Crisis Fatigue, a Global Pandemic and Exercise

I would normally express my shock at how quickly this time of year has rolled around again. It is hard to believe that it’s now December and I’m still a little surprised at how quickly it seems to have rolled around.

2020 has been an extraordinary year, an unprecedented year. There is some part of me still waiting to wake up from this crazy, insane situation that the world finds itself in.  When I walk around the town of Maynooth, I see people wearing masks, bumping elbows to greet each other, whilst using that same elbow to activate the lights at the pedestrian crossing. People actively swerving around one another for fear of getting too close, wiping down trolley handles, eating outside in Autumn wrapped up in heavy winter coats, drinking pints in plastic cups on the Square.

I see lots of local business’ pulling out all the stops in order to help their small business survive and their staff stay on the payroll.  I see a community pull together in an extraordinary effort to keep our town alive and thriving. I see people doing what they can to survive this pandemic or pox as I refer to it. I see a town that is doing well and a community supporting each in other in whatever way they can, and an annual fundraising event pivoting to become a virtual event to get people out and active to maintain a sense of togetherness, community and that amazing feeling that you’re doing something bigger than yourself for the great good of the community.It truly is heart-warming and is great to see.

However, we need to remember that not everyone is doing ok. Some people will be feeling bad for a long time and others may only now be feeling the effects more recently.  I can sense a lot of my clients starting to suffer and I can see it taking hold in my own family too.  I didn’t have the right word for it until I heard being described on Newstalk one day when Dr Philip Kieran spoke to Clare McKenna about the signs and symptoms of ‘crisis fatigue’.

Of course, there are people who have experienced this from personal tragedy, but with a global pandemic, there are more and more of us feeling these emotions and feelings and may not know why or what to do about it.

Crisis Fatigue is what it sounds like, we are in essence tired of the crisis.  However, the symptoms can be more serious than just being a bit fed up with the whole situation.  I’ve bumped into so many people out on my daily route and they have asked and I have asked, “how are you doing” and I’ve always said, “just putting one foot in front of the other right now, that’s all we can do right?”, to which they agree and we march on and never have the conversation.  How are you actually doing?

Even if we don’t want to stop and talk to the random neighbour we might meet outside and pour our hearts out to them, we must ask ourselves that question,  how am I really doing? If the answer is not good then we need to do something about it.

So, what is crisis fatigue?  The general symptoms would include:

  • Feeling exhausted all the time
  • A feeling of being overwhelmed and not able to cope
  • Feeling anxious

Is it any wonder we feel like this?

The pandemic has been relentless for nearly 8 months now. We are under constant attack and have feelings of uncertainty about work, can I travel here or there, can I visit a relative, what if I’m infected and infect someone else, what’s going to happen with Brexit, what’s happening in America, will there be a vaccine, will it be safe, when will we get back to normal, what will the new normal look like?

All of this and more constantly swirling around in our minds, with no control over the end game and little reassurance from global leaders.  When it’s laid out like that it’s not hard to see why we are feeling, exhausted, overwhelmed and anxious.

But what’s really going on in our bodies, why do we feel like this now?

Ever heard of the fight, flight freeze response?  Well, in a nutshell, that response got switched on in March and its been on ever since for a lot of people.  Our bodies have had elevated cortisol and adrenaline.  With these two little bad boys at work over an extended period of time, our bodies just can’t deal with it and we feel, tired, overwhelmed and anxious. Other symptoms can include, insomnia, depression, weight gain and high blood pressure.  The extension of all these symptoms is called ‘allostatic overload’, which means that demand exceeds our capacity to deal with things.  This can lead to poor decision making, burnout and in extreme cases mental breakdown!

Harvard Medical School have identified 4 stages of crisis fatigue

  1. Heroic Stage: Individuals band together at the onset of a crisis to determine how to survive.
  2. Honeymoon Stage: The reaction to initial success that occurs when individuals feel that they are “in the same boat” as others who are also taking the same steps necessary for survival
  3. Disillusionment Stage: Individuals begin to feel physically and emotionally exhausted. Cue the onset of the allostatic overload. Hypervigilance now turns into irritation, rage, or despair.
  4. Fatigue Stage: By design, the human body cannot sustain high levels of cortisol and adrenal for long periods. This results in burnout, which can cause a person to be easily triggered or completely withdrawn, start to depend on a substance such as alcohol or drugs to cope.

All very cheery stuff, I know.  I have always believed though that if you know what it is, you can do something about it. Que the running!

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