandemic? 

Probably a bit of both. COVID-19 has come with a lot of stress and worry, and many people have been cautious throughout the pandemic – putting a lot of thought into each decision and constantly having walls up can take a major toll on your energy levels. Dealing with that in addition to a mental health condition may have your energy at an all-time low right now. Regardless of what’s contributing to your fatigue, you can use many of the same tools to overcome this exhaustion. 

How can I get my energy back? 

There are a lot of strategies to reduce fatigue, but it may take some time before they start to work. Consistency is key – don’t lose hope if it takes a few days or weeks to feel like yourself again. 

  • Take regular breaks. If you have a hard time letting yourself take breaks, you’re not alone. It’s common to feel like you haven’t done enough to deserve one or spend what your rest time you have feeling guilty about what you “should” be doing, especially as we start to return to post-pandemic life. Your mind needs time to reset so that you can come back to your tasks with a fresh perspective instead of getting swept up in things that aren’t important.  
  • Conserve your energy where possible. We often spend time and energy doing the same things over again – making grocery lists, responding to similar emails, and getting dressed each day can be overwhelming when you’re fatigued. Make these things as easy for yourself as possible. Type up a printable grocery list with all of your typical items listed and add your less-frequent buys as needed instead of coming up with an entire list each week. Draft template responses to any email requests you commonly get. Take some time on Sunday to plan out your outfits for the week so that you don’t have to make that decision each morning.  
  • Revisit your mental health treatment plan. We all have tools we rely on to feel better during tough times, like therapy, medication, peer supports, lifestyle changes, and more. It’s okay if your go-to techniques aren’t working so well anymore. Some coping skills may work well in certain contexts but not others – and this year has put us in a lot of new situations. Consider finding a therapist if you don’t see one regularly, changing your medication or dosage, or give new strategies (like meditation or practicing gratitude) a chance. 
  • Make sure to keep up with self-care. Focus on the basics - if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to effectively take care of your responsibilities. Nutritious meals are important for both your body and your brain. Getting exercise, even a short walk around the block or some stretching is a great way to clear your mind and release built-up tension. Keep yourself hydrated, stay connected to loved ones, and do something every day that brings you joy. 
  • Take your time with returning to post-pandemic socialization. As more and more people get vaccinated, and communities start opening up, you may feel pressure to reconnect with everyone you haven’t spent time with over the last year. Maybe you’re eager to hug your friends, or maybe you feel guilty about not wanting to have a week full of dinner dates. It’s okay to turn down plans or prioritize certain relationships over others.  
  • Acknowledge where your head is at right now. Take some time to check in on how you’re feeling and why you might be feeling that way. There are a lot of things that may be contributing to your lack of energy, and you can’t work on something that you don’t even know is a problem. Having a tough time is okay. Accept that you feel like this and focus on finding solutions. 
  • Be realistic. It’s common to overcommit your time and energy, but no one has unlimited amounts of it either, especially after spending a lot of time inside and alone due to the pandemic. Ditch trying to accomplish everything on your to-do list in one go. Instead, take some time before bed to make a list of the important things you need to get done the next day. Keep it simple and achievable – accomplishing what you set out to do can give you the boost of motivation you need to keep going. 
  • Consider physical causes. Fatigue can also be related to a number of physical conditions. If you’ve tried a few different strategies to shake off your fatigue and just can’t seem to bounce back, talk to your doctor – they can run some tests to make sure there isn’t an underlying physical condition contributing to your exhaustion. 

Fatigue is common, and it can be hard to pull yourself out of a rut when you’re so exhausted, but it’s not impossible. Give yourself grace and be patient – you have been through a lot over the last year, and it will take some time for you to bounce back and feel like yourself again. For more tips and tools on increasing your resiliency during times of hardship, check out MHA’s Tools 2 Thrive hub